Dear Common Core English Standards: Can we talk?

Back in 1993, when I had barely been teaching in my own high school English classroom for a month, I had an epiphany.  I looked around my classroom of ninth graders and realized, consciously, that they were not all going to become high school English teachers.  As epiphanies go, I admit that does not sound exceptional, but it was actually foundational for the rest of my career in education.  The reason for this was that I simultaneously realized that I was teaching English because of the lifelong qualitative relationship that I had with reading and writing in English.  My father probably read “Oscar the Otter” to me every night for a month when I was four.  As a young reader, I often wondered if I would ever have a friend as cool as Encyclopedia Brown’s sidekick, Sally Kimball.  Later, I was positive that I found a lifelong friend in Charles Wallace Murray, and my copies of “A Wrinkle in Time” and  “A Wind in the Door” were shortly falling apart from their spines.  Bilbo Baggins’ fate trading riddles in the dark is still a matter of tense anticipation, and what I remember most about a bout of chickenpox was that it gave me an opportunity to read all three existing “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” books in one afternoon.  Why was I a high school English teacher?  Because of the transformative power of reading to develop relationships over distance and centuries, to teach about cultures and ideals, to illuminate human nature, to amuse and to challenge.  I am a better person because of books, and I wanted students to discover similar experiences and to build skills that would allow them to both read and to write powerfully.

That most of my students would not seek the same path did not mean that they were incapable of such reading and writing, but it did mean that I could not ignore that they had their own reasons for being where they were, and that I had to allow them to find reasons for reading and writing that mattered to them.  In other words: You cannot be an English teacher and aim your instruction at the students who most remind you of yourself.

Common Core English Standards, you really need to learn that lesson.

I have read the standards, many times.  I have introduced them in foundations classes.  I am now working with teacher candidates in an English language arts methods class with the standards used for planning.  In this class, candidates not only are learning classroom methods for teaching English, but also they are learning the theoretical basis for adolescent literacy.  I have told them that if they squeeze the standards really hard and shake them a lot, it is possible to get something other than close textual reading out of them.

Common Core English Standards, you are making me a liar.

It is not that the Common Core English Standards do not describe aspects of reading and interpretation.  It is that they describe them from a single literary perspective, and then they backwards engineer them from high school all the way down to Kindergarten.  But don’t take my word on it, let’s look at the Reading Literature Standards themselves.

The Reading Literature Standards are laid out by what they call “College and Career Readiness” anchor standards that are iterated in each grade level.  Those ten anchor standards are organized in groups by Key Ideas and Details, Craft and Structure, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, and Range of Reading and Text Complexity.  For the purpose of this exercise, I am going to select one standard under each of these groups to present at different levels.

From the grade 11-12 Reading Literature Standards:

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
Craft and Structure:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5: Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7: Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text. (Include at least one play by Shakespeare and one play by an American dramatist.)

Range of Reading and Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10: By the end of grade 11, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 11-CCR text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

If you have graduated from a 4 year liberal arts college or university, odds are good that this sounds familiar regardless of your major.  The selected standards in Reading Literature represent a description of the close textual reading you were required to do as part of your introductory English coursework, possibly taught by an enthusiast of the New Criticism school of literary analysis from the mid-twentieth century.  For college bound students, this is not off the mark as far as a portion of their work with literature is concerned.  However, reading the entirety of the reading literature standards demonstrates that close textual reading is pretty much ALL that they contain.  Each of the anchor standard descriptors reiterates the anchors’ focus on the text — to the exclusion of the reader.

As mentioned, these standards then move down to Kindergarten, largely describing simpler tasks for less experienced readers.  From 6th grade:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.1: Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.5: Analyze how a particular sentence, chapter, scene, or stanza fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the theme, setting, or plot.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.7: Compare and contrast the experience of reading a story, drama, or poem to listening to or viewing an audio, video, or live version of the text, including contrasting what they “see” and “hear” when reading the text to what they perceive when they listen or watch.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.10: By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 6-8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

From 3rd grade:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.1: Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.5: Refer to parts of stories, dramas, and poems when writing or speaking about a text, using terms such as chapter, scene, and stanza; describe how each successive part builds on earlier sections.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.7: Explain how specific aspects of a text’s illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting)

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.10: By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, at the high end of the grades 2-3 text complexity band independently and proficiently.

From Kindergarten:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.K.1: With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.K.5: Recognize common types of texts (e.g., storybooks, poems).

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.K.7: With prompting and support, describe the relationship between illustrations and the story in which they appear (e.g., what moment in a story an illustration depicts).

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.K.10: Actively engage in group reading activities with purpose and understanding.

