by Bob Luebke
On June 2, 2010, the N.C. State Board of Education adopted the Common Core math and English Language Arts standards. Opinion regarding the quality of the English Language Arts (ELA) standards appears divided. The pro-Common Core Fordham Foundation found the ELA standards superior to the existing standards of 37 states, including North Carolina.
Such a conclusion reflects on the poor quality of standards nationally. Despite the improvement, however, scholars say ELA standards have significant shortcomings.
“Empty skill sets.” Sandra Stotsky is a member of the ELA validation committee and one of the primary authors of the Massachusetts state standards — widely regarded as the best in the nation. She criticized the ELA standards as “empty skill sets [which] cannot lead to even a meaningful high school diploma.”
Rigorous standards? Common Core standards’ goal of ‘college readiness’ does not signify a level of achievement or readiness for real college work. After analyzing examples of complexity in high school texts, Professor Stotsky determined, “the average reading level of the passages on the common tests now being developed to determine ‘college-readiness’ may be at about the grade seven level.”
College readiness. Common Core’s goal of ‘college readiness’ ELA standards will prepare students only for nonselective community colleges. This fact was admitted by Jason Zimba, one of the writers of the standards. Common Core standards do little for students who aspire to attend the best colleges and universities.
Internationally benchmarked? Despite claims to the contrary, the English standards are not internationally benchmarked. No supporting evidence has been provided. When confronted with the claim, some Common Core supporters have changed the verbiage from “internationally benchmarked” to “internationally informed.”
Misplaced emphasis. ELA standards divide reading between literary texts and informational reading. The emphasis on informational texts diminishes student exposure to great and complex literary works. Much research suggests critical and analytical thinking skills — the skills Common Core proponents say they support — develop through exposure to great literature. The move to require greater emphasis on informational texts is not grounded in research.
Little emphasis on basics. Contrary to the Common Core standards themselves, Common Core-based tests developed and released by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction include relatively few English language questions and no traditional grammar, spelling, mechanics or usage questions.
The flaws in the ELA standards are mirrored by flaws in the mathematics standards. In a larger sense, the ELA standards repeat the flaws in Common Core as a whole. Common Core is sold as providing high benchmarks that will boost students’ success in school and in life after graduation. Sadly, Common Core in many ways is failing to deliver. Too often it falls prey to educational fads, and teaches down to the average. Perhaps that isn’t surprising for a program that bypasses parents and communities to set up a national “one size fits all” program.
North Carolina parents and concerned citizens need to stand up and be heard on Common Core. To find out more about what you can do, go to stopcommoncorenc.org.
— Bob Luebke is Senior Policy Analyst for the Civitas Institute in Raleigh.