Friday, October 05, 2012

Another Look at the Brevity of the Common Core Standards

Robert Pondiscio posts approvingly on Common Core ELA reading literature standard 9 in 11th & 12th grade's requirement to "demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature." I don't, for the record, have a problem with a manageable canon of American literature. However, this standard is very weak for a number of reasons, some of which I've gone into recently.

One thing I haven't spent much time considering, however, is the potential impact of this requirement (from the header for reading standards):

Students advancing through the grades are expected to meet each year’s grade-specific standards and retain or further develop skills and understandings mastered in preceding grades.

In this case, just in standard 9 for literature this would then include:

  • Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres (e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories)... (grade 6)
  • Compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place, or character and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history (grade 7).
  • Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types from myths, traditional stories, or religious works such as the Bible, including describing how the material is rendered new (grade 8).
  • Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (grades 9-10).

You can start to see the problem with throwing "oh yeah, and familiarize yourself with the history of American literature" into a single grade level standard. It is just one of dozens.

Wouldn't any serious cost/benefit analysis indicate that anyone at risk of not meeting these standards should simply write off standard 9 for 11th & 12th grade, or at best just try to cram in some basic facts about Poe, Twain, Hawthorne, etc. and try to fake it? Otherwise, you can't justify reading all those books for such a small fraction of the overall standard corpus. Especially since American literature is not required by the range of reading standard.

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