So what is wrong with this?  It represents a very specific purpose of reading literature, a purpose that does not serve the reasons why all children read, not even all children destined to become college English majors, and it is backwards engineered to grade levels when students cannot be expected to have full fluency.  What Common Core does is take reading literature and purpose it entirely to close textual reading, which is a tool of literary criticism, especially for the New Criticism school of analysis.  In New Criticism, the text is treated as self-contained, and it is the job of the reader to investigate it as an object to be understood via the structure of the text and without reference to external resources such as history, culture, psychology or the experiences of the reader.

This stands in stark opposition to Reader Response criticism where the role of the reader in creating meaning not only cannot be set aside, but also is absolutely essential for the words on the page to have any meaning whatsoever.  Louise Rosenblatt informed this school of thought by demonstrating that the process of reading is best understood as a transaction between the text and the individual readers who approach the task of reading it:

The transaction involving a reader and a printed text thus can be viewed as an event occurring at a particular time in a particular environment at a particular moment in the life history of the reader. The transaction will involve not only the past experience but also the present state and present interests or preoccupations of the reader. It stresses the possibility that printed marks on a page will become different linguistic symbols by virtue of transactions with different readers….

Does not the transactional point of view suggest that we should pay more attention to the experiential framework of any reading transaction? Is it not extraordinary that major social upheavals seem to have been required to disclose the fact that schools have consistently attempted to teach reading without looking at the language and life experience, the cognitive habits, that the child brought to the text? And should not this same concern be brought to bear on more than the problem of the language or dialect that the child brings? Should not a similar concern for reading as an event in a particular cultural and life situation be recognized as pertinent to all reading, for all children at all phases of their development as readers, from the simplest to the most sophisti­cated levels? (pp. 15-16)

Reader Response does not deny that there is a text with a structure that readers must encounter in order to make meaning, but it also recognizes the robust and essential elements brought by each individual reader in the meaning making process.  Instead of the text containing a single meaning to be derived by close textual analysis, the text is brought to many different meanings because of the histories, cultures, dispositions and experiences of the multitude of readers who transact with that text.

At this point, some advocates of the Common Core standards may protest that the Reading Literature standards are not trying to shoehorn all readers into New Criticism, and that with the tools of close textual reading, students and teachers could possibly engage in any number of reading experiences incorporating social, cultural, historical, psychological and personal knowledge.  To some degree, it is upon this that I have been hanging my promise to my own students that you can shake a social reading out of the CCSS if you just shake hard enough.  The problem is that I am not really convinced of that myself.  To begin with, even when the standards suggest some form of reading that is connected to something other than the text, it circles right back to close textual analysis. From the third grade standards:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.2
Recount stories, including fables, folktales, and myths from diverse cultures; determine the central message, lesson, or moral and explain how it is conveyed through key details in the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.3
Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events

Looking at these, I get somewhat hopeful.  RL3.2 states that students will recall some rich literature such as fables, folktales and myths which could become a great basis for comparing current and past societies, understanding the concept of a the heroic figure and how it relates to the child’s life.  But the standard quickly segues right back to picking out “key details in the text” in service of determining “the central message, lesson, or moral.” (emphasis added) Similarly, RL3.3 begins with some hope that students might develop personal relationships with the characters in the story and use those character traits to better understand themselves.  Then the standard immediately purposes their understanding to “explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.”  In Common Core, all literary roads lead to close textual analysis.  The reader is a bit player.

This shouldn’t come entirely as a surprise.  After all, one of the key players in the creation of the English Language Arts standards is David Coleman, current president of the College Board, philosophy graduate from Yale and Rhodes Scholar in English literature at Oxford University.  He is, plainly, a man of great intelligence and of sincere interest in the classical liberal arts.  What he is not, however, is a person with even the slightest credentials in literacy acquisition, elementary literacy or adolescent literacy.  As a student of classical philosophy and literature, he is no doubt quite familiar with literary criticism, but to infuse common standards in the English Language Arts with tools for literary criticism to the exclusion of all other ways to interact with texts all the way down to Kindergarten is a thoroughly strangled view of the role literature plays in the classroom.  This seems entirely unproblematic to Mr. Coleman, and while I have not read his thesis from Oxford, I have little reason to doubt that he is an enthusiast of New Criticism and other formalist schools of thought.  When presenting on the Common Core standards, Mr. Coleman derided what he described as a heavy emphasis on personal writing in most school curricula, thus:

When you add together the structure of the standards with the heavy testing regimen that have been tied to them and actual career consequences for teachers tied to those exams that were simultaneously put in place with the adoption of the CCSS, I find it hard to believe that very many teachers, on their own, are going to be able to use these standards to promote children’s love of literature from any social or experiential angle.  There is also extremely limited room for states to maneuver around the standards, as Mercedes Schneider reminds us here because the Memorandum of Understanding that states signed before adopting the CCSS only allows 15% of states standards to differ

If children in classrooms using the CCSS English standards learn to love reading on a deeply personal and affective level and develop a life long relationship with reading as a means of self exploration, it will be in spite of those standards, not because of them.

