So without bemoaning in the fact that I haven’t been able to find any time of late to get to this space to do some reading and thinking and synthesizing and extended writing and that I feel like a truly important part of my life is being slowly and painfully left behind and that there is a post that I really need to write about that at some point sooner rather than later…
Tom Hoffman has been bugging many of us to blog about the English Language Arts Standards that are being written by Core Standards group as an attempt to provide some national standardization for ELA (and Mathematics skills), standards which are open for comment for another five days or so, and ones that it appears will ultimately lead to the creation of a national assessment. Forty-eight states are participating in this effort, and Tom created aÂ must-read FAQ on the initiative and has been doing some really thoughtful analysis in the past few weeks about what all of it means. I’m sorry to say that the whole process has been flying under my radar of late (as have many of the important conversations going on out there.) I’ll admit to a certain sense of “whatever” about these standards; there’s little doubt at this point they will be adopted pretty much as is, and they reflect even more a continuing, frustrating retrenchment of traditional thinking about education that seems to be permeating the conversation right now. When we hear that our kids’ performance on the Math NAEP is essentially flat, and the Secretary of Education’s response is that the results “underscore the need for “reforms that will accelerate student achievement,” and that those “reforms” include “opening more charter schools and linking teacher pay to performance,” you know that the way we assess kids isn’t going to change any time soon. At the end of the day, it still feels like the battle for sanity when it comes to the future of education won’t be won until there are enough people who understand that many of the traditional standards and assessments that “worked” for us won’t work for our kids. In other words, no time soon.
The Common Core ELA standards narrow the definition of what kids should know, and they do nothing to take into account the changing nature of reading and writing that this moment brings us. While the National Council Teachers of English espouses all sorts of new definitions for literate readers and writers in the 21st Century, very little of that shows up in any clear way in the proposed national standards. One look at the reading standards and you can’t help but be left with the impression that the authors have never “read” anything much beyond words on paper and that the idea of “remix” and even links are outside of their experience. There is nothing here about how reading and writing in online and digital spaces changes the interaction, nothing about the social interactions that readers and writers will have around texts that are changing rapidly and substantially. (Yet, it appears that NCTE hasn’t made much of a push against the initiative.) To that point, a really interesting “debate” in the New York Times appeared a couple of days ago “Does the Brain Look Like E-Books?” including this observation by Alan Liu, the chairman of English at U. C. Santa Barbara on how all of this is shifting:
My group thinks that Web 2.0 offers a different kind of metaphor: not a containing structure but a social experience. Reading environments should not be books or libraries. They should be like the historical coffeehouses, taverns and pubs where one shifts flexibly between focused and collective reading â€” much like opening a newspaper and debating it in a more socially networked version of the current New York Times Room for Debate. The future of peripheral attention is social networking, and the trick is to harness such attention â€” some call it distraction â€” well.
The debate is a lively one, and the comments are worth reading through as well, but regardless of how you view the current landscape from a reading and writing literacy standpoint, it’s hard to see how the core standards being proposed come even close to capturing the complexity of the moment and, more importantly, reflect the flexibility needed to understand the moment. I doubt there was any of that much discussed.
Even more importantly, Chris Lehmann captures the reason why we should all feel unsettled by this, regardless of how we think about reading and writing:
This Core Standards movement should scare everyone who believes that meaning and learning is still most powerfully made in the spaces that students and teachers share. More than teachers, students, state administrators, the group that stands most to gain from national standards and a national test is the education-industrial complex.
In all of this, the thing that most frustrates me both in the talk about national standards and national assessments and the whole “Race to the Top” bunk that is coming out of the administration is just a total lack of vision, this sense that nothing has fundamentally changed, that this is the same old classroom with the same old expectations and the same old ways of proving them that we’ve had forever. I’m not saying we don’t need assessments, but there’s a lot of required learning right now that few if any standards are addressing.
J Whitmer says
An excellent new book that echoes some of your thoughts is “Catching Up or Leading the Way” by Yong Zhao. You can get a sense for his book from his site where he has posted links to the coverage it has received.
J Whitmer says
An excellent (short) new book on this topic is Yong Zhao’s “Catching Up or Leading the Way.” His site has links to some of the coverage his book as received from EdWeek, WNYC, and several others. Our district recently had Dr. Zhao in as a guest speaker. Very thought provoking!
