Saturday, October 18, 2014

Can Any Teacher Make a Case for CCSS?

More teacher-fans of the Common Core have been uncovered. This time they're in Bismark, North  Dakota. For instance, here's Amanda Peterson, an English teacher at Bismark High.

“They have allowed us to bring in more nonfiction selections that help us better understand, better critically analyze the literature we are reading,” she said.

The focus is no longer on recalling the plot of a story, she said, explaining that it no longer matters that students can recall the color of a car in a particular chapter of a book.

“Being able to make connections between the text and between real life and the news and the world around them and seeing how those patterns have continued over time is something I find incredibly important and valuable,” she said.

So what do you think? Was Ms. Peterson forbidden to bring in non-fiction before the state told her district they had to allow her? Who exactly had forced her to ask these car color questions in the past? Had the school district kept students and teachers walled off from the outside world so that she was unable to connect reading to patterns? Who exactly had forbidden her to use these approaches that she finds "incredibly important and valuable"?

Or was it not a matter of permission. Was Ms. Peterson free to do all these things, but simply unaware that such pedagogical approaches existed? Did she ask questions about the color of a car because she simply couldn't think of anything else to ask?

And here comes middle school English teacher Meagan Sharp.

She said seventh-grade students in her class used to read only one novel. They now participate in book clubs, where they read four novels per year.

Sigh. Same question for Ms. Sharp. Was she restricting her students to one novel because she was forbidden to teach more, or because she didn't realize that such a thing was humanly possible.

This narrative is repeated again and again and again. A teacher breathlessly announces that her classroom has been revolutionized and revived by Common Core, because the Core made it possible for her to use techniques that have been in use for forever by reasonably competent educators. Sometimes it's even an approach that isn't actually in the Common Core (I'm still waiting for someone to show me which ELA standard calls for critical thinking).

I keep trying to explain. When you say things like this:

“The connections that they make between the characters is deeper than I have ever seen since I started teaching,” she said.

you may think you're saying "This Common Core special sauce is amazing" but what I hear is "I have never had any idea about how to do my job."

It is possible that the message here is "I just teach out of the book that the school gives me, and now the book I teach out of has cool new stuff." Again, this does not tell us nearly as much about the Common Core as it tells us about your professional skills. And if we're talking about what is embedded in the script that you read lessons from-- well, I am accepting of wide varieties of techniques, but anybody who is happy "teaching" from a script does not belong in a classroom.

Here is one of the things I find striking about the Common Core is that here we are, well into the rollout, and here I am, reading mile after mile of verbage written about it, and I have yet to read a single credible endorsement of the ELA standards by a classroom teacher. Instead we get endorsements of techniques already well-known to capable teachers; these techniques may or may not actually be in the Core, but the Core still gets credit for them. On the rare occasions that a Core enthusiast talks about a technique not already in regular use, it's because the technique was long ago discredited and abandoned.

So, to you teachers who insist that Common Core revolutionized and revitalized your classroom, I will be impressed if you can successfully answer any of the following questions--

1) What's a thing that you would have to stop doing in your classroom tomorrow if the Common Core were repealed?

2) What's a thing that Common Core made possible that had never been possible in a classroom before?

I will not hold my breath. I don't think it's possible to make a case that the Core can do a thing to help an actual classroom teacher in the daily performance of her duty. Argue the need for national standards to get everybody on the same page if you must, but don't pretend that Common Core invented the wheel.


  1. Amen Peter, once again you present an articulate argument. Well said !

  2. Brilliantly stated! Usually, as I sift through CCSS stuff, I think, "how is this new?" Same stuff; new name. SMH

  3. When I work with teachers, I first have them look at what the CCSS actually says and i ask them to identify those things that have not been identified as good practice forever. They are hard pressed. I am particularly amused by the CC architects discovery of citing evidence for opinions, as if that has not been on every teacher's agenda, agian, forever. Well stated as aways Peter.

  4. I would have to stop subjecting my students to endless reading passages and teach good literature and reading strategies again. Plus, I could maybe get a little grammar in.

  5. To learn why CC is not good for our students or our country from a pedagogical view watch this 54 minute teacher created video.
    This is probably the best and most thoroughly researched anti-Common Core presentation to date.