How Common Core Damages Poetry Instruction

imageApril is National Poetry Month, but poetry is not well addressed in Common Core’s English language arts standards.  It’s unclear whether the genre will survive a Common Core-based English classroom given the dramatic reduction in time spent on literary texts implicitly mandated by these national standards, and the ambivalence, if not hostility, of the standards writers towards literature, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

In “The Dying of the Light: How Common Core Damages Poetry Instruction,” co-authored by Anthony Esolen, Jamie Highfill, and Sandra Stotsky, Esolen, a poet and professor of literature at Providence College, concludes, “The Common Core proponents do not like poetry.”

This paper makes a case for why poetry study and recitation belongs prominently in the K-12 curriculum, despite Common Core’s workforce-oriented goals. In part I, Anthony Esolen discusses why students should read poetry at all, the kind of reading that poetry demands from us, and what poetry has to do with the child’s developing imagination. In part II, Jamie Highfill explains how poetry has traditionally been taught in the public schools. In part III, Sandra Stotsky traces what is known from large-scale studies about the poetry curriculum in this country’s public schools. Part IV discusses how Common Core’s English language arts standards seem to be influencing the poetry curriculum in our public schools. Part V suggests what the fate of poetry in the school curriculum will likely be so long as Common Core’s standards and any tests based on them legally shape K-12 education and teacher training.

You can download the paper here or read it below:

North Carolina Legislative Committee Recommends Replacing Common Core

Thursday the North Carolina Legislative Research Commission Committee on Common Core State Standards approved a report recommending the creation of a Standards and Accountability Commission that would review the Common Core State Standards.  Included in the report is draft legislation that would replace the Common Core State Standards if approved.  This is the first step the state has taken to dump the Common Core State Standards.


Civitas Institute in March conducted a poll of 600 North Carolinians and asked if they favored or opposed the Common Core State Standards.  37% said they favored the standards with only 15% strongly favoring the Common Core  36% of North Carolinians opposed the standards.  25% indicated strong opposition.  26% of those polled said they were undecided.

Civitas also polled North Carolinians on their opinion of the creation of the Commission to review the Common Core State Standards.  58% of North Carolinians supported the idea.

The committee’s step was deemed good news by North Carolina Lt. Governor Dan Forest.  “Today is a great day for education in North Carolina. The General Assembly listened to the voices of thousands of parents, teachers, administrators and concerned citizens about the issues with Common Core. I would like to thank the Senators and Representatives who had the courage to do what is right for our children and our state in the face of opposition. This legislative action allows North Carolina to develop its own rigorous standards, created by its own teachers, school administrators, business leaders and parents,” Forest said in a released statement on Thursday.

Education That Fails to Capture the Heart

I'd like to share my current desktop picture with you. I took this a while a go … adds a great scientific feeling to my desktop :-)Sean Fitzpatrick had an excellent article at Crisis Magazine entitled “Common Core’s Rotten Core.”  Here’s the opening paragraph:

Despite recent defense rallies by Bill Gates, wars are raging against the embattled Common Core State Standard Initiative, now implemented in 44 states and the District of Columbia. Though criticisms can be leveled at the lack of evidence that the Common Core will lead onward into a brave new world of education, the overarching problem of the initiative is that its strategy is not educational. Standardized, field-leveling information designed for mass consumption with a strict utilitarian agenda is nothing more than a training event, a programming session. Schools are not factories. Education is not indoctrination; it is formation. True education considers and incorporates the role of love in learning and the art of teaching by desire. Extrapolation and examination of real-world facts do not describe a lover’s quest for beauty—and education that fails to capture the heart, fails to educate.

Read the rest.

Common Core’s Validation: A Weak Foundation for a Crooked House

Ze’ev Wurman wrote another white paper published by Pioneer Institute that was released yesterday.  Here is the synopsis:

Advocates of Common Core’s mathematics standards claim they are rigorous, reflect college-readiness, and are comparable with those of high achieving countries. But five of the 29 members of the Common Core Validation Committee refused to sign a report attesting that the standards are research-based, rigorous and internationally benchmarked. The report was released with 24 signatures and included no mention that five committee members refused to sign it. The two members of the Common Core Validation Committee with college-level mathematics content knowledge refused to sign off on them, finding them significantly lower than those of high-achieving countries.

You can download the white paper here or read it below:

SC is Out of Smarter Balanced, Superintendent’s Race Focused on Common Core

This is a little anticlimactic, especially after reporting that the South Carolina Department of Education was taking steps to pull out of Smarter Balanced earlier this month.  I’m a little late to the party updating this story, but last week The Post and Courier reported that South Carolina Superintendent of Education informed the State Board of Education that they are pulling out.

