I've long been skeptical about whether the Common Core Standards, however well intentioned, can spur positive education reform. As I argued earlier on the Core Knowledge blog, the vagueness of these standards leaves way too much room for interpretation:
Given the dominant Constructivist paradigm, there’s way too much room, in particular for a Constructivist interpretation and implementation of the Common Core standards, and, thereby, for even further Constructivist penetration of America’s K12 classrooms.An article in the latest Edweek on the common core English standards, for example, teems with Constructivist buzzwords: "inquiry;" "habits of mind;'" "cross-disciplinary." It also describes a hypothetical assignment, inspired by the core standards, that reeks of Constructivism's fuzzy open-endedness, "real life" relevance, personal connections, and interdisciplinary sprawl:
Students might be asked what it means to live in a globally interdependent world. They could be sent home with an assignment to examine the labels on their clothing and food and note their countries of origin. As a class, they can graph those nations and examine the emerging portrait of importers and exporters. Each student could dive into his or her country's place in that system and write about the perils and promises of that role. Then, imagining themselves as ambassadors at the United Nations, they would have to figure out what issues are most pressing for their country and how best to plead for funding.A look through the 66-page Common Core Standards for English, Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects shows a couple of occurrences of cross/inter-disciplinary, a couple of occurrences of "inquiry" (though not in a particularly Constructivist sense), and no occurences of "habits of mind." There's certainly plenty of room for a Constructivist interpretation of the core standards, but there's also room for much more.
In particular, there's apparently room for a rather bizarre conclusion about what sorts of texts to assign, at least according to the Edweek article:
The common standards have prompted school librarians to "take a hard look" at their collections to weed out dated material and bolster challenging fiction and nonfiction resources, said the AASL's Ms. Ballard. In doing so, they are looking especially closely at the rigor of the readings they offer, since the standards emphasize assigning students "on-grade-level" texts, even if that means extra supports are needed to help them."Rigor," apparently, is defined entirely by the Lexile rating system:
Many 9th and 10th graders read Agatha Christie's mystery And Then There Were None, which Lexile rates as appropriate for 2nd and 3rd graders. Ms. Jaeger is encouraging teachers to consider instead The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, about an autistic boy's attempt to solve a dog's murder. Instead of The Catcher in the Rye, which Lexile pegs to the 4th grade level, she suggests sophomores could read The Stone Diaries, which Lexile places at the 11th and 12th grades.But Lexile is not designed to be the sole basis for determining rigor. Lexile ratings are based on just two factors: word frequency and sentence length. From Lexile's own website:
Many other factors affect the relationship between a reader and a book, including its content, the age and interests of the reader, and the design of the actual book. The Lexile text measure is a good starting point in the book-selection process, with these other factors then being considered.Who in their right mind would think that "The Catcher in the Rye" should be read by fourth graders--let alone "The Sun Also Rises" and other works by that author so well-known for his simple sentences and vocabulary?
Second, where does Edweek get the idea that all students should be assigned "on-grade-level texts"? This idea--in the same spirit as Constructivism's half-baked "differentiated instruction" paradigm--is nowhere in the common core document. Nor is it a good way to teach the many students who are reading substantially below grade level. (Their schools' insistence that all students be taught on-grade-level texts was one of the biggest complaints of my TFA students).
Interestingly, crude word counting along the lines of Lexile rating seems to be the basis for some of this Constructivist exegesis of the Common Core Standards. For example, librarian Paige Jaeger, who proposed the clothing label/UN ambassadors' project above as a rigorous, "inquiry-based" project, was inspired in part by having counted:
more than 700 "power verbs" in the standards, such as "analyze," "integrate," and "formulate," that press students toward more rigor and inquiry-based learning.But true reading comprehension is much more than word counting, and before anyone can "analyze," "integrate," and "formulate," say, a document like the Common Core Standards, he or she must first be able to comprehend full sentences--however short, and however high the frequency of the words they contain. Given how deathly boring the Common Core Standards documents are, this is, however, a very tall order, and one that I myself have no intention of actually following.