Common-Core Critique Seen as 'Off the Mark'

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To the Editor:

Joanne Yatvin presents a strongly worded critique of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and the related publishers' criteria in her Commentary "A Flawed Approach to Reading in the Common-Core Standards," (Feb. 29, 2012).

Her primary claim is that the standards and criteria focus on close reading of short, isolated informational texts, an emphasis that (a) ignores research and practice, (b) is impractical, and (c) leads to classrooms that are dreary and harsh, leaving her "aghast." Unfortunately, her essay is flawed by misrepresentations and misstatements:

• "Any content or skill not specified in the standards [is] excluded"—this claim appears in neither the standards nor the criteria.

• "It ...excludes any early emphasis on understanding what one reads"—a misreading of the standards.

• The domination of fiction is a "reflection of children's developmental stages, their interests, and their limited experience"—the National Academy of Sciences, or NAS, found in a 2012 report: "Before they even enter school, children have developed their own ideas about the physical, biological, and social worlds."

• "The standards overestimate the intellectual, physiological, and emotional development of young children"—an NAS report from 2000 concluded that children are capable of sophisticated levels of thinking and reasoning when provided with support.

Ms. Yatvin's claims are off the mark, but I have different concerns that are related to the promise that the literacy standards will be linked to science, social studies, and technical subjects. Realizing this promise could lead to genuine reform in elementary schooling by undergirding disciplinary learning in the stem areas (science, technology, engineering, and math) and elsewhere (literature, art, music, civics).

Close reading of informational texts is an important skill, but it is not the same as reading for disciplinary knowledge, an achievement that is brilliantly portrayed on Page 3 of the standards. The document states that those who meet the standards include students who "actively seek the wide, deep, and thoughtful engagement with high-quality literary and informational texts that builds knowledge, enlarges experience, and broadens world views."

Implementation of the standards needs to teach students to read and write about something important.

Robert Calfee
Professor Emeritus
School of Education
Stanford University
Stanford, Calif.

Vol. 31, Issue 27, Page 22

Published in Print: April 4, 2012, as Common-Core Critique Seen as 'Off the Mark'
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