Did anyone have anything better for children before Common Core?  That’s difficult to answer because while states have been held to progress in examinations since the No Child Left Behind act of 2001, this is the first time that nearly nationwide assessments are going to be aligned with a single set of standards.  However, it is possible to speak about how states with standards different from Common Core did on nationally administered assessments prior to this endeavor.  For example, Massachusetts has long been recognized as a high performing state on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).  In 2009, when Common Core was still twinkling in its authors’ eyes, Massachusetts’ 4th grade NAEP reading scores were higher than any other state in the nation.  At the time, Massachusetts was still using its own English Language Arts framework, adopted in 2001.  I would like to draw attention to Standard 9: Making Connections:

Students will deepen their understanding of a literary or non-literary work by relating it to its contemporary context or historical background.
By including supplementary reading selections that provide relevant historical and artistic background, teachers deepen students’ understanding of individual literary works and broaden their capacity to connect literature to other manifestations of the creative impulse.

The standard is then extrapolated forward, requiring that students examine works as related to the life and experiences of the author and in relationship to key concepts, ideas and controversies that existed in the society that produced the work itself.  Examinations such as these are fruitful grounds for personal experiences and comparisons of current society and events as well.  This is similar to principles articulated by the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association (NCTE/IRA) in the standards for the English Language Arts that they released in the 1990s.  Standards 1-3, in particular, articulate a broad vision of what reading is for and how readers go about doing it:

  1. Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).

Neither of these documents rules out close textual reading, nor do they dismiss the need for students to develop skills in creating sophisticated analyses using the tools of text.  Common Core, however, provides no explicit space for any other kind of reading or analysis, and it appears entirely uninformed by any framework of reading as a process that includes the reader in any capacity other than as faithful seeker of the text’s internally constructed meaning.  Readers who want to understand society and history via the text?  Readers who want to explore their own humanity across space and time with characters who live and breathe after centuries?  Readers who want to enjoy the feelings of a work of art without picking it apart into its component parts?

People don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.

63 Comments

Filed under Common Core, schools, Stories, teacher learning, teaching, Testing

63 responses to “Dear Common Core English Standards: Can we talk?

  1. Pingback: What’s Wrong with CCSS ELA Standards? | Reclaiming Public Education 101

  2. This is very worrisome.. I know it is bad ( common core ) and I have been fighting against it hard, but I live in Wa State ( Home of Bill and Mel Gates ) so there is NO opt out available to my daughter.. I have no idea what to do, I can not home school and private school is out of the question due to lack of money.. They have most parents stuck and they damn well know it.. So what can we do? I hear a lot of people bitching about it, but so far no one with any suggestions..

    • It can be discouraging — an elementary teacher friend of mine was commenting how she was doing an author study and it felt subversive!

      I do see a lot of people organizing and getting better informed. The reality is that a lot of the policies that are being foisted upon schools and teachers have little real support among parents. It is a slow process, but it is happening.

    • TCliff

      There are many national groups and blogs you can follow that you can join to learn more about the fight against corporate reform (for that is what is driving all this). I would recommend Untied Opt Out, BadAss Teachers/Parents/Moms(BATs, BAPs, BAMs), Network for Public Education (NPE) and the blogs of Diane Ravitch, Mercedes Schneider, Valerie Strauss, Peter Greene, Carol Burris, and Anthony Cody. These groups and people have plenty of actionable suggestions, if enough of us listen….

    • Charlotte Rovelstad

      Gail, There is a significant opt-out movement in Washington so you might want to connect with some of the other people who share your concern.

  3. Andrew MacDonald

    “In New Criticism, the text is treated as self-contained, and it is the job of the reader to investigate it as an object to be understood via the structure of the text and without reference to external resources such as history, culture, psychology or the experiences of the reader.”

    “Reader Response does not deny that there is a text with a structure that readers must encounter in order to make meaning, but it also recognizes the robust and essential elements brought by each individual reader in the meaning making process. Instead of the text containing a single meaning to be derived by close textual analysis, the text is brought to many different meanings because of the histories, cultures, dispositions and experiences of the multitude of readers who transact with that text.”