South Carolina’s top education administrator has decided to withdraw the state from the consortium that would test Common Core standards in the coming school year.

In a letter sent to the chairman of the State Board of Education on Monday, Superintendent of Education Mick Zais said he learned he has the authority to withdraw the state from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and was exercising his power to do so.

“I am not wed to any particular test,” wrote Zais in the letter. “I want to have a high quality assessment that meets the specific needs of South Carolina, at a competitive price. If we continue to focus only on Smarter Balanced, we lose any opportunity to consider alternatives.” Jackie Hicks, president of The South Carolina Education Association said Zais “has proclaimed himself State School Czar,” adding Zais has placed his “extreme political agenda ahead of what’s best for our students.”

The Common Core standards and the tests to measure their effectiveness have come under fire in a number of states, including South Carolina, as a way to nationalize eduction, and standardize curriculum at the state level. Legislators, educators and political candidates are coming down on both sides of the issue.

“We are in the middle of a political battle here,” said Hicks through a written statement. “It’s extremely counter-productive now to abandon a vetted strategy mid-course.”

South Carolina’s students were scheduled to be tested by Smarter Balanced during the 2014-15 school year. Trial testing started last month. The Common Core standards are currently being taught and are due to be fully enacted next year.

Incidentally Zais is not running for reelection, Common Core is the issue in the Superintendent’s race.  Sheri Few, who is  a Republican candidate seeking the office, is running on a Stop Common Core platform.

Opt-Out of Common Core Now for the 2014-2015 School Year

Parental rights to raise children to respect the parent’s traditions and values have been under attack from many fronts including the U.S. Department of Education. The implementation of Common Core Standards undermines parental rights to make educational decisions for their children.  Now is the time for parents to protest this intrusion by opting their child out of Common Core for the 2014-2015 school year.

Race to the Top was a three-year program which expires in 2014 making NOW the ideal time for parents to opt-out. Districts need time to open discussions with parents about alternatives to Common Core and to implement those alternatives before the start of the 2014-2015 school year.

Congress did NOT pass legislation requiring Common Core standards to be implemented nor did Congress require that standards, curriculum, and tests be aligned. If parents allow the U.S. Department of Education to force policy upon the public as if that policy were law, the parents will be surrendering more than parental involvement to the federal government. How soon will it be before all parental rights are ceded to the federal government?

Nowhere in the Race to the Top guidelines is there any requirement for repayment of dollars obtained to implement Common Core. Therefore, if parents find Common Core to be unacceptable, they can change standards and districts will NOT have to return any RttT dollars.

Our government has falsely represented Common Core Standards as “internationally benchmarked” with proven success. Both statements are false and the government has no proof that either statement can be verified. When a company makes promises about a product and those promises cannot be delivered, the customer has a right to return the product and demand that his money be returned. The most effective way for citizens to receive the equivalent from the federal government is to demand that the federal government stop taxing states for educational dollars, to reject every federal educational policy the government tries to impose upon the state, and to recognize that this taxing authority is unconstitutional and should be returned to the states.

Examine the method of implementation used in your state. For example, Wisconsin did NOT commit itself explicitly to maintain any policies under RttT, including Common Core. This is an excellent source of leverage that parents may use.

If the U.S. Department of Education tries to become punitive, most likely Title I money would be threatened. Doing so would give parents a political goldmine. Title I dollars are intended for the neediest students. Imagine the outrage when the DoED takes money from those who need it the most simply because parents want to be involved in educational decisions affecting their children. Parents would be protecting their children from a vengeful, tyrannical federal government.

Here is a sample form that you can use, parents may and paste the form to use in their districts.

Wisconsin Grassroots Leaders to Elected Officials: You Now Own Common Core

An open letter that was signed by 45 grassroots leaders across the state representing 42 organizations was delivered to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and every member of the Wisconsin State Assembly and Wisconsin State Senate today.

Here is the text of the letter:

At the beginning of April, the Wisconsin State Legislature concluded its 2014 floor sessions. Yet, Common Core State Standards (CCSS)—the single most prominent issue of the last year in Wisconsin politics—remains unaddressed. As leadership has announced that the legislature will now take a nine-month hiatus, CCSS is unlikely to see any serious opposition at the state level until at least January of 2015.

With CCSS presently retaining status as official state standards, and Smarter Balanced assessments scheduled to roll out this fall for the 2014-2015 school year, the legislature’s failure to act means that total implementation of CCSS is now imminent in Wisconsin. Smarter Balanced assessments are the enforcement mechanism that will be used to ensure compliance with CCSS and aligned curricula.

