A “Not-To-Be-Missed Opportunity for American Education”

by Robert Pondiscio
March 10th, 2010

The Common Core State Standards released today represents a ”not-to-be-missed opportunity for the nation to begin catching up in verbal achievement,” says E.D. Hirsch, Jr.  The Core Knowledge Foundation issued a statement in support of the initiative in which Hirsch describes the English Language Arts standards as “a significant improvement over the earlier drafts.”

“Especially welcome is the drafters’ insistence that the language arts standards must be complemented by a well-developed, content-rich curriculum and their recognition that verbal achievement–including reading comprehension–is based on general knowledge. By emphasizing the critical fact that language mastery also requires knowledge of history, art, music, and science, and moreover that these subjects should be included in the class time devoted to literacy, these standards go beyond the narrow literary emphasis of even the best of the existing state standards.” 

The big win for those who advocate for a coherent, specific core curriculum is the Standards’ call for elementary reading instruction to be “fully integrative, including a rich blend of stories, drama, and poetry as well as informational texts from a range of content areas.”  The call for schools to teach a coherent curriculum (not just nonfiction for the sake of nonfiction) that builds knowledge across grades is a validation of the Core Knowledge approach to literacy, notes Foundation President Linda Bevilacqua.  

“While various reading approaches include nonfiction, and textbook publishers are paying greater attention to reading in the content areas, they have typically failed to grasp the importance of developing a cumulative and coherent approach to building knowledge within grades and across grade levels.  States and textbook publishers who wish to be standards-ready will now need to understand that randomly selecting and inserting individual nonfiction titles into their English Language Arts programs is not sufficient.

“This random approach to content in language arts fails to recognize how domain knowledge builds within and across grade levels. It’s a missed opportunity and a waste of precious instructional time,” she said.   Hirsch is also quoted in support of the standards in this morning’s Washington Post.  Elsewhere Edweek’s Catherine Gewertz posts a comprehensive look at the reactions to the standards, both good and bad.

2 Comments »

  1. Hirsch: “By emphasizing the critical fact that language mastery also requires knowledge of history, art, music, and science, and moreover that these subjects should be included in the class time devoted to literacy, these standards go beyond the narrow literary emphasis of even the best of the existing state standards.”

    Amen to (a), concerns about (b).

    It is great that the standards recognize that “language mastery also requires knowledge of history, art, music, and science.” But I question the idea that the “literacy block” should include readings across the subjects. Or rather, I question the whole idea of a “literacy block,” especially in the upper elementary grades (4-5) and beyond. It makes much more sense for the time to be devoted to the subjects themselves: to literature, history, science, and arts. There is a big difference between teaching these subjects in their own right and having them all included in a literacy block. Of course, one could do both, but wouldn’t it be helpful to have more time for the subjects themselves, and more reading and writing within them?

    As for the standards, the text exemplars are overall excellent and inspiring, the language standards (grammar and word study) look specific and rigorous, and certain standards actually refer to works or areas of literature. This is heartening. On the other hand, the emphasis is still largely on rather generic skills. It will be up to curriculum writers and teachers to make meaning of them. If they put works of literature at the center, they can create assignments that address the standards, but in language specific to the works themselves. The curriculum is the key mediator here—it is the curriculum that can make this dreary or beautiful, lax or rigorous. And the curriculum, in turn, must leave room for the teachers to use their judgment, knowledge, and insight.

    Comment by Diana Senechal — March 15, 2010 @ 8:53 pm

  2. The math standards leave a whole lot to be desired – far below our current expectations or college preparedness. Compare these standards to the Major Topics of School Algebra in the National Mathematics Advisory Panel’s Report, then take a look at ACT math content. Comments are due to CCSSI by April 2, but you might also consider posting them publicly somewhere else.

    Comment by lajones — March 19, 2010 @ 11:36 am

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