Don’t let the states off the hook for completing the Common Core

Nearly two years ago, as states weighed the decision of whether to adopt the Common Core ELA and math standards, they were told that they were allowed—encouraged, even—“to add an additional 15 percent on top of the core.”

The reality is that the CCSS were never meant to represent the totality of what states expected students to know and be able to do, particularly in ELA, where the introduction specifically warns:

The CCSS were never meant to represent the totality of what states expected students to know and be able to do,
Furthermore, while the Standards make references to some particular forms of content, including mythology, foundational U.S. documents, and Shakespeare, they do not—indeed, cannot—enumerate all or even most of the content that students should learn.

Yet, despite the freedom that states have to take ownership over the standards and add the critical content teachers and leaders need to guide curriculum and instruction, only eleven states added even a single new word to the core. And in many cases, what was added was barely more than window dressing. Some of the eleven states focused on changing the format, with minimal changes to the content. Others added minor statements, phrases or clarification. (Alabama, for instance, added three standards to the K-12 math standards and seventeen “statements” to the K-12 ELA standards. Montana merely added “cultural context” to the existing CCSS.) And a few added some specific content to further clarify the intent of the standards.

That’s why, in the absence of further clarification from state leaders about what ELA content should be added atop the standards, critics and supporters alike have taken to deconstructing virtually every speech or presentation that David Coleman has given since CCSS adoption. In fact, it’s become a bit of a cottage industry to pick apart every offhand comment he’s made and every presentation he’s given. Of course, there is much we can learn about the intent of the standards from Coleman, but it’s foolish for leaders to look to these isolated and illustrative examples for specific guidance about the content teachers should focus on when aligning their curriculum and instruction to the Common Core. To do justice to that question, teachers need the additional 15 percent, coupled with a content-rich curriculum.

And yet, that’s precisely what critics seek to do. As just one example, Jim Stergios penned a blog post for the Boston Globe last week where he criticized a video created by David Coleman that was meant to draw attention to the specific skills (analysis, drawing evidence from the text, etc.) that the Common Core ELA ask teachers of science and history/social studies to focus on. Stergios took particular issue with an offhand comment Coleman made about Federalist 51, arguing:

Madison’s Federalist #51 isn’t about “faction.” I know you repeat this point over and over in the video tutorial. But, as any well-educated 10th-grader knows (at least in Massachusetts before we switched to the national standards), Federalist #51 is actually about checks and balances.

Nevermind that the CCSS ELA standards for history/social studies do not actually replace the existing Massachusetts standards for those subjects, which Stergios seems to imply. The larger point is that Coleman’s exemplar has no connection to any actual curriculum. Instead, it is merely meant to explain the kinds of close reading that social students and science teachers should engage in as they read important informational text in class. (Something it does effectively.)

The fundamental problem is that too many states have left such a huge void in their Common Core implementation and communication plans that reporters and critics are left to pick through old Coleman YouTube videos to try and figure out exactly what should be taught.

A simpler approach would be to look to Coleman for guidance about the intent of the standards themselves, and to look to states to fill in the content gaps that the CCSS authors have always acknowledged were there.

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