    I read these two different methods — as you described them — and immediately thought that the New Criticism is the more preferable method. The standards absolutely are more analytical, but this is exactly the skill that is most lacking in young readers, and therefore the most vital to tackle.

    Too many young people (and sadly, adults too) lack the necessary skills to read an article/story/document and understand/comprehend the complexity of the meanings/arguments found within. They instead approach reading from your emotional, subjective, personal experience level and then fail to see more important themes beyond themselves. This inward approach to experiencing text might produce more joy for your young readers, but it doesn’t create greater wisdom, and/or skills that will translate readily to the outside world.

    It is ironic that you would be advocating a style of reading that would result in putting readers of your own piece at such a disadvantage. If readers came away from your article with deeply passionate (positive or negative) emotions and yet failed to spot the contradictions/well supported ideas/etc in your arguments — which, by the way, comes from close textual analysis — then they have failed at the most important component of reading; ie, comprehension.

    Only the people who love you truly care what you feel, but in the outside world — the one that exists beyond your own thoughts and emotions, friends and family — they will care if you show them that you KNOW how to think, that you do understand, and that you can turn these skillsaround and express yourself powerfully, convincingly.

    • I am afraid you have misinterpreted me.

      I do not criticize the ELA standards for incorporating close textual reading. I criticize them for not incorporating anything else, betraying a focus upon literary criticism without demonstrating an understanding of literacy itself and how to promote it.

      Of course, the tools of close textual reading are part of a complete ELA curriculum, but to ignore the readers’ role in the reading process because the standards wish to serve a specific school of criticism is not only narrow, it is counter productive. If students are to even desire to engage in that kind of analysis, they have to develop an affect towards reading that is rooted in the personal. We cannot squeeze sophisticated textual readings out of students who have never fallen in love with a book. I doubt that any child who ever stayed up all night long reading “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” did so in order to see if the text justified Susan and Lucy’s emotional response to Aslan’s death with a sufficient objective correlative.

      For the CCSS ELA standards to exclude any other form of knowledge that readers bring to a text except textual knowledge, and to do so even for five year-olds means it purposes reading too narrowly. Massachusetts topped the nation in 4th grade NAEP reading scores in 2009 using standards that recognized textual knowledge AND knowledge from outside of the text.

      You also do not really seem to understand that Reader Response, in using knowledge of the reading process, is not advocating a non-analytic approach. The analysis, however, draws on a broader range of knowledge with which to construct responses and arguments. It is an impoverished vision of what we should want ALL students to do with texts to restrict them solely to close textual analysis. Again, I don’t favor using only one school as you appear to imply — sadly, that is exactly what the CCSS do.

      • Marilyn Hollman

        Unless one reads the reader response literature carefully – and this should include David Bleich and Normal Holland – I suspect from my experience with teachers that their approach will be too superficial, generally. There really is not that much available from readers who write in the RR tradition, and most teachers have not written extended RR unless they took it upon themselves to truly understand. The occasional journal writing is not sufficient. What other sources do you recommend?

        I believe that most of us who also advocate close reading have discarded the older rule about excluding any information other than the text itself.

        I completely embrace your calls reading and literature teachers to be more open ended and welcoming.

  4. I really appreciate the opportunity to read your piece. I’ve been substitute teaching while going back to school for a teaching certificate in MS ELA. While something about the methods of instruction rankled already this semester, I didn’t know enough yet about common core standards to see what was wrong.
    The most succinctly I can say my view is this- teachers of ELA are now asked to teach students how the literary machine works, without allowing students to be sure it works at all first.

    • Thank you for your thoughts — and for your work!

      I agree that the standards ask students to be literary critics — without them really having a chance to explore what they might love in the literary world at all. The lack of balance is stunning.

      • PB

        That’s it. “The lack of balance is stunning” sums up the entire problem. I really, really like close reading, but to lock it down like this is ridiculous. Literature should be free. There is room for both analytics and deep feeling in the same text, the same class.

