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Answer Sheet
Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 12/04/2011

Choking on the Common Core Standards

This was written by Joanne Yatvin, a longtime public school educator, author and past president of the National Council of Teachers of English. She teaches part-time at Portland State University and is writing a book on good teaching in high poverty schools.

By Joanne Yatvin

Many things that are commonplace activities for adults — driving, voting, and paying taxes, for example — are not appropriate for children. I count the Common Core State Standards, proposed for all our country’s public schools, among them.

Over my more than 50 years in public education I’ve come to know young children pretty well, and I am sure that 8-9 years olds are not ready to “describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect,” as decreed by one of the standards for third-grade readers of informational text.

In addition to the English Language Arts (ELA) standard quoted above, here are two others from the same category, the first for 6-7 year olds and the second for 10-11 year olds:

Gr. 1: Know and use various text features (e.g., headings, tables of

contents, glossaries, electronic menus, icons) to locate key facts or

information in a text.

Gr. 5: Analyze multiple accounts of the same event or topic, noting

important similarities and differences in the point of view they

represent

Reading through the whole list of ELA standards several times, I marked 18 others in reading, writing, speaking or language that I consider inappropriate for elementary level students because of the emphasis on skills or knowledge that children have not yet developed. I will not quote any of them here, but I urge interested readers to read the Standards and see how many they think are beyond the range of elementary level students.

What went wrong with the crafting of these standards intended for children of all races, ethnic backgrounds, and economic levels?

The project began in 2009 under the auspices of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief School Officers. Standards development teams were assembled to write the standards for K-12 mathematics and English language arts.

According to an introduction piece the standards were developed, “in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts, to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce.” But in looking through the names, titles and institutions of the fifty people who made up the ELA development team, I was able to identify only one current elementary teacher. All the rest, were college/university professors, state or school district administrators, or representatives of private educational companies

In reality, then, these standards were written by highly educated adults who do not teach children at present and, possibly, never did. Unconnected to the scientific research on children’s intellectual and emotional development and the everyday realities of children’s needs, interests and behavior, these writers relied only the folklore of academia, fantasizing not only what children should be expected to know and do, but also what adults need to function in actual colleges and workplaces.

Unfortunately, what’s done is done. Forty-five states plus the District of Columbia have already signed on to the Common Core Standards (according to the Standards website), commercial publishers are racing to produce materials aligned with them, school districts are re-writing their curricula, testing companies are creating new tests to measure students competence, and teacher training specialists are offering standards workshops. Even some of the teachers who have lived through No Child Left Behind are resigned to this new swing of the pendulum and changing their classroom practices.

The only hope for America’s children and its public schools is that parents and teachers will raise their voices for reason, wisdom, and quality education.

Already there are stirrings as local and national protest groups, such as Save Our Schools and Opt-Out (of state tests) are gaining members daily, and signs that teachers’ professional organizations that have been reluctant to take a stand on political issues are changing their ways.

For example, at the recent annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English, its Board of Directors voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution that opposes high stakes testing, teacher evaluation by student test scores, and mandated standards. The same resolution also called on NCTE to support the inclusion of teachers in all future efforts to develop curriculum, instruction, student assessments and standards. (See below for text of resolution.)

Like the protesters of the “Occupy” movements, informed citizens, skilled teachers, and responsible professional organizations must rise up to protect our children, our heritage, and our democracy. Let’s give even those children who can’t identify a “dangling participle” a chance to make it through elementary school.

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Here is the resolution that the Board of Directors of the National Council of Teachers of English recently voted overwhelmingly to approve:

RESOLVED, that the National Council of Teachers of English call upon the Obama administration, the National Governors’ Association, and the Council for Chief State School Officers to support policies that:

*end high-stakes testing and the evaluation of teachers and schools based on students’ test scores;

*support ongoing classroom-based assessments consistent with the NCTE/IRA 2009 Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing;

*evaluate teachers based on comprehensive measures of effectiveness, such as observations of instruction, teacher portfolios, parent response, and increases in achievement as evidenced by curriculum-based authentic assessments;

*promote school/home/community partnerships by valuing the voices of all stakeholders who take part in the education of children;

*support curriculum that develops every student’s intellectual, creative, and physical potential; and

*provide equitable funding for all schools.

Be it further resolved that NCTE:

*publicly voice its critique of and opposition to educational reform policies that mandate standards, curriculum, and means of student assessments that adversely affect social and educational equity;

*reaffirm its commitment to supporting all literacy educators so that pedagogical and subject matter knowledge, as well as an understanding of the school community and students, are primary influences in school and district plans to advance literacy learning; and

*work assiduously to make the wisdom of NCTE members with deep knowledge of effective teaching and assessment practices influential at every stage of curricula, assessment, and standards development.

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