Because Smarter Balanced assessments have not been in place in Wisconsin up to now, our state has not yet experienced the full reality of CCSS. This fact has allowed several individuals in key positions on both sides of the aisle to tout the standards’ alleged benefits in a manner that few in Wisconsin currently have the experience or the courage to refute. The haze created by this well funded and heavily marketed campaign of misinformation has resulted in confusion, inaction, and even active pro-CCSS entrenchment on the part of many state legislators, district and school administrators, the business community, and even some parents and teachers. Meanwhile, the informed parents, teachers, and taxpayers who have explored CCSS beyond the superficial talking points have been championed only by a small but dedicated coterie of legislators. Those legislators who did understand and make an effort to jettison or undercut CCSS found themselves effectively sidelined by those with greater influence and higher positions of authority.

Well done, then, to Wisconsin’s state-level CCSS advocates. You’ve won this round. You successfully convinced many that rejection of CCSS was just an issue of the “fringe” Tea Party. Despite the wishes of constituents, you ensured that a true CCSS kill-bill never saw the light of day. You ensured that other legislation that might help to undermine CCSS was watered down, marginalized, or killed outright. CCSS will proceed on schedule. Kudos to you.

But be careful about celebrating this victory.

Everything is about to change.

With the deployment of the Smarter Balanced assessments, the rosy CCSS talking points upon which you have relied
are about to be exposed for what they are. CCSS is going to cause pain in this state. And in the blame game that ensues, those who have facilitated CCSS either actively or by their inaction will quickly become vulnerable.

Congratulations. You own it.

What exactly do you now own?

  • You own the unhealthy and as yet unimagined degree of pressure that will shortly be placed on Wisconsin children to perform on an unending stream of standardized assessments with little validity.
  • You own the fact that even students previously considered high achievers are likely to fail the Smarter Balanced assessments in droves, providing a false measure of both performance and underperformance.
  • You own the inaccurate labeling of “underperforming schools” and the subsequent school closings that CCSS and the Smarter Balanced assessments have, in part, been engineered to ensure.
  • You own the injudicious use of student performance on Smarter Balanced assessments to judge wrongly and misleadingly the quality of teachers.
  • You own the shredding of the art of teaching—the reduction of teachers to proctors in their own classrooms—by means of extensive embedded pedagogy within CCSS that doesn’t just demand compliance from teachers concerning what to teach but also how to teach it.,
  • You own the convoluted and bizarre teaching methods embedded within CCSS pedagogy and the ways in which they will cripple many students’ ability to understand and learn.,
  • You own the distress of parents as they realize they can no longer assist their children with homework because not even as competent adults can they understand the methods by which their children are now being taught.
  • You own the rejection of individualism that is part and parcel of the CCSS mandate to teach the same and yield the same, regardless of the unique character, learning styles, circumstances, and aspirations of each child.
  • You own the vast frustration with learning that CCSS is guaranteed to yield as well as the utter disinterest in learning that will spring from it.,
  • You own the widget-factory schools that CCSS will create.
  • You own the fact that the for-profit charter schools intended to replace “failing” public schools will likewise be CCSS-based widget factories, enriching no one but the people who collect the tuition.
  • You own the fact that, under CCSS, students who want to reach farther will only be prepared for a two-year non-selective college, not a four-year university.
  • You own the coming anger of local taxpayers who will soon realize that you have essentially pushed them into an unfunded mandate—CCSS infrastructure and training costs that will likely exceed the expectations and budgets of most school districts. http://bit ly/ccss-high-cost
  • You own the additional taxpayer anger that will result when they discover that all of the spending you helped to
    push them into was for an initiative doomed to failure from the outset.
  • You own the invasion of student and family privacy that CCSS furthers through its data gathering, data storage,
    and data mining components.
  • You own this initiative’s disregard of the U.S. Constitution, which gives the federal government no authority over education, as well as the its disregard of at least three federal laws forbidding the federal government from involvement in school standards and curriculum.
  • You own the undercutting of Wisconsin children’s ability to determine their own unbounded future.
  • And much, much more…

And the saddest part about this long and troubling list of items you’ve just owned?

It was all avoidable.

Apparently, it is not enough for Wisconsin to learn from the experiences of others. Instead, we must have the full experience—sacrificing the education and mental wellbeing of children, breaking the trust of parents, demoralizing teachers, and picking the pockets of taxpayers.