John Pederson says
This TED Talk is on my mind. Engineers vs. marketers. In some sense, it’s like policy makers vs. learners.
Tom Hoffman says
I guess I view National Standards like this:
We had a terrific drug store up the street from us. This store carried the posterboard that our local elementary school preferred for its projects, the black and white film used by the UC college students in their projects, and of course, their famous delicious ice cream. The best part was that I could ask the manager when he’d be getting X and he’d say he’d put it on the order form if there were enough calls for it and let me know, or he’d look it up and say “next week.”
Then this was taken over by a national chain, which shall remain nameless.
All the local variations that made that store so valuable went out the door. No one knows when they’re getting anything in. No one cares because after all, corporate runs the show and they live in New York. We’re in California. We still do have the ice cream, but I rarely go in anymore, shopping wherever its convenient, because now my corner store is just like the others.
While some benefit may come of national standards, I’d hate to think that “corporate” will run the show. (That’s already happening in my friend’s kindergarten classroom; they are not allowed to read any books not on the publisher’s reading list–contracts, you know.)
Thanks for this post. Interesting and something to think about.
Mark Pennington says
The core standards movement certainly is frightening. We teach children, not canned standards. Diagnostic assessments can be essential instructional tools for effective English-language Arts and reading teachers. However, many teachers resist using these tools because they can be time-consuming to administer, grade, record, and analyze. Some teachers avoid diagnostic assessments because these teachers exclusively focus on grade-level standards-based instruction or believe that remediation is (or was) the job of some other teacher. To be honest, some teachers resist diagnostic assessments because the data might induce them to differentiate instructionâ€”a daunting task for any teacher. And some teachers resist diagnostic assessments because they fear that the data will be used by administrators to hold them accountable for individual student progress. Check out ten criteria for effective diagnostic ELA/reading assessments at http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/ten-criteria-for-effective-elareading-diagnostic-assessments/ and download free whole-class comprehensive consonant and vowel phonics assessments, three sight word assessments, a spelling-pattern assessment, a multi-level fluency assessment, six phonemic awareness assessments, a grammar assessment, and a mechanics assessment from the right column of this informative article.
Lisa Nielsen says
Thank you for sharing this Will. I’m wondering if you and/or your readers have taken a moment to provide feedback to the common standards movement. I made a tinyurl of the link which is at http://tinyurl.com/fixthestandards. I hope you and your readers will provide feedback by the October 20th deadline. I have done so and I also wrote a post with excerpts from what you and some of the others you mention are saying at http://tinyurl.com/commonstandards21c. Thanks as always for getting the word out about important topics.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts here Will.
As I couldn’t resist commenting on this topic, I have opted to post my thoughts here.
In a nut shell:
There is no single solution to the obstacles we face. A good start is to ask what each of us wants for our own children. What are our standards? I want a teacher in the classroom who is thoughtful and caring, not a mindless clerk or deskilled bureaucrat but a person of substance, depth, and compassion. I want my child to be seen, understood, challenged, and nourished. I want to be able to participate in the community, to have some voice and choice in the questions the school faces.
Gary Stager says
I sincerely hope people will read the following comments…
Common Standards? End it! Don’t mend it!
No educator of conscience should spend one moment trying to improve upon such tyrannical delusions like national (core) standards. We should fight such mean-spirited stupidity with every ounce of our being.
Replacing one externally-created checklist with another undoubtedly more voluminous one will not help one child.
You cannot have “core” standards without additional standardized testing. Now districts already addicted to testing will have a more potent hallucinogenic with which they can poison public education.
National curricula and national testing are on the wrong side of history and are by their very definition anti-Democratic.
Such efforts are the work of Dickensian shopkeepers and any educator arrogant enough to believe that THEY are smart enough to improve such efforts should check their ego and think again.
None of the impulses behind NCLB, common standards or the other assorted failed policies of Duncan/Obama have anything constructive whatsoever to do with learning. These trends are about labor issues and economics. For example, “How can we bust unions and how can we privatize public schools?”
Those goals are best accomplished by reducing the public’s confidence in their local school. It used to be that people hated school, but liked theirs. Just a few years ago we were told, “Of course, you should not teach to the test.” Today, teachers are told, “Of course, you SHOULD teach to the test.”
