Education Week - October 23, 2013 - (Page 24)

COMMENTARY Chris Whetzel Common Core's Power for Disadvantaged Students By Thomas Toch I t's no secret that there has been plenty of heated debate about the Common Core State Standards. Supporters say we need the standards to strengthen our workforce. Opponents contend that control over educational expectations should rest with local school boards and teachers, causing some lawmakers to back away from the standards. In May, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed legislation delaying common-core implementation in his state; funding for the standards has stalled in Michigan; and bills scrapping the common core are pending in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. But for all the talk about economic competitiveness, fidelity to federalism, and empowering educators, there has been hardly any discussion of the importance of the standards to the leastserved students in public education, the low-income, disproportionately African-American and Latino students who before too long are likely to make up the majority of the public school population. For those students, the new national standards represent a path to the demanding subjects that many local educators have long doubted they could or should study. The achievement gap in public education, unfortunately, is in no small part an expectations gap. | INSIDE | The common core is composed of things every student should experience. Drafted by two Rhodes scholars and a range of subject experts and teachers under the auspices of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the measures cover both high-quality literature (with recommended readings like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and "A Raisin in the Sun") to absorbing nonfiction on topics ranging from planets to presidents, Puritans, painting, and prairies, and baseball players-a breadth of content that builds what the scholar E.D. Hirsch calls "cultural literacy," the background knowledge that allows students to comprehend more of what they read. With research revealing a troubling decline in the reading levels of high school texts, the common core proposes less Twilight and A Boy Called It and more of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter From Birmingham Jail" and Neil deGrasse Tyson's Gravity in Reverse: The Tale of Albert Einstein's Greatest Blunder. In writing, the common core downplays the simplistic sharing of feelings that's pervasive in public education classrooms today in favor of requiring students to explain things coherently and argue persuasively. And the new standards seek to strip redundancy out of the K-12 math sequence so students get further faster. 18 THE PUBLIC SCHOOL OWNERSHIP GAP 18 WE NEED A NATIONAL MONUMENT TO TEACHERS Traditionally, few disadvantaged students have been taught anything resembling the common core in public education. Since the start of the expansion of public education beyond an ad hoc local activity a century ago (in 1900, only about 6 percent of students received high school " where he wrote that "professional education" had come to believe deeply that "in a system of mass education, an academically serious training is an impossibility for more than a modest fraction of the student population." A spate of national school reform reports of Commentators' claims that we need to 'go back to the days when we trusted teachers' to ensure their students are achieving high standards ring hollow. " diplomas), impoverished and minority students routinely have been routed into undemanding basic-literacy and vocational courses, where they've been taught mostly to use their hands rather than their heads. The historian Richard Hofstadter captured that reality in his 1963 Pulitzer Prize-winning book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, 19 CHANGING THE WORLD, ONE STUDENT AT A TIME the 1980s rejected that strongly held orthodoxy in public education, and many states embraced the reformers' call for an expanded core curriculum known as the "new basics"-only to have local school systems channel many disadvantaged students and students of color into watered-down courses where they earned English credits for "typing," science credits for "auto body repair," and math credits for "commercial food preparation." I'll never forget a high school teacher in Florida telling me at the time how wrong-headed the state's new graduation requirements were. "What we really need for many kids," he said, "are courses in how to plant trees and such." Over and over, I heard PAGE 20 > THOMAS TOCH is the author of In the Name of Excellence (Oxford University Press, USA, 1991). He is also the director of the Washington office of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. This Commentary reflects his personal views and does not reflect the opinions of the Carnegie Foundation. 20 LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 24 | EDUCATION WEEK | October 23, 2013 |

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - October 23, 2013

Education Week - October 23, 2013
Colorado Tax Boosting K-12 Up to Voters
Paddling Persists in U.S. Schools
Health-Care Law Raises Questions For Districts
K12 Inc. Learning Difficult Lessons This School Year
News in Brief
Report Roundup
New Student Majority in South and West: Poor Children
School Poverty Said to Hurt College Access
Media Group Calls on Companies To Protect Students’ Personal Data
D.C. Teachers Improved After Overhaul Of Evaluations, Pay
Blogs of the Week
K-12 Advocates Remain Braced For Fiscal Fight
Illinois Among Outliers With No NCLB Waiver
Appeal Argued on Affirmative-Action Ban
The Public School Ownership Gap
We Need a National Monument to Teachers
Changing the World, One Student at a Time
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Common Core’s Power for Disadvantaged Students

Education Week - October 23, 2013