April 16, 2014
It might help to look at texts that “exemplify” what the new standards ask students to read.
This is refreshing: I walk into a coffee shop and a parent wants to discuss the Common Core. It becomes a discussion about what we want students to read and learn. How great is this!
Cover of Time magazine, April 21, 2014 -“Common Core Revolt”
Denver Post Editorial, April 13, 2014 –“Crusade continues on Common Core”
Mike Rosen Show, April 10, 2014 –
Gov. Hickenlooper answers question about getting rid of Common Core
I’m glad it’s a hot topic (see box). We ought to be talking about WHAT we teach. Reform efforts often relegate curriculum to the back burner. So hurrah! We are talking about it!
And here I write about it– essentially to inform, and yes, to persuade. I want to present mom and dad excerpts from a few books, essays, and speeches that, according to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), represent the kind of reading we can—(my bias: perhaps should)—ask of our students.
Wait a minute, you say: I thought defenders of CCSS for language arts and math—or of the 2010 Colorado Academic Standards, which the Colorado Department of Education, “incorporate(s) the entire CCSS while maintaining the unique aspects of the Colorado Academic Standards”—keep telling us that standards are not curriculum (http://www.cde.state.co.us/contentareas/ccss_in_the_colorado_standards. And yet you’re about to suggest this essay, or this book, “meets the standards”?
You ask: Am I being ironic? Do I fail to see the contradiction? How can I claim to advocate for choice, charters, and school autonomy—and then suggest every student should read, say, the Gettysburg Address?
A look back will help. The initial legislation for the standards and charter schools passed in the same 1993 session: it was our first attempt to set clear expectations for all Colorado students, while simultaneously we provided greater autonomy for parents and educators willing to open a school. Charter schools were free to develop or commit to a curriculum that matched the school’s mission and educational philosophy: Core Knowledge, Expeditionary Learning, KIPP, Montessori, or whatever it might be. Many choices on how a school could meet—or exceed—the standards, the shared goals we set for all Colorado students.
Our current Colorado Academic Standards were adopted in 2010. As one of dozens who has reviewed and critiqued charter school applications for the Colorado League of Charter Schools over the past four years, I continue to see a remarkable range of educational philosophies and curricula in recent applications. And yet each new school commits to meeting our new standards. Freedom on the how, general agreement on the what: the skills and knowledge students should learn.
Our new standards, then, do not change the structure that has been in place for two decades. Local control by 178 districts, and especially site-based control by any charter school, means the curriculum and classroom instruction, which we can make as strong and rigorous as we wish, are still in our hands.
On the other hand, standards are meaningless if they do not have an impact on what we teach: i.e. the curriculum. When CCSS critics tell us they will “lower our standards,” a parent is right to be concerned. Bob Schaffer, former chair of the Colorado State Board of Education, has stated: “The Common Core standards are indeed common—not ambitious, not high.” Leaders in Douglas County share this view.
Educators to state: Let's go above Common Core
Douglas County educators are among those who don't want the state to implement the national Common Core standards, but their objections have less to do with money and local control than with high standards.
As in, the Common Core State Standards aren't high enough.
“We feel like there's a problem with it being the beginning of the conversation and not to the rigor that we want our students to aspire to,” said district superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen.
It doesn’t help when CCSS defenders reel off a few pat phrases about the wonders of the new standards. This former teacher finds it especially depressing when an educator spouts banalities like this:
“We’re moving away from rote memorization, drilling children, and moving more toward getting deeper into the content and really being able to not only apply our knowledge but transfer it from one thing to another. Critical-thinking skills are back!”
(New Mexico teacher, quoted in the American Federation of Teachers’ paper in support
of the Common Core. http://www.aft.org/pdfs/teachers/CCSS_FAQ2013.pdf)
Good grief! We needed new standards to ask students to use their minds? Gosh, I thought I was expected to ask my 7th graders to THINK way back in the dark ages in my first teaching job … in 1975.
My guess is parents won’t find the verbiage from on high of much use either:
· U.S. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan: “… the Common Core standards mark a sea-change in education. Not only do they set the bar high, they give teachers the space and opportunity to go deep, emphasizing problem-solving, analysis, and critical thinking, as well as creativity and teamwork.”
· Bill Gates: “Common core is about learning to apply knowledge and critical thinking. Not just testing rote memorization.”
Mom and Dad are going to have trouble wrapping their heads around such amorphous language.
My goal, here, is to be concrete, to give parents something they can get their hands on. Passages to read. Quotes from six texts more Colorado students might be asked to study.
One parent who spoke up for the new standards on Colorado Chalkbeat had something tangible in mind when he wrote:
“… they’ll spend more time on fewer subjects, really getting to the core of what they’re learning. For example, in English language arts, students will read more non-fiction texts, like foundational American literature, spend more time analyzing them, and then apply what they’ve learned to real-life situations.” Oscar Zavala on Feb. 20, 2014. (http://co.chalkbeat.org/2014/02/20/colorado-academic-standards-give-parents-peace-of-mind/
I agree with Mr. Zavala. Let me offer a few specific examples of what his children might be reading.
