Misconceptions about Common Core state writing and language standards

08/21/2013  |  Debra Kemp
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Help! The Common Core ate my kid! Have you read the Writing and Language Common Core Standards? Do you think they are on track? Their mission is clear “The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers...”

Clearly, we need such standards of writing and language achievement. Since the 1970’s the United States has fallen behind much of the industrial world in educational levels. At Front Range Community College in Colorado, 33 percent of entering freshmen needed remedial writing classes and 22 percent needed developmental reading. Last month a column by Patty Limerick asked employers if writing skills mattered when they hired. The answer was a resounding “Yes!” Many employers said that application material with a couple of errors in punctuation or grammar sends a resume to the recycling bin. One said, “If this is how the applicants present themselves when making a first impression, why expect anything but an unsatisfactory work performance?”

The lack of grade-by grade, scope and sequenced curriculum and standards has consequences — and they aren’t good.

So are the Common Core State Writing and Language Standards the answer? In order to answer that question you need to understand how people learn to write. Writing is output. Reading is input. A student can grow as a reader if he reads more, yet the same is not true for writing. To grow and improve as a writer, one needs to read and analyze writing models, receive explicit language skill and craft instruction and have guidance while learning to write in a specific genre. Think about this in light of what you have had to write in your life. If you are required to write a proposal on the job, you first look for a model of a proposal. If you want to make sure your writing is grammatically sound, you may remember your sixth grade teacher’s advice to check your pronoun agreement in complex sentences. Next, your spouse may read your proposal and make suggestions. This is how you become a better writer. Practice does not make perfect — practice makes permanent — so poor habits, poor form, poor agreement and poor grammar are made permanent.

So instead of encouraging students of all grades to write more, Common Core Writing Standards encourage teachers to provide writing models in fiction and nonfiction, provide instruction to write well and provide guidance as students write more. Since these standards require deeper thinking and writing skills, instead of regurgitating information, students are asked to think about what they read, make connections with the information, summarize content and analyze the way it is written (writer’s craft).

The Core Standards provide clear direction, free from dictating how one reaches those goals, raising the bar for teachers and students. Yet not all agree. Articles and blogs on the Internet, as well as magazines and newspapers about the Common Core appear every day on my screen. While some articles are pro standards, I see many emotionally packed rejections of these standards based on half truths. The Common Core State Standards adoption is opposed by some hardliners on the educational left as well as conservatives on the right and even some free market think tanks. Some of the concerns are about the execution and testing of the standards. Others are concerned that teachers will need extra training.

“Students currently do not have strong enough skills and writing backgrounds for testing” another group argues. The fact that reading nonfiction is recommended has also concerned many. Further concerns are big government and federalism (rights of the states) and the intrusion of the Common Core on local education decisions. The chart addresses a few objections with facts from the CCSS themselves, so you can be the judge about these Common Core State Standards and common objections to them.

When reading historical documents on America, it is clear America is about freedom of discussion. I hope all of us in the educational field — parents, school districts and states — continue the discussion on how to make the standards and the academic content taught in American classrooms even better because it is our students who will suffer.

Ashley Hebda, English teacher at George Washington Community High School in Indianapolis expressed a common thought, “I can see these standards are helping my students and lots of us are worried this back and forth and indecision will only hurt our kids.”

Although there are implementation and testing procedures to work out, I hope people give the Common Core State Standards a chance. Sol Stern and Joel Klien, writing for the Wall Street Journal, expressed it this way, “For most states which have lacked demanding standards for years — the Common Core represents a remarkable advance in rigor and academic content. Since the standards call for a coherent, grade-by–grade curriculum, those states that have signed on are now having serious discussion about the specific subject matter that must be taught in the classroom. This is a discussion that’s been neglected for almost half a century. Wouldn’t it be more constructive to participate in the conversation about how to make the standards and the academic content taught in American classrooms even better?”

Debra Kemp Freemon, veteran teacher and author of the Writing Alive K-8 Curriculum Guides and professional development, along with a team of consultants, equips schools across the United States and overseas to raise their level of teaching with proven results. Visit www.WritingAlive.com.
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