Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Common Core Concerns from Washington Post Blog

As one commenter puts it in Valerie Strauss's blog, the following Common Core instruction from Student Achievement Partners attempts to teach students to read passages as they are presented in the context of standardized testing. Is that the goal of teaching?
   "Imagine learning about the Gettysburg Address without a mention of the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg, or why President Abraham Lincoln had traveled to Pennsylvania to make the speech. That’s the way a Common Core State Standards “exemplar for instruction” — from a company founded by three main Core authors — says it should be taught to ninth and 10th graders.
   The unit — “A Close Reading of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address“ — is designed for students to do a “close reading” of the address “with text-dependent questions” — but without historical context. Teachers are given a detailed 29-page script of how to teach the unit, with the following explanation:
 'The idea here is to plunge students into an independent encounter with this short text. Refrain from giving background context or substantial instructional guidance at the outset. It may make sense to notify students that the short text is thought to be difficult and they are not expected to understand it fully on a first reading — that they can expect to struggle. Some students may be frustrated, but all students need practice in doing their best to stay with something they do not initially understand. This close reading approach forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all students as they seek to comprehend Lincoln’s address.' [italics mine]

The last statement presupposes that students of varied backgrounds socially, economically, ethnically, and racially will be tabula rasa, that is, blank slates in their knowledge. Now I will admit occasionally encountering a student seemingly fitting that category; however, to assume that will be the case with an entire class, no matter how homogeneous, is absurd. To put such a statement into written teaching materials as an exemplar reveals the utter stupidity of the writers and calls into question the validity of all 29 pages!

In fact, a teacher following these instructions will be making the playing field even more unfair for the least privileged students in the class. The statement also reveals the basic weakness of reading sections on standardized tests. E.D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge curriculum does more to level that field than any misguided attempt to teach in a knowledge vacuum.


Common Core Critic on the Left said...

Some students with a learning disability (such as ADD) often depend on developing a context in order to retain the required knowledge. Hasn't it been a consistent complaint of students that what they are required to learn doesn't appear relevant? Be it math problems, literary works or historical events, context matters. It may even be critical for the student's ability to retain the information. Where does project based learning fit into common core if there is to be no context?

From the Left said...

I watched the video clip on the classroom discussion of The Lottery and the brief reference to symbolism as found in the poem taken from the song Strange Fruit.

The material used isn't my objection, but I have a serious problem with the limited way the material is being presented in the clip. What a telling statement when the teacher says because her 9th grade students have difficulty in reading she gives them an recorded version to listen at home.

The material is being presented and taught like it's a game show. Open and collaborative discussion is good, but there is no effort to stimulate development of ideas by the teacher. The instruction is very shallow.

The only reference to historical context was a casual note that Strange Fruit was associated with the Civil Rights Movement. That's like saying Woodstock was associated with the Viet Nam War. Is this how we are educating the next generation under common core?