  5. Jennifer

    Thank you for your comprehensive look at Common Core and the consequences of claim, evidence, text analysis in comparison to the simple joy of reading. I have to say, that as an ELA middle school teacher myself, I have found the CCSS, if used as a framework, to be a reasonable GUIDE and touchstone for teaching my students. In my former district, I infused my classes with a healthy dose of GENIUS HOUR and reading for pleasure to balance out the somewhat cold and impersonal vibe of the standards. I saw the CCSS as a California speed limit sign, of sorts; it was supposed to be seen as a law, but really, it was only more of a suggestion of a place to begin. (I can’t drive 65.)
    I have just begun teaching in a school district where they use Springboard curriculum, however. Yes, there is a strict, lockstep adherence to all the standards of the Common Core. My own professionalism and ability to be the ARTIST of a teacher that I am has been stripped away–seemingly because no one trusts the teacher to actually be able to teach anymore. (A cynical view of the general mistrust of the whole teaching profession right about now.) There are a varied number of texts, more non-fiction than fiction, available here. The pacing is brutal, and students are expected to burn through the entire textbook by the end of the year. The whole “inch wide, mile deep” concept has been thrown to the wind, in favor of a “rigorous” curriculum that stands to be a huge moneymaker for the folks at College Board.
    I am worried about where education is going. I am saddened at the loss of my ability to craft lessons that I know will speak to children and their naturally curious minds. The public wanted this. That is the truly terrible part, and this lockstep curriculum may drive me from the profession that I love…loved. I still adore the children and want to help them prepare for brighter futures; however, we may lose many students along the way.

    • If CCSS had been meant as the “speed limit” it might have helped a lot of ELA teachers in upper grades focus on critical analysis — or at least provide districts with incentives to help teachers with those kinds of lessons.

      But they were superglued to the punishing testing and evaluation system from the beginning. I would be very sorry to see it drive away good, experienced teachers who see the craft side of their work as vital.

  6. This is an excellent criticism. It mirrors a lot of the things I’ve been saying too about the Common Core ELA standards. They are so damn technical! It’s as if kids are expected to read to analyze the mechanical aspects of a text — tone, author’s purpose, main idea, etc. — without actually having any involvement with the text.

    Is there any human on earth who reads this way?

    http://teachthefantastic.blogspot.com

  7. This is an outstanding examination, possibly the most clearly explained, of just how narrow in focus the CCELA standards are. Close Reading Criticism strategizies are elevated above all others, and leave no room for Reader Response, for the reader really. As Dr. Katz states, “Readers who want to understand society and history via the text? Readers who want to explore their own humanity across space and time with characters who live and breathe after centuries? Readers who want to enjoy the feelings of a work of art without picking it apart into its component parts?” Well, according to CCELA and David Coleman, this is not why “we” read. And it is not what we (he) value as a society apparently. Somehow I have a feeling that the small percentage of comparatively wealthy young people who attend some of the best private schools in the country, who do not follow the CCELA standards, will feel as if they are missing out on the opportunity to abandon all other reasons to read, and bow down to the almighty text. “People don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.” ~ The author reminds us of Mr. Coleman’s words and the very chilling regard that future employers hold for our students. Businesses, we are told, want applicants that can “think critically”. Interestingly, I have heard in the next breath that they want those that can think for themselves also. Well that’s a turn, isn’t it? And a bit of a contradiction. I’m pretty sure that possessing Critical Thinking skills is not the same thing as having, exclusive to all other skills, close textual reading analytical skills. Critical thinking might just mean a little bit more. For if we want students to grow up to think for themselves, be lifelong learners, then drilling close textual reading skills K-12 isn’t going to cut it. Learning to weigh evidence, to navigate and contemplate complex situations, to develop the ability to make oftentimes difficult decisions, to examine the historical and social context of literature, whether fiction or nonfiction, is crucial to developing an understanding of the human condition, as well as good degree of common sense. We do still value that, right?

  8. Hi Daniel – I am a parent and have noticed the relentless focus on close reading and gathering evidence from the text has taken my kid from being a child who read all the time for pleasure to someone who dislikes reading and avoids it. There’s no chance that the CCSS are going away before she completes high school in 2017 or switching her to private school. Are there ways that teachers can cover them without hours of text-marking and annotating and writing nothing but formulaic papers based on evidence from the text? That’s what I see at her school and for the most part the teachers seem excellent and seem unhappy in that they read fewer books but they get a lot of pressure from the school district…

    • Thank you for your feedback, Sarah — what you ask is hard because CCSS are not only tied to the big examinations, those examinations are being tied to teacher evaluations in the form of value added modeling. So even if you join the “opt out” movement for tests, your child is going to be taught by teachers held increasingly accountable to the examinations.

      That said, we need as many voices as possible to speak up with informed and valuable responses to this. The people pushing these reforms did so with almost no openness whatsoever — we can demand a voice and we can push back. You start at the classroom level building a coalition of like minded parents to lobby the district — I’d urge that teaches be given administration support to trim back the textual emphasis on their own, but it is going to take a large number of voices in the community telling administration “We got your back”.

      • Thanks – we are on it as a city. Our city council passed a resolution to the state expressing deep concerns about flaws in PARCC. Our local chapter of citizens for public schools is hosting a meeting tonight with state senators and others called more learning, less testing… I think this will all fade, but not soon enough for us. Our superintendent and SC spoke out about the PARCC as well. Anyhow, I feel lucky in that the english teacher this year is working with the students on many many types of writing and less focused on text-marking and annotating. I think some teachers make copies of entire novels and ask the kids to annotate them.

