“How many legs does a dog have if you call its tail a leg?” Abraham Lincoln is famously reported to have asked. Four, said Abe. “Because calling it a leg doesn’t make it one.”
And calling your ELA curriculum Common Core aligned doesn’t mean it really is.
At Fordham’s Common Core Watch blog last week, Kathleen Porter-Magee posted a piece that deserves more attention. It’s an eye-opening look at how literacy guru Lucy Calkins is “rewriting the Common Core” to basically argue for the same old literacy practices that have largely failed our students. A new book by Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth and Christopher Lehman, Pathways to the Common Core “sounds like a useful resource that ELA teachers can use to figure out how to align their instruction to the new standards,” writes Porter-Magee. However…
“Unfortunately, it misses the mark. Part ideological co-opting of the Common Core (CCSS) and part defense of existing—and poorly aligned—materials produced by Heinemann, the book is the leading edge of an all-out effort to ensure that adoption of the new standards requires very few changes on the part of some of the leading voices—and biggest publishing houses—in education.”
This is as unsurprising as it is dispiriting. “The anti-intellectual monopoly of the education world, combined with the financial power of a few large publishers makes the new common-core initiative highly precarious,” E.D. Hirsch warned two years ago. “There is every likelihood that the same diluted and fragmented early curriculum will be given a new label and present itself as conforming to the new standards.”
The helpful-sounding mission of Pathways to the Common Core is to help educators “grasp what the standards say and imply—as well as what they do not say—deeply enough that they can join in the work of interpreting the standards for the classroom and in questioning interpretations others may make.” Here’s Porter-Magee:
“And question the ‘interpretations’ others propose, they do, as they often contradict not only the guidance released by the lead authors of the Standards (including that found in the “publishers criteria” for ELA, something the authors outright dismiss), but also the guidance included within the four corners of the CCSS document itself. Of course with any set of expectations there is room for debate on some of the finer points. But the lengths that the authors go to explain away the parts of the standards with which they are least comfortable is breathtaking.”
Phonics, for example, is derided as “the low-level literacy work of sound-letter correspondence and so on” which has been, “thankfully, marginalized in its own separate section of the CCSS.” Whoa, says Porter-Magee. “These statements are patently false and represent a damaging misdirection of the expectations laid out in the Common Core standards.”
“The truth is that there is an entire section of the standards—a section that is given the same prominence and importance as the Reading Standards for Literature and the Reading Standards for Informational Text—called “Reading Standards: Foundational Skills (K-5).” There, the standards make the importance of student mastery of these supposedly “low-level” skills abundantly clear, not only by delineating precisely what is expected of students, but also by saying that they “are necessary and important components of an effective, comprehensive reading program designed to develop proficient readers with the capacity to comprehend texts across a range of types and disciplines.”
There’s much more, and I strongly recommend reading Porter-Magee’s smart takedown start to finish. I’ve just ordered a copy Pathways to the Common Core. Having been trained in Calkins’ content-hostile approach to reading and writing and forced to implement it in my classroom, I’ll be very interested to see how she explains away CCSS’s insistence that “texts—within and across grade levels—need to be selected around topics or themes that systematically develop the knowledge base of students.” Or the Standards’ clear and unambiguous call for a content-rich approach to literacy:
“By reading texts in history/social studies, science, and other disciplines, students build a foundation of knowledge in these fields that will also give them the background to be better readers in all content areas. Students can only gain this foundation when the curriculum is intentionally and coherently structured to develop rich content knowledge within and across grades.”
“We will never have an honest discussion about the relative merits of one approach versus another if publishers avoid the difficult conversations and merely seek to bend the Common Core to their own will—and self-interests,” Porter-Magee concludes.
N.B. Kathleen has another piece on CCSS implementation at the Shanker Blog that is also a must-read. And check out the comments for a surprise appearance by CCSS authors David Coleman and Sue Pimentel, who log in to say, “Kathleen’s got it right.”