Even a modicum of honest research should have revealed to you precisely what we and many others have found—that despite the billions spent on marketing spin, CCSS is nothing new. It’s merely a doubling-down on every failed education reform of the past thirty years; truly the lipstick-clad pig.

Just a glance to the east would have revealed that full implementation of CCSS has already been a complete train wreck in states like New York and Kentucky, causing massive public outcry from parents, teachers, and taxpayers alike. Conservatives and progressives are fighting CCSS hand-in-hand in those states and elsewhere, as they increasingly will
be here. Are you aware that they’re taking names and working to remove people from office in New York and elsewhere over this “education” fiasco? Do you think that same thing won’t happen in Wisconsin? Do you think it hasn’t already begun?

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Common Core State Standards are all yours now.

You can read the original document and signers here.

This Common Core Critic Is Still Charged Up

On April 14, American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess and Mike McShane charged me in a blog on National Review Online with not coming up with “next steps” to “repeal and replace” for states that want to restore academic integrity to their K-12 curriculum in English language arts and mathematics. I’m almost but not quite exhausted from all the next steps I’ve taken, especially in Indiana.

Two years ago I crafted an updated set of English language arts standards based on the set I helped develop in Massachusetts in 1997. This set of standards, copyright-free and cost-free, has been available for districts and states to use in place of Common Core’s standards since May 2013. The document is on the website of the Association for Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers.


Here’s how they are described in an introduction to the document by John Briggs, an English professor at the University of California, Riverside and current ALSCW president: “The role of literature and the literary imagination in K-12 education is of particular concern to the ALSCW. The … carefully articulated and detailed set of English Language Arts standards prepared by Sandra Stotsky… will contribute to the national conversation by emphasizing the importance of literary study in the education of the young.”

Far from being so obscure that few know about this document, it was listed in the recently released Indiana standards document as one of the resources the standards-drafting committee referred to. Nothing in my document was used, of course, but not for the reason Hess and McShane cook up. That the standards-drafting and evaluation committees came up with an imitation of Common Core is not because Common Core was the “default” position for educators under a “tight timeline.” It was because a warmed-over version of Common Core was the goal set for the committees established by Governor Mike Pence’s education policy director, Claire Fiddian-Green, and the Indiana Department of Education staffer co-directing the project with her, Molly Chamberlin.

Fiddian-Green came to her position from being director of the Indiana Charter School Board, with a master’s degree in business administration from Columbia University and undergraduate majors in political science and Russian studies at Brown University. Sterling academic credentials, but no teaching experience in K-12, it seems, and apparently little if any knowledge of English language arts and mathematics.

What makes it clear that an imitation of Common Core was the goal of this project is the content of the drafts, starting with the public comment draft (Draft #1) released in February. It was so like Common Core that it evoked a storm of public criticism for its resemblance. I declined Governor Pence’s request to review that document, making it clear that there was no point in my reviewing Common Core yet another time. Fiddian-Green promised me that the next draft would be significantly different and, in response to another request from Gov. Pence, I agreed to review Draft #2 if it was not warmed-over Common Core.

On March 14, I was sent Draft #2. It was almost identical to Draft #1 in grades 6-12. I wrote back immediately asking Fiddian-Green and Chamberlin if I had been sent the wrong file. No, I hadn’t. On March 17, Fiddian-Green sent me the fruits of their week-end analysis: 93% of the standards in ELA in grades 6-12 were Common Core’s, most verbatim. I wrote to Gov. Pence that day saying I wouldn’t review that cut-and-paste job, either, but would send him a report from two workshops on Draft #2 that I would hold at a conference of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers, serendipitously to take place in Bloomington, Indiana, on April 4 and 5.

My purpose was to give the governor, Fiddian-Green, and Chamberlin whatever suggestions came out of workshops attended by literary scholars and local high school English teachers. I invited Fiddian-Green, Chamberlin, and indeed the entire staff of the Indiana Department of Education to participate in the workshops. None came. But four local English teachers did, as did over 20 literary scholars at the conference.

I sent the report containing their many suggestions for revising grades 6-12 in Draft #2  (readers must remember this draft was mainly Common Core, which they all thought was pretty awful) to Gov. Pence, Fiddian-Green, and others on April 8. Not one suggestion made its way into the final draft released on April 14 (Draft #3). In retrospect, it is clear that Draft #3 had to look like Common Core to satisfy Jeb Bush, the Gates Foundation, and the USDE, but it also had to look somewhat different to justify all the thousands of hours Fiddian-Green claimed the committees had spent on this job. How much this game of pretense cost Indiana taxpayers we may never know.

