Provisions: Teaching [toward] Common Core – Next Tuesday!

Don’t forget to come and check out our next Provisions session on Tuesday, March 25th, on Teaching [toward] Common Core.  Our three presenters will be Aviva Bower, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology, Joseph Eppink, Associate Professor of Music, and Deborah Kelsh, Professor of Teacher Education.  In preparation for the session, here is a short summary of two articles, suggested by Dr. Kelsh, that highlight the current conversation of dissatisfaction with the Common Core.

In “The Problems with the Common Core,” Stan Karp claims that many supporters of the Common Core don’t sufficiently take into account how larger forces define the context in which the standards are being introduced and implemented, as well as the new teacher evaluations, higher stakes testing, and mass school closings, which seem to have come as a “package deal” with the Common Core standards.

Karp points out that too many standards projects have been efforts to move decisions about teaching and learning away from educators and schools, have often codified sanitized versions of history, politics, and culture that reinforce official myths while leaving out the voices and concerns of our students and communities, and have repeatedly been undermined by bad process, suspect political agendas, and commercial interests.

Karp claims that by very publicly measuring test results, “NCLB succeeded in creating a narrative of failure that shaped a decade of attempts to “fix” schools while blaming those who work in them,” where these scores put the spotlight on gaps among student groups, but the law used these gaps to label schools as failures without providing the resources or supports needed to eliminate them.  Karp claims that though a decade of NCLB tests showed that millions of students were not meeting existing standards, the sponsors of the Common Core decided that the solution was tougher ones.  Of the 135 people on the review panels for the Common Core, Karp notes that not a single one of them was a K–3 classroom teacher or early childhood professional, parents were entirely missing, and K–12 educators were mostly brought in after the fact to tweak and endorse the standards.

Karp approaches the legitimacy of the standards on a number of levels, i.e. questioning whether or not the Common Core is an educational plan or a marketing campaign, and ultimately argues that there is no credible defense to be made of the high-stakes uses planned for these new tests: “Instead, the Common Core project threatens to reproduce the narrative of public school failure that just led to a decade of bad policy in the name of reform.”  He believes that as schools struggle with these new mandates, we should defend our students, our schools, and ourselves by pushing back against implementation timelines, resisting the stakes and priority attached to the tests, and exposing the truth about the commercial and political interests shaping this false cure-all for the problems our schools face.

In “Martin Luther King Jr. and the Common Core,” Daniel E. Ferguson states that proponents of the Common Core have likened the struggle to implement it to the Civil Rights Movement, yet we must consider how these standards and the related testing are threatening students’ rights to education, not upholding them.  Ferguson argues that the Common Core’s strict interpretation of “close reading of a text” dismisses the notion that students’ own thoughts and experiences, and how they connect to a text, are integral to reading. Rather, student voices are silenced in their own classrooms, and literacy is reduced to the ability to navigate standardized tests.

In terms of the Common Core, close reading involves what can only be found within the “4 corners” of the text.  Ferguson argues, however, that there should instead be a focus on critical reading, which involves a close reading of both what lies within and outside of the text.  He fights the idea that reading instruction has overemphasized personal connections to texts at the expense of understanding the author’s meaning, which is assuming the two are diametrically opposed.  He argues that reading devoid of one’s own thoughts and realities—or the broader social context—is impossible, and that understanding what you read and your own world are inextricably linked.  He claims that “a curriculum that de-emphasizes students’ worlds is one that obstructs their making sense of the word,” and is thus an act of oppression.

Ferguson argues that forcing discussion of a text to remain “text dependent” may make it easier to test, but that it also forces out its entire social and historical context.  In contrast, critical literacy argues that students’ sense of their own realities should never be treated as outside the meaning of a text, because “to do so is to infringe on their rights to literacy.” In other words, he argues that literacy is a civil and human right, and that promoting a Common Core system of close reading “promotes a system that creates outsiders of students in their own classrooms.”

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