Education Week - September 25, 2013 - (Page 26)

26 EDUCATION WEEK n SEPTEMBER 25, 2013 n COMMENTARY How to Improve the Common Core By Joanne Yatvin A s a sometime warrior in the war of words over the Common Core State Standards, I have been neutral about the need for national standards, but highly critical of their current composition, seeing it as deeply flawed and ineffectual for its stated pur- poses. Nevertheless, I have come to realize that nothing I or anyone else may say will make the standards go away. They are firmly entrenched in all but four states, and even teachers who endured the No Child Left Behind Act are resigned to this new swing of the pendulum and changing their classroom practices. I believe the best thing that standards critics can do right now is work to make them better. It is not too late to advocate for changes that would bring them closer to the expectations of college and the workplace and the personal needs, interests, and real lives of students. To stimulate others to take action, I am using this forum to identify the key problems I see in the English/language arts standards and suggest some ways to resolve them. Problem #1: In specifying the knowledge and skills needed for “college and career readiness,” the standards authors went overboard, including everything from the most obvious items, such as integrating multimedia tools into spoken presentations, to the least useful, such as naming the parts of speech. As a result, there are too many standards per grade level, especially in the elementary grades. For example, for 1st grade, there are three reading categories or “strands,” with a total of 23 standards within them. There are also three additional English/language arts strands for 1st grade, with 18 more standards. Teaching toward 41 English/language arts standards, plus math standards, is a heavy load for 1st grade teachers, not to mention the difficulty of moving from strand to strand in planning instruction. Possible Solution: Combining the strands would reduce the number of standards and emphasize the importance of those that remain. I suggest eliminating the “reading: foundational skills” strand and the language strand altogether and moving only their general expectations to the other strands. For example, the call for students to “read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension” could be added to the two remaining reading strands for the elementary grades, and the expectation that they will “demonstrate knowledge of language and its conventions when writing or speaking” could be included in the writing, speaking, and listening strands. Problem #2: While the standards authors have repeatedly insisted that they did not specify curriculum, they have strayed into dictating particular teaching methods in a few places. This is most obvious in the “reading: foundational skills” strand for elementary grades, in which a particular phonics strategy is laid out across the elementary grades. Although advocates of this method might say it is supported by research, the National Reading Panel—of which I was a member—reported in 2000 that various types of phonics programs are equally effective, and that it is not necessary to teach phonics to normally progressing readers beyond 1st grade. A specific teaching method also appears in the standards’ language strand in which students, even as early as 3rd grade, are expected to use and explain formal grammatical terms. Again, the body of research does not support formal grammar instruction for improving students’ speech or writing. Possible Solution: As I suggested above, remove the strands that prescribe methodology and add simple statements of student expectations in other strands. As demonstrated by the expectations of the reading, writing, and speaking strands, methodology should not be included in a set of standards for students everywhere. Problem #3: By envisioning the elementary grades as a ladder, with each rung introducing new skills, the standards’ authors ignored the realities of young children’s cognitive, emotional, and social development. Worse, they backed up their placement of skills with a harsh dictum: “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.” According to many early-childhood specialists, several of the skills designated for the primary grades are too advanced for young children. And many teachers of upper-elementary grades see obstacles in getting their students to learn what is required without step-by-step help. Possible Solution: To give children more time for development, the elementary-level standards should be grouped into grade clusters rather than designated for a single grade. In addition, the decree about expectations for grade thing that standards critics can do right now is work to make them better. It is “ Silence Is Not Neutrality Schools Should Launch Dialogues on Trayvon Martin By David Knight I applaud the San Diego school board’s decision this summer to promote student discussion about Trayvon Martin in middle and high schools. More districts and schools should follow. As an educator, I know that students need space to voice their opinions. Yet I also know that people often feel uneasy about such dialogues, especially ones with racial overtones. Some may wonder whether schools have the capacity to hold these kinds of tough conversations. The questions around promoting contentious conversations are messy. We raise schools up as institutions for democracy, even when they have historically fallen short of this ideal when it comes to persistent social ills, such as segregation, student dropout rates, poverty, and school violence. Given this context, many may ask whether schools are proper forums for dialogue on social issues. Taking these concerns into account, I have come to some firm conclusions. First, silence is not neutrality. If schools stand silent while whole communities suffer, rage, and protest, then they close themselves off from important democratic topics and leave students underprepared for an increasingly diverse America. Even worse, this position sends the message that the experiences and perceptions of certain groups and students are not important. For example, ethnographic and interview data from a 2012 study I conducted among 11 black and Latino male teenagers in Boston revealed that many male students cope by talking about their concerns on race and social topics. Yet these kinds of conversations almost always happen with other teens outside of classrooms, reflecting how much male students trusted—or did not trust—their teachers and peers in school. Some male teenagers said, in fact, that they believed their teachers had lower expectations of them because of their race or would negatively judge them if they discussed racial concerns. This isn’t optimal. Instead, schools should en- deavor to be relevant and inclusive of students’ daily lives. Educators and students alike benefit when schools open dialogue on contemporary issues of race and justice. To do this, schools should be deliberative in broaching difficult issues with students, in age-appropriate ways. They should focus on opening up discussions to multiple points of view. The San Diego district is doing this by carving out space for students to discuss how the social issues surrounding Trayvon Martin’s death and George Zimmerman’s subsequent acquittal on a murder charge in the case are relevant to their lives. A school in the Bronx or the Midwest could approach this conversation differently. But despite these differences, racial topics are relevant for all students, not just students of color. Although we all view the world through our own “ As an educator, I know that students need space to voice their opinions. Yet I also know that people often feel uneasy about such dialogues.” not too late to advocate for changes.” I believe the best Tero ▲

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - September 25, 2013

Education Week - September 25, 2013
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Phila. Seeks Salvation in Lessons From Model School
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: Schools Investing in New Measures To Boost Security
For Intellectually Disabled, a ‘Landmark’
States Mull Next Steps on Testing
News in Brief
Report Roundup
New Research Consortium Targets D.C. Schools
Social Studies Framework to Guide Standards
Charters Turn to More-Unified Application Systems
Blogs of the Week
Texas Lesson-Plan Brawl Resonates Beyond State Border
Business Organizations Rally on Common Core
Fiscal Face-Off
How to Improve the Common Core
Silence Is Not Neutrality
What Are We Doing to Support Great Teachers?
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
A Pathway for the Future of Education

Education Week - September 25, 2013