The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) resulted from a delayed awakening that the U.S. public educational system has been on a downhill slide for decades. A root cause of some of this decline has come from a decrease in reading complexity for texts throughout the K-12 years despite the reverse trend in the world as a whole. 1 The problems of decreased competence in language arts, math and science were to be addressed by CCSS.
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Common Core’s Founding Philosophy
The committee which produced the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) issued an encouraging admission of the value of traditional reading:
“Moreover, current trends suggest that if students cannot read challenging texts with understanding—if they have not developed the skill, concentration, and stamina to read such texts—they will read less in general. In particular, if students cannot read complex expository text to gain information, they will likely turn to text-free or text-light sources, such as video, podcasts, and tweets. These sources, while not without value, cannot capture the nuance, subtlety, depth, or breadth of ideas developed through complex text… This bodes ill for the ability of Americans to meet the demands placed upon them by citizenship in a democratic republic and the challenges of a highly competitive global marketplace of goods, services, and ideas.”
In addition, their mission was also guided by the reality that learning in the college environment requires “argument literacy” not only in literature and the humanities, but also in science.2,3
From the standpoint of math, their approach appeared solid, too:
“At the high school level, the standards are organized by conceptual category (number and quantity, algebra, functions, geometry, modeling and probability and statistics), showing the body of knowledge students should learn in each category to be college and career ready, and to be prepared to study more advanced mathematics.”4
Strategy of the Standards
With regard to English Language Arts (ELA) and “literacy in history/social studies, science and technical subjects,” the standards were developed with the following outline:
- CCR (College and Career Readiness) and grade specific standards for K-8, 9-10 and 11-12 grade bands.
- “A focus on results rather than means”
- “An integrated model of literacy” which is divided into Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening.
- “Research and media skills are blended into the Standards as a whole” so that the students learn to “gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize and report on information and ideas, to conduct original research to answer questions or solve problems.” The students need to know how to use an “extensive range of print and nonprint texts in media forms old and new.”
- “Shared responsibility for students’ literary development” meaning that the K-5 communication skills are not limited to ELA subjects while the 6-12 standards are divided between the ELA subjects and the others previously mentioned. They recognize that the responsibility for literary skills is not reserved for ELA teachers.
Regarding the math standards, the goal recognized that the standards must address the problem of a curriculum that is “a mile wide and an inch deep.”
- Students must “make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.”
- Reasoning “abstractly and quantitatively” is critical.
- The standards teach how to “construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.”
- Another objective is to ”model with mathematics.” Mathematically proficient students will be able to “to identify important quantities in a practical situation and map their relationships using such tools as diagrams, two-way tables, graphs, flowcharts and formulas.”
- The standards want to ensure that students can “use appropriate tools strategically.” This would include such things as: “pencil and paper, concrete models, a ruler, a protractor, a calculator, a spreadsheet, a computer algebra system, a statistical package, or dynamic geometry software.”
- Attention to precision, learning how to pattern and structure in math situations and evaluating the reasonableness of their intermediate results are points of focus within the standards.
Conclusion to Part 1
Clearly, much time and effort was put into creating the CCSS, or “Common Core.” The goal of providing a logical and cohesive set of standards for ELA and math is certainly laudable.
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The following parts of this article will address how the standards were funded, approved, implemented, testing and a look to the future with regard the true and only partially hidden agenda and other citizen concerns.
In the mean time, rest easy with the underlying philosophy of the standards that if you want to maintain local control of your school systems, you can… Uh, oh, why does that sound ominously familiar?
Oscar A. (Tony) Rubio is a writer who merges the lessons of history with current events to suggest a better path. This Cincinnati native resides in Clermont county and believes that our national mood would be improved if we listened to more Big Band and Jazz. He is certain that we must take action on the local and state levels now if we are to realize our hope that the White House will be occupied by the party which respects human life, the Constitution and Natural Law beginning on January 20, 2017. Tony blogs at www.cartaremi.wordpress.com and www.sportuoso.wordpress.com.
All opinions expressed belong solely to their authors and may not be construed as the opinions of other writers or of OCR staff.
1 – from page 3, appendix for English Language Arts: “Despite steady or growing reading demands from various sources, K–12 reading texts have actually trended downward in difficulty in the last half century. Jeanne Chall and her colleagues (Chall, Conard, & Harris, 1977) found a thirteen year decrease from 1963 to 1975 in the difficulty of grade 1, grade 6, and (especially) grade 11 texts. Extending the period to 1991, Hayes, Wolfer, and Wolfe (1996) found precipitous declines (relative to the period from 1946 to 1962) in average sentence length and vocabulary level in reading textbooks for a variety of grades. Hayes also found that while science books were more difficult to read than literature books, only books for Advanced Placement (AP) classes had vocabulary levels equivalent to those of even newspapers of the time (Hayes & Ward, 1992). http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Appendix_A.pdf
2 – from page 24 of ELA Appendix A, “English and education professor Gerald Graff (2003) writes that ‘argument literacy is fundamental to being educated. The university is largely an ‘argument culture,’ Graff contends; therefore, K–12 schools should ‘teach the conflicts’ so that students are adept at understanding and engaging in argument (both oral and written) when they enter college. He claims that because argument is not standard in most school curricula, only 20 percent of those who enter college are prepared in this respect.” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Appendix_A.pdf
3 — “In English language arts, students make claims about the worth or meaning of a literary work or works. They defend their interpretations or judgments with evidence from the text(s) they are writing about. In history/social studies, students analyze evidence from multiple primary and secondary sources to advance a claim that is best supported by the evidence, and they argue for a historically or empirically situated interpretation. In science, students make claims in the form of statements or conclusions that answer questions or address problems. Using data in a scientifically acceptable form, students marshal evidence and draw on their understanding of scientific concepts to argue in support of their claims.” from www.corestandards.org
4 – Appendix for Mathematics, http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_Mathematics_Appendix_A.pdf