Exemplary works of FICTION: Again, while nothing is required by CCSS, I find it reassuring to see the website includes many of the works of fiction I read with students at various times in my 18-years of teaching: Homer’s The Odyssey; Macbeth (1592); Pride and Prejudice (1813); Jane Eyre (1848); Fathers and Sons (1862 ); A Doll’s House (1879); The Great Gatsby (1925); The Grapes of Wrath (1939); Fahrenheit 451 (1953); A Raisin in the Sun (1959); To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) (http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Appendix_B.pdf
First, a word of caution. NOT ONE PASSAGE, NOT ONE SENTENCE THAT FOLLOWS, IS REQUIRED, MANDATED, or IMPOSED ON EVERY SECONDARY STUDENT IN COLORADO. But these passages are from examples that meet Colorado standards for reading, writing, and communicating. The works quoted here, according to CCSS, demonstrate a limited number of “Texts Illustrating the Complexity, Quality, & Range of Student Reading 6-12” for Language Arts Standards. “…the texts listed … are meant only to show individual titles that are representative of a range of topics and genres.”
TMM – Too Much MISinformation
Please take a look at six passages—in chronological order—from the “exemplary informational texts” listed on the CCSS website. (More examples below.) I ask you: if we expect students to read, understand, discuss and write about works like these, do you think we will be “lowering our standards”? Do these represent, as Dustin Zvonek, Colorado State Director of Americans for Prosperity claims, “watered-down standards and … politically-correct content classroom content”? (From an Open Letter to Gov. Hickenlooper asking him to “apply the brakes” on implementation of “the latest federal education fad called Common Core.”) Does the charge made by a Long Island superintendent in Time make any sense? “We were told this was a new curriculum [a sure sign he was misinformed from the start] that would raise standards and go deeper. Who could object to such a thing? But the devil is in the details, and the details are horrible” (“Skipping Out,” 4/21/14).
I offer here are some of the “horrible” details: Patrick Henry, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln….
1. “Speech to the Second Virginia Convention” - by Patrick Henry (1775)
They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of the means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us.… There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable—and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come!
It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry peace, peace—but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the North will bring to our ears the clash of
resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!
2. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave - by Frederick Douglass (1845)
I have been frequently asked how I felt when I found myself in a Free State. I have never been able to answer the question with any satisfaction to myself. It was a moment of the highest excitement I ever experienced. I suppose I felt as one may imagine the unarmed mariner to feel, when he is rescued by a friendly man-of-war from the pursuit of a pirate. In writing to a dear friend, immediately after my arrival at New York, I said I felt like one who had escaped a den of hungry lions…. There I was in the midst of thousands, and yet a perfect stranger; without home and without friends, in the midst of thousands of my own brethren – children of a common Father, and yet I dared not unfold to any one of them my sad condition…. It was a most painful situation; and, to understand it, one must needs experience it, or imagine himself in similar circumstances. Let him be a fugitive slave in a strange land—a land given up to be the hunting-ground for slave-holders—whose inhabitants are legalized kidnappers—where he is every moment subjected to the terrible liability of being seized upon by his fellow-men, as the hideous crocodile seizes upon his prey!—I say, let him place himself in my situation—without home or friends—without money or credit—wanting shelter, and no one to give it—wanting bread, and no money to buy it, and at the same time let him feel that he is pursued by merciless men-hunters, and in total darkness as to what to do, where to go, or where to stay, perfectly helpless both as to the means of defence and means of escape, in the midst of plenty, yet suffering the terrible gnawings of hunger, in the midst of houses, yet having no home, among fellow-men, yet feeling as if in the midst of wild beasts, whose greediness to swallow up the trembling and half-famished fugitive is only equalled by that with which the monsters of the deep swallow up the helpless fish upon which they subsist,--I say, let him be placed in this most trying situation, the situation in which I was placed, then, and not till then, will he fully appreciate the hardships of, and know how to sympathize with, the toil-worn and whip-scarred fugitive slave.
3. “Gettysburg Address” - by Abraham Lincoln (1863)
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.
4. “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat”: Address to Parliament – by Winston Churchill (May 13, 1940)
I say to the House as I said to ministers who have joined this government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.
You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might and with all the strength God has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.
You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs - Victory in spite of all terrors - Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.
Let that be realized. No survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge, the impulse of the ages, that mankind shall move forward toward his goal.
I take up my task in buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. I feel entitled at this juncture, at this time, to claim the aid of all and to say, "Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength."
5. “State of the Union Address” - by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Jan. 6, 1941)
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor--anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb….
This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women; and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose. To that high concept there can be no end save victory.
6. “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” - by Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 16, 1963)
I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say wait. But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your 20 million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see the tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking in agonizing pathos: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” men and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger” and your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title of “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”; then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.
