A statement on the Connecticut Board of Education site claims the following: “On July 7, 2010, with a unanimous vote, the Connecticut State Board of Education (SBE) adopted new national academic standards known as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English language arts and mathematics that will establish what Connecticut’s public school students should know and be able to do as they progress through Grade K-12.”
So, Happy Anniversary! It’s been three years, and what changes do we see? The Common Core document is extensive, so I’ll begin with an exploration of the the subject that I’ve been teaching for several decades from middle school through college: English. (Prior to establishing the center, I had been teaching English and writing in parochial and public schools in the tri-state area for about two decades, and I served as an adjunct writing instructor at Quinnipiac for a decade.)
I viewed a few videos designed for teachers on The Teaching Channel, as suggested in the SBE. The Common Core for English/Language Arts & Literacy includes four components: Reading, Writing, Speaking & Listening, and Language. This subject, like others, has college and career standards that delineate requirements that include the reading of more complex texts, including more non-fiction. According to John King, the Education Commissioner for New York State, in the past students had not been prepared for higher level reading by the eighth grade. And the non-fiction reading and writing should occur across the curriculum. Too much reliance on personal narrative does not allow them to think critically and perform research-based exploration of topics. The Common Core for eighth grade students should contains 35% persuasive and 35% expository writing. So, what changes are occurring in Connecticut school districts?
The cornerstone program of my learning center, Handle Associates, is a language arts/writing program. Because I have students from several districts, I have the abiity to compare the language arts/English curricula. I hae been dismayed by their summer reading lists, which do not contain many challenging offerings of either fiction or non-fiction and few, if any, classics. How can we expect students to improve their critical thinking and reading if they receive “pablum” for reading material?
Grammar must be a lost art in the schools, because most of my middle and high school students (and these are very capable and motivated learners) have no foundation when they arrive. They are unaware that our language contains eight parts of speech, the tools for improving and refining their personal style. They do little or no writing of any substance in school. Clearly the writng component, as indicated by the Common Core, has not been implementd. When they do write, they receive the returned piece with a comment or two, graded holistically, without any suggestions for improvement. My students appear surprised the first time I assign them a revision of an essay after I confer with them privately to provide suggestions for improvement and expansion. However, they quickly adjust and learn how to proofread their own work (rather than hand it to a “peer editor”).
Challenge provides opportunity for growth. We are short-changing our students if we don’t provide it!