Georgia teacher: Seven deadly sins of Common Core English standards

The battle against Common Core never gained the traction in Georgia that it did in other states. (AJC File.)

D’Lee Pollock-Moore is an English teacher and department chair at Warren County High School in Warrenton, Georgia. She blogs at Musings from Master P, where this critique of the Common Core English standards appears in much longer form. (I edited her blog from more than 3,400 words to 1,600 but go to Pollock-Moore’s blog to read in full.)

She sent me a note about sharing her critique with my readers here at the AJC Get Schooled blog, which I thought was an excellent suggestion once I read her blog. She writes with a lucidity that parents will appreciate. A teacher of high school English for 11 years, Pollock-Moore also recently published her first book of verse entitled “The Twenty-Fifth Year.”

In jargon-free, acronym-free terms, Pollock-Moore offers her list of what she dubs “The Seven Deadly Sins of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards.”

By D’Lee Pollock-Moore

The Common Core English Standards are too ambiguous

Before Common Core, many state English standards were specific.  For example, the 2010 Massachusetts standards for 9th grade English specified that students had to know how to analyze various character types like protagonist, antagonist, tragic hero, and foil. The Common Core standards do not even address character types in any grade level, yet character types remain on testing materials and example lesson plans published by many states. The problem here is that teachers now choose whether to teach character types or not, despite the fact that college level English courses demand that students already know how to do this. By the way, before the implementation of Common Core, the Massachusetts English Language Arts Standards were considered one of the best in the nation, and the state’s test scores and rankings reflected that; alas, this is no longer the case.

Students do not learn how to emulate famous authors

We learn how to write well by first emulating the published masters, and then as we grow, we develop our own unique writing styles. For example, if I want a fifth grade student to learn how to write a story, I might have a unit where we read and analyze the writing strategies employed by Joan Aiken in “The Third Wish,” Natalie Babbitt in “Wishes,” and Lloyd Alexander in “The Stone.” We would study not only the story elements, but also how the writer creates the narrator’s voice, captivates his or her audience, and motivates his reader with including figurative language, dialogue, specific details, etc.  Then, we would learn to write our own stories mimicking the writing style of one of these authors.  By 6th grade, students should then be able to begin developing their own writing style.

The Common Core devalues teaching key components of the ELA curriculum

One of my biggest issues with the Common Core is that it devalues literature as art; it ignores that within literature there are many different genres. Nowhere in the ELA standards for middle and high school does it even address key literary terms like fiction, short story, novel, or poem. The only genre it recognizes under literary texts is drama.  In fact, the only time that students learn about genre is in 4th grade. FOURTH GRADE.  How can a fourth grader understand the complexities of a villanelle, a prose poem, or an anticlimactic short story? How can a fourth grader understand that some works cross into multiple genres? Why are we not required to still teach genres in middle and high school? Why is poetry, one of the most important bibliotherapy tools for our children, not even acknowledged in the standards? Are Longfellow, Dickinson, and Ginsberg now irrelevant?

Teachers and student teachers were not fully trained for the change to Common Core

In school districts and universities across the nation, teachers received little to no training on how to correctly adapt the new Common Core standards into our classrooms. The movement came too quick, had no transitional period, and gave teachers little time to prepare new teaching materials. Even the textbook companies could not stay abreast of the changes.

One of the most complex changes to the English Language Arts curriculum involved the equal treatment of literary and informational texts. Prior to the Common Core, English teachers focused on teaching literary works (fiction, drama, and poetry), using informational texts as background and supplementary texts to the literature; with the CC change, they were expected to shift to spending their time focused equally on literary and informational texts. Most school districts had to purchase more informational extended texts because they were not previously taught in ELA, but in the subject area that they were more closely associated.  Environmental Science teachers might have lost their “right” to teach Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring so that it could be taught in 9th Literature and Composition. The problem here is that not only did that cause dissension between teachers of various subject areas, but English certified teachers, who are experts in teaching novels, were now teaching science and social studies texts.  Teacher training is an important and necessary step in changing curriculum and cannot be ignored or trivialized.

Common Core contains too many standards for each grade level

Simply put, there are too many English Language Arts standards for each grade level; there is no logistically feasible way for regular education students to master each standard within the time constraint. For example, in 10th grade English there are 41 standards students are expected to master within one school year; this does not even account for the number of standards that also have more pieces of standards (strands and elements) under them.  The first tenth grade reading standard alone is something students must work on in small parts throughout the year due to the rigorous demands of the standard:  “Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text” (Common Core RL10.1).  This standard is so complex because it involves close reading skills, citations, understanding how to choose significant quotes, analysis and interpretation, explicit versus implicit meaning, and making inferences.  That standard by itself could take many tenth graders weeks to master; it is also one of the most highly tested standards on state and national assessments, but we don’t have enough time to give it the attention it deserves.

