Monday, June 30, 2014

Thomas Newkirk's Superlative Look at CCSS

Thomas Newkirk's Holding Onto Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones was already a book worth reading. In 2009, it was a very thoughtful response to some of the twisting of instruction that was happening in English classrooms. Not a practical strategies book, but a book for thinking about the philosophical foundations of what we do.

Turns out that in 2013 Newkirk added a Postscript to the book entitled "Speaking Back to the Common Core," and it's a great addition to the family of essays laying out clearly why the Common Core onslaught is bad news for education. He makes nine solid points.

1. Conflict of interest

It is a fundamental principle of governance that those who establish the guidelines do not benefit financially from those guidelines. We don’t, for example, let representatives of pharmaceutical
companies set health guidelines, for fairly obvious reasons. 

As far as health legislation goes, Newkirk is perhaps optimistic, but his point is still valid. The Core was built and written by the same people who expected to benefit financially for it.

2. Misdiagnosis of the problem

A central premise of the CCSS is that students are not reading difficult enough texts and that we need to ramp up the complexity of the texts they encounter. I would argue that the more serious problem is that students cease to read voluntarily, generally around middle school—and fail to develop the stamina for difficult texts 

In other words, the CCSS prescription is exactly backwards.

3. Developmental Inappropriateness

By working backwards from the ending goals, creators of CCSS ended up with unrealistic expectations for young students.

4. A sterile view of reading

As a reading guy, Newkirk likes the emphasis on "thoughtful reading." But the directive to "stay within the four corners of the text"-- not so much. "This seems to me an inhuman, even impossible, and certainly unwise prescription." He demonstrates with an example.

5. Underplaying role of narrative

Newkirk offers a great argument that narrative is not some sort of separate animal unto itself, but the root of much work in many disciplines."Biology, for example, is all about process, about action, about events occurring in time, in sequence. Photosynthesis is a story; our immune system is a story; digestion is a story—even “corn sex” is a story..." Again, with examples.

6. A reform that gives extraordinary power to standardized texts

The central question is this: Are standardized tests compatible with the more complex goals of twenty-first-century literacy? Or are they a regressive and reductive technology (ironically, many of the countries we are chasing in international comparisons do not share our belief in these tests)?

And my absolute favorite parable for the testing wave ever--

    It all comes down to the parable of the drunk and his keys, an old joke that goes like this: A drunk is fumbling along under a streetlight when a policeman comes up and asks him what he doing. The drunk explains he is looking for his keys. “Do you think you lost them there?” the policeman asks.
    “No. But the light is better here."

7. A bonanza for commercialism

We are already seeing at work a process I call “mystification”—taking a practice that was once viewed as within the normal competence of a teacher and making it seem so technical and advanced that a new commercial product (or form of consultation) is necessary.

8. Standards directing instruction

Newkirk recognizes that the creators were skirting a line when they chose to create (totally legal) state standards and not (completely illegal) national curriculum. But he says the line between the two was already breached by Coleman and Pimental themselves when they did things like describe how many text-dependent questions should appear in basal readers.

9. Drowning out other conversations

Newkirk is talking about opportunity cost. A great question that he heard asked of a curriculum director-- "Are you taking any initiatives that are not related to the Common Core?" Newkirk wonders what conversations we won't be having.

I have only tried to whet your appetite-- you should definitely click on over and check out the full text. It's a readable, smart, well-supported look at the Core. I would recommend it in particular as a piece to refer to your civilian friends, or people who are just arriving at "So, is there something wrong with Common Core?"

No comments:

Post a Comment