Common core is a golden opportunity—Don;’t throw in the towel now!

Last week the Brookings Institution released a report by Tom Loveless declaring the Common Core standards to be a big waste— two years before they even go into effect. The top highlight listed on the report’s website lays it bare:

“Predicting the Effect of the Common Core State Standards on Student Achievement:

The Common Core will have little to no effect on student achievement.”

Bummer.

Loveless lays out three “theorized effects” of how proponents believe the Common Core will improve education. They are:

  • Quality theory: “The Common Core will raise the quality of education nationally by defining a higher-quality curriculum in English-language-arts and mathematics than is currently taught.”
  • Rigorous performance standards theory: “A new Common Core test will presumably end such discrepancies [between state tests] by evaluating the same standards for every state, and these standards are to be more rigorous than those currently used.”
  • Standardization theory: “One high-quality textbook— or perhaps a few that are aligned with the same content standards— used by all American students attending the same grade would be an improvement over the status quo.”

Sounds pretty good to all of us doe-eyed educators who have been baffled by the patchwork system out there. But then Loveless shreds those “theorized effects,” wielding NAEP score data with idol-smashing fervor. He writes:

“…[D]o not expect much from the Common Core. Education leaders often talk about standards as if they are a system of weights and measures— the word “benchmarks” is used promiscuously as a synonym for standards. But the term is misleading by inferring that there is a real, known standard for measurement. Standards in education are best understood as aspirational, and like a strict diet or prudent plans to save money for the future, they represent good intentions that are not often realized.”

Sure, standards alone will not lift public education.  But better curriculum and better trained teachers will.  The transition to Common Core standards is a golden opportunity for high-quality professional development centered on improving instruction and better (though unfortunately not fewer) tests. It’s an alarm clock moment for teachers to share expertise around crafting quality curricula.

The standards themselves provide just the spark— they won’t move mountains alone.

I’ve had two full days of PD on “unwrapping” (great edu-jargon) Common Core standards and it looks good to me. I think these guideposts/standards/benchmarks/aspirations will make classrooms better. I’ve pasted at the bottom of this blog (it’s rather long) the ten College and Career Readiness (CCR) anchor standards for writing, as well as the first writing standards, tracked from grade 6 to 12.

It’s smart, noncontroversial stuff. I look forward to my two-year-old daughter Sadie building these skills in her schooling. Declaring the Common Core standards useless or counterproductive at this point doesn’t make sense to me.

The will and the funds seem to be in place for an unprecedented influx of quality professional development. In 2014 we should have good standards, better-prepared teachers, and better curriculum. Why quit before we’ve begun?

Here are the ten CCR anchor standards for writing:

Text Types and Purposes

1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing

4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
5. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
6. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge

7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing

10. Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

 

And here is the first ELA standard for writing, tracked from 6th through 12th grade. To my eyes, it builds with logical, appropriate rigor:

W.6.1. Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

  • Introduce claim(s) and organize the reasons and evidence clearly.
  • Support claim(s) with clear reasons and relevant evidence, using credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.
  • Use words, phrases, and clauses to clarify the relationships among claim(s) and reasons.
  • Establish and maintain a formal style.
  • Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from the argument presented.

 

W.7.1. Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

  • Introduce claim(s), acknowledge alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.
  • Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant evidence, using accurate, credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.
  • Use words, phrases, and clauses to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among claim(s), reasons, and evidence.
  • Establish and maintain a formal style.

Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.

 

W.8.1. Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

  • Introduce claim(s), acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.
  • Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant evidence, using accurate, credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.
  • Use words, phrases, and clauses to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
  • Establish and maintain a formal style.
  • Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.

 

W.9-10.1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

  • Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
  • Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly, supplying evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level and concerns.
  • Use words, phrases, and clauses to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.
  • Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
  • Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.

 

W.11-12.1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

  • Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
  • Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.
  • Use words, phrases, and clauses as well as varied syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.
  • Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
  • Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.
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