Good news: These six readings are part of the Core Knowledge Sequence – which guides the curriculum in over 40 Colorado schools, including Liberty Common in Ft. Collins
In Another View #82–Implementing Common Core State Standards in Language Arts (Aug. 27, 2011) I wrote of the overlap between the “exemplary texts” listed by CCSS and the curriculum guided by the Core Knowledge Sequence (I taught in three such schools—two charters and one private; we have over 40 public and private Core Knowledge schools in our state-http://www.coreknowledge.org). In Another View #87 – Reading (Sept. 4, 2012) I listed a number of those “exemplary texts” to show how wrong Sheridan’s Superintendent Mike Clough was to claim the new standards would mean “much more work around technical manuals and much less work around novels.” In Another View #105—Teaching our students to write (Dec. 3, 2013), I called attention to several first-person narratives and essays in the Core Knowledge curriculum that I believe meet the CCSS guidelines for strong literary nonfiction.
The Core Knowledge Sequence recommends teaching all six of these works between grades 4-8. Teaching 7th and 8th grade, my classes read the Churchill and Roosevelt speeches while my students were studying World War II in their history class; we studied “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” during their unit on Civil Rights. (Please ignore the shrill cries that CCSS “wants to control the curriculum.” Teaching those three works took about five classes, in all.) So it is no surprise to find that E.D. Hirsch, the founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation, is a strong supporter of the new standards.
The Common Core Standards could presage a breakthrough in the dreary record of 8th-grade reading scores over the past 40 years.… the new language-arts standards place a unique emphasis from the earliest grades on science, history, and the arts, so that students will gradually build the general knowledge they need to read and to comprehend.… Also very welcome, in this final version is the emphasis on civic knowledge and on the seminal texts of the nation. These standards mark, then, a real advance on even the best of existing state language-arts standards. If they are indeed accompanied by a coherent curriculum that ensures students accumulate needed knowledge starting in earliest grades, they will form a platform on which we can finally address the literacy crisis in this country.http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Quotes-from-Supporters.pdf
If a parent finds the six texts included here “lack rigor” or are “politically correct,” feel free, but I wish we could discuss the merits of such readings—rather than succumb to false charges and misinformation. If a legislator like Vicki Marble (R-Ft. Collins) believes “there was nothing wrong with our academic standards,” so “why are we trying to fix something that isn’t broken?” perhaps she is unaware that in 2011 the Fordham Foundation gave our history standards an F. Which led to my rebuke in Another View #76: “Do you find it odd that World War II is not mentioned in our history standards? Not once in 100 pages…. Search for Roosevelt, Churchill, Hitler. Try Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Hiroshima, A-Bomb. Nothing. Zip.”
Colorado’s social studies standards are unchanged since then. But today, happily, schools and teachers can point to “exemplary texts” offered by CCSS to say—perhaps our students should read those speeches by Churchill and Roosevelt, and texts like the Gettysburg Address and King’s “Letter.” One example of how the new standards are—imperfect, to be sure—but at least a step in the right direction.
 “While Colorado adopted the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics, the state continues to maintain ‘unique to Colorado’ standards in those content areas. And, as always has been the case, districts maintain autonomy to adopt their own curriculum to meet the standards and teachers retain the ability to design their instruction in ways that support students in meeting the standards” (http://www.cde.state.co.us/standardsandinstruction/coloradostandards).
See page 6. Bob Schaffer is the principal of Liberty Common High, one of Colorado’s most well-regarded Core Knowledge schools.
 (CDE’s web site does not make it easy to open this list. Go to: http://www.cde.state.co.us/sites/default/files/documents/coreadingwriting/documents/rwc_standards_2010.pdf, and find this paragraph on the bottom of page one:
“The Colorado Department of Education encourages you to review the Common Core State Standards and the extensive appendices at www.corestandards.org. While all the expectations of the Common Core State Standards are embedded and coded with CCSS: in this document, additional information on the development and the intentions behind the Common Core State Standards can be found on the website.”
Also go to page 55 of the reading, writing, and communicating standards, where it shows “From the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects (Pages 31 and 57).”
At that common core web site, a few more hoops to jump; here is the link
 Other “illustrative texts” for literary nonfiction include:
Grades 6-8 -“Letter on Thomas Jefferson,” by John Adams (1776); Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad, by Ann Petry (1955).
Grades 9-10 – “Farewell Address,” by George Washington (1796); “Hope, Despair and Memory,” by Elie Wiesel (1997).
Grades 11-12 – Common Sense, by Thomas Paine (1776); Walden, by Henry David Thoreau (1854); Black Boy, by Richard Wright (1945); and “Politics and the English Language,” by George Orwell (1946).
 See the following pages in the Core Knowledge Sequence: Grade 4: Patrick Henry’s speech (p. 89); Grade 5: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas (p. 110) and Gettysburg Address (p. 111). See Core Knowledge anthologies, Realms of Gold, Vol. 2: Churchill’s speech (pp. 233-235); Roosevelt’s speech (pp. 256-267); Vol. 3: “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” (pp. 232-255).