  9. Thank you!!! Thank you for writing a thorough article as a teacher!! I know teachers are so busy they don’t have time to really research the standards. I have spent hours reading and digging through the CC standards. But as a parent teachers won’t listen to me. It is easier for them to listen to administration. Yes some teachers are researching but most here in Alabama are just trusting the administration. I will definitely pass on your article! Thanks for doing your homework! 🙂

  10. Reblogged this on Rambling Thoughts and commented:
    THIS SAYS IT ALL! Thank you Daniel Katz Ph.D.

  11. Bob Laverty

    I liked the article. It’s the first criticism I’ve read that describes the standards themselves, the context of their development, and a framework that allows fair comparison to an alternative. However, I think that the writer falls into the same trap as others in trying to evaluate the standards as all-inclusive, trying to “shake” something out of them that just isn’t there. I have always understood the standards as a baseline, not a Bible. The 15% is a constraint on the standards that can be changed, not a constraint on what can be added. So why not have both? I could envision a group exercise with half the students reading a story or passage in using one method and the other with the other method, then comparing the conclusions they reached, discussing the importance of the facts vs. how it made them feel. Thanks for making the discussion much more tangible for me.

    • TCliff

      The standards can absolutely NOT be changed, per the signed state contract. The “15%” refers to the amount that can be ADDED. Just google “CCSS 15%” and you will see numerous documents discussing just this topic…

  12. Thank you for you explanation. The reasons you gave for teaching English are the very reasons I gave my students every year! I recently retired; I found it impossible to fight the CCSS, so I “just did it” but with my own twist: “…to develop relationships over distance and centuries, to teach about cultures and ideals, to illuminate human nature, to amuse and to challenge.”
    Luckily, I was able to do that and still implement the standards. Nobody was really watching or cared. I was older and leaving. I WAS lucky. Thank you for your insight. At least someone gets it….

  13. I can certainly see the attraction of close reading for test makers. By saying everything you need is in the text, it gives the illusion of a level playing field where a student’s background, culture, and experiences don’t matter. It also allows you to ask questions requiring a written response with a tight scoring rubric that can, ideally, anticipate all possible scoring responses. We have had this type of test for over a decade in Washington State. Over time, the constructed response questions have devolved from requiring higher order thinking, to simply providing support (copying sentences or phrases from the text) for the thinking presented in the question. The scorers have a list of text details that score a point, and an “accurate” score can be assigned in seconds. I am guessing that this dovetailing of standards and assessment in CCSS is not accidental.

    I have had the privilege of using the CCSS based Reading Wonders curriculum this year. Every single reading activity is a “close read.” It looks like year-round test prep has finally arrived. Washington State standards used to call for “reading for a variety of purposes.” Now we only read to pass a test.

    • Michael, You have definitely hit the nail on the head. This entire scheme was concocted by CC ELA drafters from the College Board and Achieve who understand nothing about language and literacy development but quite a lot about test construction. How were they able to bamboozle an entire country of teachers and administrators into accepting that reading context-free passages such as those on the SAT and ACT is the be-all and end-all of literacy instruction across the grades and throughout the country? Well, follow the money to Bill Gates. Dr. Katz clearly explains the bankruptcy of David Coleman’s approach to literacy education. Why educate an entire generation to become literary critics? What folly! Listen to the parents who are reporting that their children who used to enjoy reading now can’t stand it. This lunacy has to stop!

    • Tom Hoffman

      Yes, this has been my conclusion all along as well, MIchael. I happened to read one of the first drafts of the Common Core immediately after reading Making the Grades by Todd Farley — which is mostly a memoir of the foibles of managing the people scoring constructed responses — and it was completely clear to me that the standards were designed to allow computers and humans to score writing on a particular sort of “critical thinking” (i.e., finding evidence in a text).

      If you compare the Common Core to other standards, in pretty much every case, the Common Core falls on the side of eliminating anything that is difficult to score.

      I tend to think the sudden, unexpected return of New Criticism is somewhat of a red herring in comparison.

  14. Pingback: Daniel Katz and common core English standards | Reform School

  15. camb888

    “If children in classrooms using the CCSS English standards learn to love reading on a deeply personal and affective level and develop a life long relationship with reading as a means of self exploration, it will be in spite of those standards, not because of them.” As a reading and language arts specialist K-12, I couldn’t agree more with your statement. The Common Core has gone too far in the direction of technical analysis. This single-minded focus will cost many many students their love of reading! It’s like you have to spend all your time deeply analyzing the manual that came with your new bike, and no time actually riding your new bike for the pleasure of motion and the wind on your face. Killing the joy. So who would buy a new bike under those circumstances?