Common Core English does not teach students the basics

People on both sides of the Common Core debate can agree on one thing — the Common Core Standards are rigorous. They do represent college preparatory curriculum as they were modeled after Advanced Placement and College Board standards, BUT they fail where it really matters. The Common Core fails to teach students the basics from kindergarten through 12th grade. Foundational reading skills end in fifth grade, yet middle and high school teachers still teach foundational skills like fluency and syllabication. This lack of foundational standards in the upper grades creates an achievement gap that can never be closed.

Not only are we missing the basics in the lower grades, but we’re also missing the foundations in middle and high school.  Students need to be taught how to write an email, how to create a blog or website, and even how to write a professional letter and resume (and not every child takes a business class to learn these skills).  Does Common Core acknowledge these necessary and fundamental skills? No. You will not find any technical writing standards in the 6-12 Common Core Curriculum. This is why we still have to teach 12th graders how to write a thank you note or how to sign their name for a legal document (don’t even get me started on the cursive writing debate — there is no cursive writing standard in Common Core).  Students used to learn key job skills in English class, but now only college-readiness standards are important. What about the future welder who needs to learn how to read a welding manual?  Are his needs not as important as the future lawyer?

The Common Core also fails to understand that one of the fundamentals of teaching literature involves character education. When we read a work like Walden by Henry David Thoreau or “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. we internalize those works. They change our hearts. They help us become better people. They create a national ethos. Good teachers will always help students understand the themes, morals, and ethics presented in the texts, but this should be more explicitly stated in our standards. Notice that the 8th grade Common Core Reading Standard 2 is about theme, but not about how themes and morals apply to our lives. Reading shapes who we are as people and what we stand for as adults.  Shouldn’t we be formally practicing the teaching of character education with our literature studies?

States have misrepresented Common Core to their citizens

This is the deadliest sin among my list of seven.  First, educators and parents alike are upset by the leaders of the Common Core Initiative like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, testing / assessment companies, and textbook companies who have made copious amounts of money and kickbacks off this national education blunder. We cannot continue to give them a “hall pass” on this massive mistake. The people who benefitted from Common Core financially are mendacious; they used their own agendas to serve their own financial purposes, disregarding the thousands of educators and millions of students who continue to pay the cost of the Common Core.

 

Reader Comments 0

40 comments
bu22
bu22

Nice to see a coherent critique of common core instead of the hysterical, uninformed critiques that you normally see from both the right and the left.

Lauren Gallagher
Lauren Gallagher

The writer might be even more dismayed to hear that the first standard for 4th grade is almost exactly the same as the one she described as being too difficult for 10th graders. The only difference is the word 'thoroughly'. So just imagine how difficult it is to explain - never mind teach - what inference is, and how to justify it, to 4th graders!

ScottScredon82
ScottScredon82

Maureen, thanks for posting this analysis of Common Core. It's very well written and should help anyone see that changes are needed.  

channum
channum

Bravo — especially for using "mendacious." Mendacity is the core theme of Tennessee Williams’ 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Austin3440
Austin3440

"This is why we still have to teach 12th graders how to write a thank you note or how to sign their name for a legal document."

Good essay, but I was never taught these things in school and have been just fine learning by myself.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Why not scrap Common Core and draw up standards based on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, then use the ITBS to monitor progress.  And, FOR GOODNESS SAKES, enforce the standards and do not allow children who are far behind in regular classrooms with those who are on level!!!!!!

Duluthboy
Duluthboy

Does anyone have any realistic ideas where to start to derail this Common Core nonsense in our public schools?  Please give advice on a starting point.  I have not written my Georgia state representatives on this yet.  Is that the logical starting place?  Do the county school boards  in Georgia have any say on whether to adopt CC? Please advise.    

Astropig
Astropig

@Duluthboy


It will probably derail itself,like all liberal educational "reforms" over the last 50 years or so.When it becomes obvious that these new standards cannot be met (because of their "one size fits all" nature) and there are some real consequences vis a vis accountability,you'll see the eduacracy bail on these and whip up a newer,shinier can't-fail-ever-again batch of gimmicks designed to distract the public from their idiotic social engineering.

