My colleague Lyndsey Layton wrote this Washington Post story about confusion at many schools about how to properly implement the Common Core State Standards in English. The trouble surrounds the standards’ call for students to read more non-fiction; exactly how much and by when is at issue. Here’s a related post about the pros and cons of Common Core standards for reading by a teacher, John T. Spencer, a sixth-grade ELL teacher in an urban, Title One School. He has written five books, including “Pencil Me In,” an allegory for educational technology; “Teaching Unmasked,” about the impact paradox; “Sages and Lunatics,” a memoir and critique on factory education; and “A Sustainable Start,” a realistic look at the first year of teaching. This appeared on a blog he co-authors called Education Rethink.

By John T. Spencer

My district is in the process of transitioning into the Common Core. I’ve noticed that in reading, some teachers are excited. Others are worried that they won’t be able to do as many poems or narratives. I have mixed feelings about it. Here are my thoughts on some of the pros and cons of the Common Core.


  • Social studies and science now play a more prominent role in literacy. To me, that’s a step in the right direction, because they help build the background knowledge for additional reading.
  • The standards themselves are holistic. They include media literacy (which is often neglected) and they also include fictional texts and poetry. In other words, they reach most genres of writing.
  • When I look at the standards, there is a push away from some of the basic, repetitive skills and a push toward critical thinking. I see less “identify” and more “evaluate and analyze.”
  • Common standards will make it easier for students who move from state to state. That makes a big difference in some of the transient populations.
  • I look forward to the chance to collaborate with teachers throughout my PLN. Right now, we have to tie things in to our own standards. However, with Common Core, I feel like we can create a common curriculum and do shared projects across the country.


  • I fear that we are moving away from a holistic concept of being literate. I know that the standards still include creative writing and fiction. However, I’m bothered by David Coleman’s pejorative words about emotions, fiction and imagination (and the misguided notion that none of those are valuable to the corporate world)
  • I’m always concerned when the local context is neglected. I worry that in the push toward a more federalized system, we will lose the local control that schools should have (especially given the fact that schools are almost entirely locally funded).
  • I’m concerned that social studies and science will become additional reading classes. While I love the fact that they are now included,  Socratic seminars, mock trials and debates might all be considered superfluous in the future.
  • The adoption process bothers me. They were forced through politically as a bailout of the unrealistic No Child Left Behind. And, while the standards tend to be good, they relied more on “experts” and wealthy business people rather than asking for input from educators.
  • The language is overly technical. I understand the need for precision. I’m not entirely opposed to professional jargon. However, the framers of Common Core used so many unnecessary clauses and packed it full of so much argot that certain standards become unintelligible at first sight. Why not write standards so that parents and students can understand them?
  • I’m concerned with the push toward “college and career readiness.” What about critical thinking, democratic citizen readiness? What about learning to think well about life?

Final Thought:

I don’t think the standards are all that different in reading and writing. Some of them ask for more text evidence or critical thinking. However, isn’t that what good teachers do anyway? Thus, while I see some pros and cons to the standards, I really don’t think they will lead to a seismic shift in how we teach our content.