Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Teachers have to Make Lemonade

Stephen Lazar:

I am pretty sure I am supposed to be against the Common Core learning standards. I am not.

While I share the concerns of many of my colleagues that the new standards are a Trojan horse for further standardized testing, narrowed curriculum and hierarchical control of what happens in the classroom, I think the standards themselves represent the greatest opportunity for history teaching and learning to be widely re-imagined since the Committee of Ten set the basic outlines for American education over a hundred years ago.

OK, here are my concerns specific to the Common Core ELA standards as applied to history.

  • It isn't clear that the current problem is the current standards, e.g., Stephen points to a study that finds that "What he found was that these multiple-choice questions did not call for knowledge or skill in the historical thinking that was prescribed by the standards. (emphasis mine)" From a distance it is hard to tell when people are complaining about their state's standards or the assessments of the standards. I think it is often the latter, which means that new standards are not really necessary or sufficient to solving the problem.
  • It is not at all clear what the relationship between the literacy standards and their content area standards are or are supposed to be. In particular, Stephen praises the Common Core for including "historical thinking skills," but it is not a complete set of those "thinking skills." Are we to expect the rest from somewhere else or is this all we get?
  • Neither is the relationship between "Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies" and "Reading Standards for Informational Text" at all clear. In theory one is a subset of another. Or is it? In some cases the differences between different versions of the same standard are minimal, and there is no particular reason to think one can be evaluated independently of the other. How does one know when to apply one set of tasks to a text compared to the other (e.g., when is the Gettysburg Address an informational text and when is it a historical primary source)?. And can someone explain to me why "Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance" is under informational texts?
  • Given the above, and that we know one of (if not the) primary motivations for these standards is to facilitate value-added evaluation of teachers, who is supposed to get credit (or blame) for what? I'm ok with the idea that literacy is everyone's business, but how does that square with per-teacher value-added evaluation?
  • Nobody seems willing or able to try to make the leap to thinking about what the lived experience of a student raised under these standards would be like. It might seem like a refreshing change to what you're doing now, but the real kick in the balls of the Common Core exemplar lessons is that in a school really built around the standards, kids would sit through variations on those lessons at least a thousand times in their primary and secondary education, multiple times a day with relatively little variation year over year, simply because the range of required tasks is so narrow and redundant.
  • Finally, comparing these standards to your current ones and deciding they are better doesn't say much at all. These are supposed to be world-class standards, and they aren't. They aren't close. It is ok to compare ourselves to the best here. We're paying enough for this crap to get it right, for real, but somehow that possibility is not even on the table anymore.


Stephen Lazar said...

I'm pretty sure I agree with everything you added. Astute, as always.

Leroy's Mom said...

I just hit the issue of where's the content for Social Science in this post,, the bad news is that similar standards rolled out in elementary in California over a decade ago, along with the primacy of ELA instruction, have led to some really wacky social studies curriculum. I'm sure the 7th grade social science teachers who have kids tested on the subject really love how little the kids know about things like, the Civil War, etc.