Astropig
Astropig

@aintnosheeple @Duluthboy


I'm at my Florida home this week. BIG story down here is a court case brought by parents that are part of the "opt out" posse here in paradise.Don't know how its going to shake out,but I'd be surprised if the judge allows these parents to pick and choose which school rules their kids will follow.


http://www.timesunion.com/news/education/article/Parents-who-opted-out-of-Florida-school-tests-9138988.php


I wouldn't be surprised if this isn't headed for SCOTUS or if the state legislatures don't dig in their heels while these opt out parents are digging in theirs.

class80olddog
class80olddog

She did identify one serious flaw in CC: lack of mastery of the basics.  This flows from one of the tenets of CC (in support of the mighty god PC):  you must prepare students for college AND then career.  In other words, there is only one track (oooh - bad word - run for your safe space) - the college track.  If you just want to finish high school, get a diploma, and go to work, you STILL have to complete the college requirements (not really, they will just give you the diploma whether you can read and write or not).  There is no option to just learn the basics (which is what secondary school is for) and leave the higher learning to courses only taken by the college-bound.  Schools should learn to say "We prepare students for college OR career".

class80olddog
class80olddog

@redweather @class80olddog I looked at your link, and I had seen this before.  I certainly understand why any student would WANT to go to college if they possibly could.  However, not everyone is up to the challenge of college.  If it was all you could do to graduate high school, with today's very lax standards, then your chance of success in college is not very good.  What is most depressing is when students think the HAVE to go to college to have a good career, then they spend four to five years in college, and then drop out with a massive student loan debt. For someone with a technical bent (and not big on Shakespeare), getting a certification in welding may be just the ticket - they make good money and there are not enough of them right now.  Or Truck driving.  Either of those would probably beat a bachelor's degree in history or art in both pay and job prospects.

Starik
Starik

@class80olddog @redweather Self-driving trucks will eliminate many of the best-paying truck driving jobs.  If everybody goes into welding, we'll have too many welders.  If cars become electric, there will be less need for mechanics for complicated gas and diesel engines, and transmissions.  Good jobs will be better but fewer - what will everybody else do?

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Starik @class80olddog @redweather These are only examples of skilled trades - electricians, plumbers, builders - all can be great careers.  The only reason companies eliminate workers and go the route of automation is when the workers price themselves out of the competition.  Think about that when you demand $15 an hour plus full medical coverage just to flip an hamburger!  I would not pay $8 for a Big Mac, so I guess McDonald's has to choose between my business or paying high wages.

newsphile
newsphile

@Starik  Nor will all jobs requiring college degrees remain relevant. When standards are lowered to allow students to obtain high school and/or college degrees, everyone, including the student, loses.  There will always be a need for both college-degreed and non-college trained workers.  Our society cannot manage without the two components.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Has she been excommunicated yet for heresy against the Great and Powerful PC?  She left off the main deadly sin of CC:  just like other standards, they are never enforced.  In other words, if they test a sixth-grader and they are woefully lacking in the skills that they should have mastered, they pass him/her along to the next grade, to flounder more and get even further behind.  CC is just the latest "flavor of the month", designed to distract parents and voters from the REAL issues affecting education (which PC refuses to allow teachers to address): discipline, attendance, and social promotion. 

D'Lee Pollock-Moore
D'Lee Pollock-Moore

Amen! I have not been excommunicated yet. My administrators support my first ammendment rights and believe in teacher autonomy, and that's because I work at the best school system in the state with a recognized Board of Distinction. Alas, I have not always been so lucky.

Astropig
Astropig

Wow. Good essay. But...


...Am I the only one that sees this as a shift in the "party line"  vis a vis Common Core?That last deadly sin could well have been written by Newt Gingrich or Phillys Schlafly.

redweather
redweather

At the college level the shunting of literature to the back of the bus in composition courses began long before the advent of CC. For many English faculty, literature--as opposed to what the writer here calls "informational texts"--is viewed as some kind of exotic plant best left for the hothouse of so-called lit-crit classes. 

Anna Markovich
Anna Markovich

I think language immersion is a very good and effective method. If you have enough money and opportunity to go abroad you'd better go. If not you can use plenty of resources from the Internet! I learned English by skype with the school MyEnglishdom, and I'm very much content with the results I have. They provide English speaking teachers, and you can always choose a teacher from Great Britain if you need British English for example. Self education, watching movies and listening to music can be very helpful.

Astropig
Astropig

@Anna Markovich


A lot of eastern European youth that I have interacted with over the years have done exactly what you described-They have watched American movies over and over and picked up the dialog and the phrasing.They do seem to have a little trouble picking up our ever present sarcasm,but the results are laudable.

Peter_Smagorinsky
Peter_Smagorinsky

Thanks for posting this essay. I would love to see more teachers submitting essays to Get Schooled. They know the territory of schooling so much better than anyone else. 