If you create enough opportunities for demagogues to create hysteria by announcing that YOUR kids’ school is failing YOUR child, parents will eventually withdraw their support for public education.
Unqualified crackpots are running nearly every major urban school system in America. Teachers and students are terrorized by testing and externally-imposed curricular mandates. Mayors (like NY’s Bloomberg) have suspended democracy and eliminated community involvement in education and the Los Angeles Unified School District recently announced that they are surrendering 250 low-performing schools to any person or organization willing to be blamed for their failure.
THINK ABOUT THAT! A school board with a constitutional responsibility to educate all children is abandoning 250 schools so they won’t be blamed for low test scores in Obama’s sadistic “race-to-the top!”
Is this America?
Lisa Nielsen says
@Gary Stager et.al. What are your suggestions on effective ways to measure student achievement nationally and internationally?
Gary Stager says
I have several answers for you.
1) How have we survived with national and international comparisons up until now?
2) I’m assuming that you believe such measurement is important. Why?
3) The sampling of NAEP seems to work fine without terrorizing schools and school children.
4) Who cares? I am not the least bit interested in ranking and sorting children at any level – classroom, district, state, national or international.
5) I am under no obligation to offer an educational solution to a political problem.
Lisa Nielsen says
Thank you for the thoughts. Iâ€™m interested in feedback from you, Will, his readers and others because I believe a better case can be made by both stating what is wrong with an issue and offering a solution. I am wondering what those solutions are and believe you, Will (and the rest) will have smart ideas about this. As far as the assertion that I believe â€œsuchâ€ measurement is important. Iâ€™m not sure I believe â€œsuchâ€ measurement is important, but I do believe we need ways to measure success as long as long as we are measuring the right success. Iâ€™d love to read more thoughts that you and others have about this.
Why dont we try putting books somewhere that may actually capture children’s attention? What about incorporating books into a place such as fast food restaurant or an arcade, somewhere where we know that children hang out? It can become a requirement that children need to do x amount of work in order to play x amount of time…I think it’s ultimately unfair that children aren’t given enough attention to their reading time and no changes are being implemented towards it. What about doing certain things like changing the curriculum books so that students are actually interested in the books they read? Some of the books on our criteria aren’t factual or historical pieces at all, they are simply fictuous stories that may have the same value as any other fiction story..Why not give students the opportunity to choose from a list where they can be the deciding factor on what book to read?? This may increase the amount of reading children do because they won’t feel so compelled to one particular piece.
In a recent study US Department of education indicates that the students who use online learning in addition to the classroom are more productive. This is definitely a move forward towards the use of online learning in mainstream education. Online learning is fun and interactive, the students who experience this are encouraged to use it more often. The ability to share and learn from other students anywhere in the world is a definite plus point. Technology is constantly changing. The www has now evolved into â€œWeb 2.0â€ and is the second wave of the World Wide Web.Most of us still follow the textbook type of teaching, where the students are made to by-heart, recite and write what is taught by us. In an era of global connectivity teachers should be actively involved to make the students aware of the digital tools available and how effectively they can be used for learning purposes. There are many online platforms to make learning a group activity, where students interact with each other and learn to create flash cards,videos, photos and flash cards online effectively for learning purposes. We could make studying a sporting event so children are actively involved and learn faster. Though class room education cannot literally be replaced by e-learning online education has its own advantages. Today’s net generation like to discover new things and learn from hands on experience. when they look for information online,not only will they try different search engines, they will also search for interactive materials. The goal should always be to enhance child’s learning abilities and confidence while at the same time preserving the relationship with your child. Such learning methodologies creates a sense of â€œself directedâ€ learning and problem solving attitude among students.A balanced combination of online education and proper guidance of class room education can get the best out of students.
Kylene Beers says
You comment that NCTE hasn’t done much in the way of the responding to the common core state standards. That’s not accurate. In fact, NCTE offered comments on the document at several stages, including participating in a face-to-face meeting with the Chiefs and the NGA as well as members of the drafting team and providing a very thorough critique of the July draft and providing names for another review. You can find my open letters to membership and NCTE’S critique of the JULY draft standards and my response to the revision at the NCTE website. NCTE continues to stand ready to provide information and assistance as the process continues to move forward.
President, National Council of Teachers of English
Will Richardson says
Thanks for that response, Kylene. For others, here is a link to the open letter from NCTE that is referred to above.