As everyone knows by now, New York has made a mess of its Common Core implementation and, as a media center, has been a drag on the nation’s perception of the new standards. In yet another example, NPR uses a New York State curriculum expert to describe a sample English curriculum, illustrating both the scripted nature of New York’s curriculum guidance and a basic misunderstanding of the standards.
Here is an excerpt from a Fordham Institute post that explains the whole story well:
This is what “good” Common Core instruction is supposed to look like? Hardly.
The biggest problem is that this is simply a deadly dull lesson. Given a golden opportunity to illustrate the promise of Common Core for a national audience, Gerson offers up a mechanistic, skills-driven lesson about a story whose place in literature is far from assured.
Lest you think I’m being unfair, I invite you to check out the source of this exercise: a fifty-three-lesson (!) module titled, “Reading Closely and Writing to Analyze: How Do Authors Develop Complex Characters?” The other works in the unit are excerpts from Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell; excerpts from Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke; and excerpts from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Excerpts. No complete works. Bleeding chunks of literature chosen because they presumably offer opportunities to learn and practice a reading “skill.” The Common Core standards are supposed to give students the opportunity to grapple with texts worth reading. If nothing else, it should mean a transition from skills-driven literacy to curriculum-driven literacy. Skills are tools for analyzing text; literature is not a delivery mechanism for teaching skills. And fifty-three lessons on character development? At one point in the NPR piece, Gerson says under Common Core, “It takes two to three days to complete a lesson.” Is this one unit on character development going to last all year?
“A curriculum as a whole should have coherence and meaning,” Diana Senechal notes in a critique of the lesson.
A ninth-grade literature course may well be a survey course—but the works can still be selected to combine in interesting ways….Without a literature curriculum, a Common Core lesson quickly turns into a lesson on reading skills. That may explain why, on the very first day of the school year, the students begin by reading and discussing the standards, and then turn to their main activity of circling and looking up words.
Senechal is a frequent Common Core critic, but she’s exactly right when she observes, “Common Core advocates are zealously repeating the mistakes of their predecessors.”
Those of us who have supported Common Core owe it to the field to do better. We can start by holding up as exemplary lessons that represent a sharp break with the skills-driven, all-texts-are-created-equal approach has come to dominate too many classrooms. A curriculum-driven approach means using the limited time we have with students to engage them with challenging and enduring texts worth reading closely and rereading. If you’re choosing those texts because they are a delivery mechanism for skills—even useful and valuable skills—you’re already at risk of losing your way. Choose a story, poem, or novel—something beautiful, important, or enduring that you want your students to read—and then use the standards to drive the work you ask students to do. The “fewer, clearer, higher” nature of the standards guarantees that if a literary work is worth teaching, you can apply the standards to it. That’s the difference between being standards driven and curriculum driven. In the former, you choose a skill to teach and practice it on any ol’ text. Under Common Core, the text is king.