Reading & Literacy

Common State Standards, Part II (Updated)

By Sean Cavanagh — September 21, 2009 2 min read

A new version of the Common Core multistate standards has been released for public consumption. Many of the biggest changes were made in the language arts section, as opposed to the math, as I reported in my story today.

The new draft greatly expands the number of “illustrative texts,” meant to show reading materials at the level of complexity that students need to be ready for on-campus studies and life in the labor market. The Declaration of Independence is in there, as was the case with the earlier draft, but so are documents like the Rev. Martin Luther King’s 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” written to ministers and others who had been critical of him. Check out the Common Core documents to see more of those texts. The authors are quick to point out that this is not meant to be a prescriptive “reading list” for states.

The Council of Great City Schools is out the gate with a positive response to the latest draft. The organization says it offered comments on the early draft, and it even suggests that some of the big cities it represents might serve as “initial test sites” for implementing the standards.

UPDATE: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who has offered states a financial carrot to adopt common standards through Race to the Top funding, speaks favorably of the revised document:

“I applaud the leadership of this coalition of states in joining together to develop a common core of academic standards. The draft college- and career-ready standards that were released today as part of those efforts are an important step forward, and it is now in the hands of the public to provide critical feedback to state leadership. There is no work more important than preparing our students to compete and succeed in a global economy, and it is to the credit of these states that this work is getting done.”

The American Federation of Teachers also likes what it sees. The union’s president, Randi Weingarten, who has spoken favorably of creating national standards in the past, said AFT representatives had looked over an earlier draft, and the views of teachers are being taken seriously.

“We expect to see even more teacher input during the comment period and in future efforts to develop standards to guide the work of K-12 teachers,” Weingarten said in a statement. “We encourage math and language arts teachers from across the country to make suggestions throughout this process...The question is: Do these standards reflect what we expect our children to know and what they should be able to do upon graduation, whether they enter the workforce or go onto college? We realize the answer is far from simple, but these standards are a solid first step.”

Lynne Munson, of the group Common Core (not to be confused with the group drafting the standards) advocates for students receiving a content-rich curriculum. She likes the changes from the earlier draft, particularly the inclusion of more illustrative texts. But she questions why business memos, newspaper pages , and the like appear alongside passages of literature and historical documents. “It would be hard to imagine that someone who could master Austen, Whitman, and King would struggle to grasp the contents of a homepage, front page, or a memo on medical benefits,” she writes in a blog post. “Sure, these resemble the kind of reading people must navigate daily, but school is a time when you encounter uncommon works of enduring value. The standards make that point, but more obliquely than they should.”

Photo of MLK, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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