  16. Mike Archer

    “Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!’

    • Just a note for readers who might think you are making an argument here, it’s from Dickens’s Hard Times, and is mean to critique mere utilitarianism. I have to say also that I don’t think folks that believe what Mr. Gradgrind does should be mocked, just restricted from being entirely in charge, and considered a valuabel part of the educational community, which includes folks who see beyond the facts and even people who ignore facts. It takes a village.

      • TCliff

        How lucky it is that you can bring your previous knowledge of Dickens’ work to this discussion and to your reply to the above poster. A close reading might leave one thinking that those were the poster’s original thoughts and feelings!

  17. INGM

    Why can’t we teach the latter through the CCSS? The goal is to prep students with the necessary tools to excel in what they want. They need to be able access what is being demanded of them in high school and beyond. They are to look at what’s out there and create what they critically deep better, rather than get there and continue to follow the norm.

  18. Pingback: Dear CCSS, Not all kids will be English Teachers | HTA News & Views

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  20. Pingback: La. Legis Auditor Steps Into Common-Core-Promoting Game – @ THE CHALK FACE

  21. Pingback: Dear Common Core English Standards: Can we talk? | COMMON CORE

  22. Thanks for this clear explanation of the wrongheaded narrowness of the CCS ELA standards. I got alarmed at the more non-fiction, less fiction trend and the undervaluing of anything non-testable (despite my science/math background). I’ve been trying to formulate my own objections to pass on to teachers and administrators in my district and this will help a lot. Also thanks for the Washington State folks who commented.

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  24. Pingback: How to start cleaning up the Common Core - The Washington Post

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  27. Pingback: Common Core Reading – What You See is What You’ll Likely Get | Daniel Katz, Ph.D.

  28. Tom Hoffman

    One of the key differences between the Common Core and EVERY OTHER SET OF LANGUAGE ARTS STANDARDS IN THE WORLD revolves around the word “interpretation.” Every other set of end of secondary school standards places “interpretation” of works of literature as the central capstone task.

    The Common Core, uniquely, does not. It should be considered the primary defining characteristic of the literature standards, but it is essentially never mentioned.

    Just pointing that out. 😉

  29. Pingback: Common Core Is Designed to Drive Your Local Curriculum. | deutsch29

  30. Pingback: Common Core Is Designed to Drive Your Local Curriculum. – @ THE CHALK FACE

  31. Sue H

    I have been teaching college literature and writing courses for 20 years and have grown increasingly frustrated with students’ inability to consider beyond what they “feel” about a text and with their perception that, say, a poem can mean anything they want it to at any given moment. It is my constant struggle to get them to think about a text (both literary fiction and non-fiction)–how it is structured, how it succeeds or doesn’t in its aims, how characters are developed through detail, etc. I would welcome having students who have a firm understanding of all elements of a text and can analyze the relationship among ideas, form, and purpose.

    Yes, I want them to connect deeply to a text, to learn to love writing of all genres for its power to move the reader. But I also want them to be able to understand what a text is doing and what moves the author makes in order to get the text do it. I want them to be able to talk about texts in more than just the “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it” binary. I also tire of trying to convince them that that don’t have to “like” something or connect with it personally to be able to write effectively about it. Too many students I encounter get stuck in that mode of reading that if they haven’t linked some personal experience to their reading, they don’t want to take on the challenge of reading more deeply or, eventually, writing about it. And for Reading Response writing assignments I have student do, many have difficulty in offering a coherent response because they have not fundamentally understood the text.

    I was trained in both the methods of reading you address. Thing is, I have never seen them as mutually exclusive. I see the merit and the possibility of the two working together. I understand your critique that the standards seem to exclude the explicit language of Reader Response. But does that mean classroom teaching has to as well? What I have seen in the shift in students’ abilities to read, understand, interpret, appreciate, and analyze texts since I began teaching is not the fault of the Common Core Standards. These haven’t been in place long enough for me to see any real impact on student engagement or performance in my classroom. But despite their shortcomings, I am hopeful that–if the standards are given a chance–in the next few years, I will see some differences.

    And anyway, as the Introduction to the Standards indicates, they are “intended to be a living work; as new and better evidence emerges, the Standards will be revised accordingly.” My hope is that those like you will offer their recommendations to address the gaps rather than throwing the proverbial baby out.

    By the way, I have a 5 and an 8 year old in a school in a state implementing the Standards, and I’m just glad it’s not “No Child Left Behind” anymore.