FairLynne
FairLynne

@Peter_Smagorinsky Yes, teachers do know the territory, but historically teachers have been the last to be asked what works  and the first to be blamed for the failures.

D'Lee Pollock-Moore
D'Lee Pollock-Moore

Thank you for the kind regards. I was afraid for so long to speak up and out. I am encouraged today by these comments, especially yours. Although I am a Georgia Southern grad, one of my best friends is a University of Georgia alum, and she laudably praises you and the work you do. Thank you for your role in educating future teachers!

D'Lee Pollock-Moore
D'Lee Pollock-Moore

This was to Dr. P. Smagorinsky. I thought my comment would respond directly to you.

Michael McIntyre
Michael McIntyre

Huh, that's funny. Today I reviewed the narrative genre and its various formats. Tomorrow, I'm using a poem to juxtapose our study of a short story that we finished today -- a poem written by the author of the short story. We're reading the poem specifically to focus on writer's craft -- specifically how sensory language and figurative language shape tone and mood -- and, ultimately, direct the reader to theme. And I knew to do all this, as guided by my ELA Grade 7 standards and my locally devised curriculum (AKS). So, I'm sorry -- but D'Lee Pollock-Moore is just barking up the wrong tree here. The Common Core Standards are just that: CORE. There are indeed a variety of well-documented skills and concepts that students are expected to become proficient at -- skills and concepts that are subsumed within those main core standards. Again, these skills and concepts (as well as suggested teaching strategies and standards-based tasks) are pretty thoroughly laid out by the GA DoE -- not to mention what here local system and/or its RESA have provided teachers. The state also provides content-area frameworks to help guide instruction. Pollock-Moore just needs to go look for them. Here's what mine look like: https://www.georgiastandards.org/Georgia-Standards/Frameworks/ELA-Grade-Seven-Guidance.pdf

D'Lee Pollock-Moore
D'Lee Pollock-Moore

Thank you, Michael. I am aware of and use the frameworks, but I want more specifics in our standards like the GPS used to show. Every good teacher, like you, has done this for their students, but the Common Core Initiative itself has not. This is also a nationwide issue, not just a Georgia issue.

D'Lee Pollock-Moore
D'Lee Pollock-Moore

I think we can prioritize and elimate teaching some of the same standards in each grade. What do you think can be done? You raise a good point.

class80olddog
class80olddog

So, Mr. McIntyre, if any of your students don't pass the CC test, do you stand up and insist that they be retained?  You have veto authority, you know.

Michael McIntyre
Michael McIntyre

Look beyond the core standards, and analyze instead the curriculum you're teaching and see how the elements spiral and expand upwards (at least they should) from K to 12. But, yes, those precise curriculum elements may certainly fall under core standards that read identical whether 5th grade or 8th grade, but this doesn't mean you should toss out the core standards. You teach a grade-level specific curriculum that is guided by broad core standards. Stop worrying about the standards, and focus on your curriculum.The standards make sense -- in their broad, general intent.

Jenna Milam Baird
Jenna Milam Baird

Problem is...even while they're still in the process of supporting schools with "proper training", they are using the scores from IMPROPER TRAINING to grade our children and decide their futures. They are using scores from IMPROPER TRAINING to grade our teachers and decide the future of their careers. They are using the scores from IMPROPER TRAINING to grade an entire school and using that flawed grade to shut down the school and allow the state to take it over in the name of OSD. Vote NO to OSD and get this debacle away from our children and their education. Our kids will NEVER get this time back.

Shanequa Yates
Shanequa Yates

I agree that teachers were not trained properly on the CCSS. Many districts are in the process of supporting schools wirh proper training but we still have a long way to go with implementation. However, there are some inaccuracies in her post. Early childhood standards include Reading Foundational skills such as fluency and decoding which is important for emergent readers. Check out CCSS RF.K3 and RF.K4.

D'Lee Pollock-Moore
D'Lee Pollock-Moore

Mrs. Downey corrected the article as well at my request. Again, thank you.

D'Lee Pollock-Moore
D'Lee Pollock-Moore

Thank you, Shanqua Yates. I will make a retraction on my blog regarding that part. I had to do some digging this morning to find those Kindergarten Literacy standards, but you are correct. They are there. What grade do they stop in? And do you know why this set is separated? I am obviously 6-12 certified.

Shanequa Yates
Shanequa Yates

You are more than welcome. The reading foundational skills are in the K-5 standards. They are separated from the reading literature and informational standards because those skills must be explicitly taught in addition to complex texts (initially through read-alouds for primary grades) for emergent readers.