Another Take on the (Draft) Common Standards

By Sean Cavanagh — July 23, 2009 2 min read
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While Core Knowledge appears to have been first out the gate with a (negative) reaction to the draft of multistate academic standards, I’ve since touched base with several others, who have very different takes.

A much more positive review came from Karen Wixson, a University of Michigan professor of education who’s helped states craft their own language arts standards. While Core Knowledge officials argued that the standards were not content-specific enough, Wixson disagreed.

“They’ve done a pretty good job picking an appropriate grain size, which is always an issue,” Wixson told me. The standards documents cites a relatively small number of English language texts as illustrating the kinds of reading and interpretive skills that students need to master to be ready for college. For instance, it includes the Declaration of Independence as a sample text, as well as a passage from a Katherine Mansfield short story, and a science passage written by Sylvia Mader.

Ms. Wixson said those drafting the standards were wise keep the examples of English language texts short and to the point. “They have a nice little range,” she said. And adding a lot of examples of reading materials to the draft, or moving to “name names,” as Wixson put it, would almost certainly bring a flood of complaints about why one text or another didn’t make the list. In addition, state and local school officials would presumably want to right to be flexible in spelling out specific examples of additional texts, to meet the general standards of the Common Core document, she added.

“If all you do is list a bunch of books you’re supposed to read, you’re implying that all you have to do is read all of these different texts, and you’ll somehow acquire all of these different skills,” Wixson told me. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

As the draft document stands now, “I like the level of specificity,” she said. “I think it does provide direction…not that a state or school district would not want to flesh [it] out.” She also said that the core English language standards spelled out in the draft gave good, reasonable examples of the skills that define a good reader.

Core Knowledge’s critique emphasizes content at the expense of acquiring reading skills, Wixson contends. “You need both content and process,” she said.

In addition to helping states draft their standards, Wixson worked on the development of reading frameworks for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.