    • Bob Laverty

      I just read this article and I agree with Coleman’s intentions which you have expressed very well in your comment. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/10/the-schoolmaster/309091/?single_page=true

      • Sue

        Thank you for sharing this link. Student in my Developmental Writing class have been reading and writing about articles on the Common Core. I thought it would be significant for these students, especially, to consider what the CCS might have meant for their educational experiences had they been implemented during their primary and secondary years.

        But it’s nigh on impossible to wade through all the wildly biased (on both sides) material out there. This piece, however, is one of the most even-handed I’ve read–and I’ve read a lot. Granted, it plays more toward my perspective but also tempers some of the “optimism” in ways that would make a valuable read for students trying to get a grasp of this unwieldy topic.

        I would also just add that if many of the folks who have been writing about the CCS had at any point been trained in the practice of critical analysis and use of evidence that the Core calls for, the discussion would be a heck of a lot more reasonable.

    • @Sue H: Just saw your comment. Sounds like we have had similar experiences with students and the struggle to get them to ground their reactions in texts. I left the lit-crit game in the late ’70s and eventually became a mathematics educator. Fewer of these sorts of arguments there, but lots of controversy about how to teach mathematics effectively and what mathematics to teach. So there’s really no way to be involved in education and avoid the literacy and math wars, and now the “Core Wars,” which muddy the waters even further. Thanks for sharing here. Don’t give up on the notion that “responses” that have no basis in texts are not all that useful when it comes to literature.

  32. Pingback: New York Charter Approval Process an Object Lesson Against Common Core? – @ THE CHALK FACE

  33. Pingback: New York Charter Approval Process an Object Lesson Against Common Core? | deutsch29

  34. The Bella

    Reblogged this on The Bella and commented:
    Awesome breakdown of the Common Core ELA Standards and how they Completely MISS THE MARK

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  40. The Common Core standars are dressed up in the language of literature, but the intent is clearly to facilitate the “mining” of text for data, which is more appropriate for technical (ie, non-fiction) reading.

    It’s intent is clear: to reduce the inspirational value of literature to challenge readers with new ideas and inhibit a human interaction with words and language. Students would be so busy technically analysing 1984 (to use it as an example), that they would never stop to consider the meaning and lesson it has to teach.

  41. David Coleman is a poor representative for the brilliant New Critics. And despite what some people write, New Criticism has not been “discredited,” at least not by those of us who actually get it. There’s nothing inherent in New Criticism that is incompatible with a reasonable interpretation of “reader-response theory, either. If we let an idiot like Coleman lead us to make a knee-jerk rejection of New Critical theory because he pretends to have a clue as to what that is, and then use “reader-response” theory as an “antidote” to something that is not a problem to begin with, then we’re being led by the noses at the hands of a political opportunist and fool. I couldn’t care less what David Coleman thinks about anything. His famous comment about no one caring what “you” think or feel says it all.

    But having taught literature in university and high school, I can tell you that there are generations of instructors who would kill to get students who actually have some understanding of what it means to be able to illustrate an assertion about a literary work with textual evidence. If “reader-response” theory was as simple minded as some people appear to want to have it, then we’re providing rationalizations for lazy students who don’t have the first idea how to analyze what they read and feel that anything whatsoever they state about a novel, poem, play, story, movie, etc. is “valid” because they “feel” that it’s true. I would never debate with a student what s/he “feels” while reading or viewing something: that’s psychology, not literary analysis. But if the student can’t provide the slightest textual support for their reaction, then frankly, why should ANYONE else care? It’s not that no one cares about personal experiences, but literature class isn’t group therapy, folks. If you want to recount your dream and tell me what it means, then if I’ve made a commitment – personal and/or professional – to listen, so be it. If I’m your English teacher, however, I have an obligation to help you develop some sense of how literature works, how writers write, and why it simply is NOT the case that “anything goes.” I refute fools like E.D. Hirsch who claim that there’s ONE correct interpretation of any text – namely that of the author, but he wasn’t a New Critic: he was, in fact, guilty of one of the cardinal sins the New Critics exposed: the Intentional Fallacy. The New Critics worked to give us freedom from narrow extrinsic interpretations of texts as well as ridiculous claims to be able to reduce a text to a single authorial interpretation. “Reader-response” theory added tools to the arsenal of the serious reader and critic, but not license to claim that an interpretation is sensible because “I feel that way.”

  42. Pingback: Teaching, a love story: PART 3 – MY TWO CENTS

  43. Pingback: Common Core turns students into literary critics. Does it turn them into lifelong readers? | Get Schooled

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