Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What is the biggest educational change promoted by the Common Core?

What is the biggest educational change promoted by the Common Core?

There are so many choices: kids will be reading more challenging texts; close reading will revolutionize the reading lessons; high school English, science, and social studies teachers will teach disciplinary literacy; there will be greater attention to argument, multiple text, informational text, and writing from sources, and so on?

So which is the biggest change? Perhaps one that you haven’t even thought of…

Past standards were long lists of skills, knowledge, and strategies; lists so endless that they were less standards than curriculum guides. Until CCSS, the typical standards looked like a scope and sequence chart rather than a list of outcomes.

In fact, the lists were so long that most of the young people who have become teachers since 1991 have no idea what the difference is between standards and curricula. When you have such complete lists of outcomes, you end up with an extensive list of lessons rather than learning goals.

Standards are goals; they are the outcomes that we want our children to accomplish. Standards tell you what the point is, but they really don’t tell you what needs to be taught.

Example: the standards require that students be able to write/compose high quality narratives, expositions, and arguments. However, the standards do not expressly require schools to teach students to use manuscript hand, cursive writing, or keyboarding.

That has some critics in a tizzy, but it is as it should be. The standard tells you the outcome that must be accomplished, but not everything that a student may need to learn to reach the goal is specified. That's where the teacher comes in… what do we need to teach to accomplish these standards? That is up to us.

Just try to teach kids to compose without making it possible for them to express their ideas in printed, written, or typed words… that wouldn’t make any sense, and I assume most schools and publishers will eventually figure out the reason for this "omission" and kids will still be taught to put their words on paper (even though CCSS doesn’t even mention it).

The same can be said about teaching students to comprehend text. The standards don't require you to teach comprehension strategies, but research suggests that if you do you will be more likely to get the students to the standard.

The standards say teach students to summarize… but they don’t specify all of the possible subskills, pre-skills, or types of texts that students should be able to summarize. Try teaching summarization by just having students practice summarizing and you won’t be likely succeed.

So the big change? The CCSS takes us back to a time when the educational goals were separated from the curriculum, which puts teachers back in charge of the curriculum.

Now if we could just get teachers to see tests as something separate from goals and curriculum.


  1. The narrative writing standards, which are the ones I have examined most closely, are bloated with absurd subskills that actually detract from the sheer joy and creativity that SHOULD be part of narrative writing. Perhaps your comments apply to other aspects of the CCSS, but from my look at the narrative writing standards, I have to disagree with your optimistic assessment. Details here - CC Narrative Writing Blah Blah Blah, A Better Way, and More about CC Narrative Writing

  2. Maybe I am too optimistic, and yet I don't believe that schools should be held accountable for teaching joy (joy is nice, but it definitely is not a college and career readiness skill).

    Your actual concerns (as expressed at your blog site) has to do with the progression of skills not the skills themselves. Accuracy matters in quality writing; don't refer readers to claims about "absurd subskills" when your actual concern is that the standards repeats these subskills from grade to grade (in fact, your blog doesn't challenge the actual skills themselves). In any event, the standards are not so thorough or specific that just teaching them explicitly would end up with kids who could meet the standards--that was my point.

  3. You said: "research suggests that if you do [teach comprehension strategies] you will be more likely to get the students to the standard".

    Which research suggests this? I am suspicious of reading strategies (cf. Daniel Willingham). Could you please provide some references regarding the effectiveness of teaching comprehension strategies.

  4. Probably the most authoritative was the review of such research conducted by the National Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000) which looked at over 200 studies on strategy teaching. You can find that government report online. Also, more recently, the What Works Clearinghouse conducted a review of such research done with younger children (K-3), and indicated that there were strong research results favoring such teaching at those grade levels (look for the "practice guide" on primary grade reading comprehension--also available free on line).

  5. Thank you for this post. We will be referring to it in an upcoming PD with our administrators. The curriculum team I am on is working hard to get our teachers to see CCSS this way.

  6. Tim,
    I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss joy as a college and career ready skill. Recent research would indicate that emotional intelligence is a better predictor of college graduation than standardized test scores and high school GPA (see for example Sparkman, et. al (2012) Non-cognitive predictors of student success in college. College Student Jurnal). Emotional intelligence is packed with many things, of course, but surely joy in reading, writing and connecting are among them. CCSS will score a hollow victory if it succeeds in creating academically prepared students who approach their studies joylessly.