Tucker Takes Zhao in Just One Round

by E. D. Hirsch, Jr.
January 16th, 2013

High praise for Marc Tucker’s thoughtful response to Yong Zhao’s well-meaning, but terribly misguided, critique of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Since I’ve decided to judge this boxing match, I’m calling a TKO. Tucker won round one so easily that it would be dangerous for Zhao to try to fight on.

Zhao reveals that he does not know much about the CCSS (he expects a new world “where all American children are exposed to the same content, delivered by highly standardized teachers”) and has been duped by left-brain/right-brain silliness (he writes that “Right-brained directed skills, including design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning, will become more valuable…. [But] the core subjects prescribed by the Common Core … are mostly left-brained cognitive skills”). Tucker refutes Zhao’s key points effortlessly. I hope you’ll read their exchange, so I’ll just give two highlights:

1. Tucker on Zhao’s concern that the CCSS will quash creativity:

“The literature is clear.  Truly creative people know a lot and they have worked hard at learning it.  They typically know a lot about unrelated things and their creativity comes from putting those unrelated things together in unusual ways.  Learning almost anything really well depends on mastering the conceptual structure of the underlying disciplines, because, without that scaffolding, we are not able to put new information and skills to work.”

2. Tucker on Zhao’s concern that the CCSS will not prepare students for tomorrow’s unknown jobs:

“It is true that the future will be full of jobs that do not exist now and challenges we cannot even imagine yet, never mind anticipate accurately.  But, whatever those challenges turn out to be, I can guarantee you that they will not be met by people without strong quantitative skills, people who cannot construct a sound argument, people who know little of history or geography or economics, people who cannot write well.”

The fact is, the new standards are a big step toward preparing all students for more rigorous higher education—be it online, on a traditional college campus, or on the job. What folks like Zhao are missing is a solid understanding of the research on language comprehension, effective communication, critical thinking, and other crucial abilities (like being responsible citizens). These abilities depend on knowledge. Not just any knowledge—relevant, subject- and task-specific knowledge. The more extensive the knowledge, the deeper the analysis. The CCSS—because they bring higher-quality fiction and dramatically more nonfiction into the classroom, and because they provide a coherent, focused, and rigorous approach to mathematics—will help millions of students develop such knowledge.


  1. The Common Core ELA standards largely omit conceptual structure of the underlying discipline, such as the concept of genre or the elements of rhetoric.

    Nor, for that matter, do they include history or geography or economics, but they do require teachers of those subjects to commit a considerable amount of time to disciplinary literacy skills and techniques.

    Comment by Tom Hoffman — January 16, 2013 @ 12:01 pm

  2. You’re right Tom. And in that lack of specificity in every domain except things like phonics and fluency (no doubt a political necessity)they are like most state standards. But CCSS has the great virtue of conceding that defect,and saying that a good, broad, specific and coherent curriculum year to year is the only way the CCSS standards can be properly implemented.

    Comment by E D Hirsch — January 16, 2013 @ 12:13 pm

  3. Gee, this sounds a lot like my classical liberal arts degree.

    Comment by Eva O'Mara — January 16, 2013 @ 12:31 pm

  4. I have been tracking Marc Tucker’s work from about about the 1986 Carnegie A Nation Prepared report when he served on the staff forward. I even paid retail for his recent Surpassing Shanghai book.

    He is contradicting an awful lot of his previous statements on what he was looking for from standards based reform.

    Hi ED. Nobody would like CCSSI to be about content more than me and you but the level of consistency now in collateral documents and going back 20 years makes that hard. And if my pointing out what the real implementation plans look like from people with the authority to implement them means that a few more kids in a few more schools will retain more content longer or that great principal or teachers will delay retirement one more year, then it is worth being bad mouthed for bothering to read virtually everything binding coming out from any direction.

    http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/when-deep-learning-and-systems-thinking-radicalizes-the-student-factual-reality-ceases-to-matter/ is a story I wrote back in August based on what the Hewlett Foundation said the Common Core was really about.

    Their Deep Learning aligns with the skills the performance assessments are to be measuring. They also align with what William Spady said were the Life Performance Outcomes of Transformational Outcomes Baes Education.

    Tucker says OBE and standards based education are the same thing. Spady is not so busy these days but his acolytes Willard Daggett and Spence Rogers are. One is training in the district where I grew up and the other where I now live. So I know a lot about the planned implementation and how much it realities to the old oBE model and why.

    Last Friday in a climate change National Climate Assessment draft report the various federal agencies described their education and workforce vision going forward. Research Goal Number 6 described the OBE/ Deep Learning template as well and also what the Smithsonian is pushing as Global Competence. Lots of consistency. I could list more but you get the point.

    Only by pointing out these inconsistencies between the selling PR rhetoric and the language in the actual governing documents will there be any chance to keep the content we want in the classroom.

    Tom-the ELA learning progressions for CCSSI are actually on servers in New Zealand because of how much they reflect Marie Clay’s vision. Unfortunately.

    Comment by Student of History — January 16, 2013 @ 7:55 pm

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