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Can The Common Core Standards Reverse The “Rising Tide Of Mediocrity”?


I've taught for thirty years. I've seen curriculum come and go. I've witnessed "bad" curriculum being blamed for lack of academic achievement (instead of income inequality). Now I'm hearing "good" curriculum will solve our problems (instead of mediating income inequality). Right.

Hirsch was at best naive in thinking that our schools could pass along an organized body of knowledge that constituted cultural literacy. Even when he published Cultural Literacy, information was greatly expanding, and the dominant culture was fragmenting. With even more cable television shows and the internet, cultural fragmentation has only increased since the internet. The WASPish cultural literacy of E.D. Hirsch will never be the dominant culture again.

Lisa, You invoke the name of Al Shanker in your praise of the stampede to the Common Core for all; do you really believe this revered man would sign off on an initiative so poorly researched, with little or no mechanism for effective teacher feedback? At the risk of sounding condescending, I urge you and you readers to do your homework before adding your voices to such a potentially harmful course for education; this article is a good place to start: A tough critique of Common Core on early childhood education

Quoted from a commenter to E. D. Hirsch's rebuttal to the abobe critique of the evffecrs of common core on ECE: Starting with his book "The Schools We Need, updated in 1999, E.D. Hirsch started attacking developmentally appropriate practice. He writes well, so the holes in his logic are often difficult to spot, but he often makes claims that go far beyond the available data (or even contradict the best research). On pages 209-210 of Alfie Kohn's book "The Schools Our Children Deserve," Kohn dissected some of Hirsch's sloppy use of research, noting, "anyone who actually takes the trouble to track down the studies cited (by Hirsch) will find that many simply don't show what they claim they do." As for Hirsch's present claims: Hirsch: "The future of American education hinges on whether CCSS can be made to work." Not at all true. Larry Cuban has cited evidence in an earlier column here that there is neither empirical evidence that common standards were needed or that such common can be expected to improve education overall.

Dear Lisa, Please provide some details. Where exactly do Common Core's college-readiness standards provide "rigor"? Which 6-12 standards in ELA and Math can be deemed rigorous (and on what basis)? And where do the 6-12 standards require a strong curriculum? Which 6-12 standards say that? Sandra Stotsky

Everytime I check out the articles on this blog, I am amazed by all the pro corporate "reform" propaganda, including this horrible piece. Utter hogwash. Don't buy into this crud, folks!

Thank you for this. We don't hear enough educators applaud Common Core for fulfilling Shanker's and Hirch's dream. Schools do need help transitioning from NCLB's lowering and narrowing of standards, but Common Core itself has great potential to improve schools. [I feel like I should mention that I am a public school teacher of 7 years when i comment so people don't think I'm from a lobbying group.]

I think Gerald Bracey, David Berliner and a host of others have thoroughly debunked the use of data in A Nation at Risk. Indeed, I'm pretty positive that Matt could rip it apart as well since it is full of mis-truths, half-truths,, and outright lies. Also, I'd sure like to see some evidence for your claim "Mediocrity is what filled the void as schools slowly retreated from teaching all children rigorous content. That retreat happened throughout the 20th century:" As someone who has taught the History of Education and Education Policy, I can tell you that at no time did US schools even teach ALL children during most of the 20th century, so I don't see where you can make such a conclusion. I think that as schools enrolled and taught a greater proportion of kids, rigor was reduced through perhaps the early 1980s. But, if rigor continued to slide through the end of the 20th century, how would you explain the relatively large gains in NAEP from 1970 through 2000? Apologies for being harsh, but this post seems to twist history and evidence in an effort to support common core. If you want to provide support for common core, you will have to do better than what is presented in this post.

Lisa, The overall NAEP scores of all students is subject to Simpson's Paradox (look it up or buy Bracey's book or Koretz's book). You have to look at the disaggregated scores. Further, you imply in your response that critical thinking is not rigorous. Is that what you really mean? And, if so, are you recommending common core because it focuses on rigor as you define it and does not attempt to teach critical thinking? If so, that is a pretty stunning statement and pretty damning of common core given the pretty unanimous belief that kids need to be critical thinkers in the 21st century.

Hi Ed, Thanks for taking the time to weigh in. I certainly agree that we have never come close to actually teaching all children rigorous content. We have a tragic history (and ongoing problem, in some places) of systematically undereducating far too many children in many ways—some despicably intentional and some unintentional yet still devastating. That said, I think the main thing I am guilty of here is assuming such knowledge on the part of Shanker Blog readers and moving quickly into my main point: focusing on developing skills without also focusing on building knowledge is not effective. I supposed I should have written something more precise and convoluted like: As schools pursued mistaken theories of reading comprehension and critical thinking, and spent less time trying to teach content knowledge and academic vocabulary, even fewer students were exposed to a rigorous education than had been in the past and mediocrity became even more prevalent than before. As for NAEP, when I look at the long-term trend data for reading, I don’t see any “relatively large gains.” I see some real gains among 9-year-olds (especially at the 10th and 25th percentiles) and some very modest gains among 13-year-olds. I see no educationally significant gains among 17-year-olds. See, pages 3, 10, and 11. I would explain it as follows: Across the country, schools have gotten a lot better at teaching decoding. Thus, 9-year-olds’ scores have increased because they are better able to fluently decode the relatively basic, content-light passages on their exam. Among 13-year-olds, gains have been minimal because the reading passages on the test contain a mix of banal topics that almost everyone has knowledge of—and thus can comprehend—and academic topics that are only familiar to—and thus easily understood by—those who have had plenty of science, social studies, art, etc. from the earliest grades. Among 17-year-olds, there are no meaningful gains because the passages on the test are all of a more academic nature. Those scores won’t budge until our schools become far more committed to ensuring that we start building knowledge and vocabulary in early childhood and continue to do so in a coherent, domain-focused, sequential way throughout K-12.


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