Sunday, October 27, 2013

Writing New Standards is a VERY Indirect Way to Change Education

Sarah Carr:

MIAMI—In Chris Kirchner’s freshman English classes at Coral Reef Senior High School, novels like “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Great Gatsby” have been squeezed off the syllabus to make room for nonfiction texts including “The Glass Castle” and “How to Re-Imagine the World.” For the first time, students will read only excerpts of classics like “The Odyssey” and “The House on Mango Street” instead of the entire book. And Kirchner will assign less independent reading at home, but will require students to write more essays, and push them to make connections across multiple texts.

I don't think swapping out early 20th century American literature for contemporary memoir and whatever How to Re-Imagine the World is was the original plan for post-Common Core English classes, certainly it isn't any more helpful in preparing student for college, but it is the result of pushing for more "informational texts" generically. I don't think they wanted people reading fewer complete books, but that's also gonna happen if you push hard on close reading. I'm sure they didn't want less independent reading at home, or at least that really doesn't make sense if you're trying to prepare students for independent reading of long, difficult texts in college, but more in-class reading seems to be the result of cranking up the text complexity. And while anchor standard nine directly addresses comparing two texts, at each grade level it almost always focuses on a very specific task (e.g., for 9th and 10th grade literature "Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work."), making the standards as a whole rather weak on cross-text comparisons in general (maybe they didn't do it at all in Florida before).

The standards do emphasize writing, I guess, but compared to what? Did their old ELA standards literally specify less writing? Or is this just what they are expecting from the tests?

I'm not saying this teacher is doing it wrong -- in 2013 what the standards actually say is irrelevant once you know what the questions on the tests will look like -- but even when teachers seem to be trying very hard to adapt to meet the standards, the actual changes seem almost arbitrary. It is just an example of why this approach to school reform is unlikely to produce significant gains.

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