Remember that Gov. Pence had publicly asked for “uncommonly high standards, written by Hoosiers for Hoosiers.” The major problem in getting even a decent imitation of Common Core to come out of such an ill-conceived and poorly-executed plan was that the committees selected by Fiddian-Green and Chamberlin weren’t capable of doing anything other than making the standards even weaker and more incoherent than Common Core’s. “Not making mathematical sense (NMMS),” as most of the mathematics standards were described by Hung-Hsi Wu, one of the reviewing mathematicians, and from the University of California, Berkeley.

I had already asked for expanded committees to include qualified high school English teachers and recognized literary scholars from Indiana after I had looked at the original list of committee members. But I had been told by Fiddian-Green that she and Chamberlin had complete confidence in the committees they had selected.  I am sure there are many qualified high school English teachers in the state and many recognized literary scholars at Indiana universities; they just weren’t on these committees.

Bottom Line: Indiana citizens now have uncommonly incoherent standards, written less incoherently four years ago in Washington DC by David Coleman and Sue Pimentel, but botched up by Hoosiers for Hoosiers.

Verdict Is In: The Final Draft of Indiana Proposed Standards Stink

Ok some folks are now weighing in on the final draft of Indiana’s proposed academic standards that was released earlier this week.

Dr. Terrence Moore of Hillsdale College needs to let loose and tell us how he really feels about the ELA standards, don’t hold back!  No, just kidding, he writes a no-holds-barred review, and doesn’t give the standards good marks.  An excerpt:

This absurd incongruity is one of the leading characteristics of the supposedly new Indiana English standards. We are invited to be overjoyed as we skip down the Yellow Brick Road to College and Career Readiness, preparing our children for a Twenty-First-Century Global Economy by putting them behind computers and by having them act out “assigned roles” for “small group discussions and projects” (as though project-based learning has not been tried and failed over these last forty years). Meanwhile, we have children being introduced to the word night in fourth grade, and we utterly fail to teach even the letter A properly.

The math standards still have fuzzy math.

The new draft begins with a preamble before the standards are listed claiming that the standards are not instructional practices: “The educators and subject matter experts that have worked on the standards have taken care to ensure the standards are free from embedded pedagogy and instructional practices.” This statement couldn’t be further from the truth and those who cut and pasted these standards know it. They simply don’t care because it is the type of pedagogy they prefer – parents and experts be damned.

The IDOE and Pence’s CECI were duly warned that Draft 2 contained pedagogy by Dr. James Milgram, the national expert they hired to help review the standards. Unfortunately, it seems theIDOE and CECI ignored Milgram’s recommendations, and contrary to their claim of pedagogy-free standards many of them remain laden with it. I have highlighted a few of the many standards that still contain pedagogy in the final draft released on Tuesday with Milgram’s comments from the review. What is the point of hiring an expert if you ignore his advice?

James Milgram gave some comments to The Indianapolis Star:

But Milgram said the panel lacked the expertise of professional mathematicians — not just math educators: “I realized that there was no way in hell that they were going to be able to make the changes that I had indicated needed to be made with that background. That’s exactly what happened.”

Andrea Neal, who serves on the Indiana State Board of Education, also weighed in:

State Board of Education member Andrea Neal said the state made a mistake by only asking for expert opinions on early drafts and not on the final one. Milgram and Wu looked over the final version on their own, with Milgram focusing on the high school math section and Wu examining a few key spots in math.

“This notion that standards have to be written by Hoosiers was faulty by the get-go,” Neal said. “They weren’t written by Hoosiers. They were really more paraphrased by Hoosiers. … We’re now at a place where maybe we recognize we just need the best standards in the country, and there’s not enough time to get the full feedback that we need.”

Neal said she planned to send a letter to members of the Education Roundtable urging them to reinstate Indiana’s pre-Common Core standards.

And to top it off the final draft will be voted on without any analysis.

Lindsey Burke at Heritage said Indiana needs to reverse course and re-adopt their pre-Common Core standards.

Indiana has the chance to reclaim its position as having some of the most rigorous standards in the country by simply replacing Common Core with its excellent 2000 mathematics standards (which were updated in 2009) and its 2006 English language arts state standards.

Under Pence’s leadership, Indiana became a trailblazer, exiting the national standards push and showing other states that it’s possible. Re-adopting their prior math and English standards would ensure that Indiana has some of the highest standards in the country—standards that are state-driven and, most importantly, supported by teachers and parents.

The state has until July 1 to do it.

We’ll see what Governor Pence ends up doing with catastrophe rolling his way.

Tennessee House Delays PARCC Testing for One Year

The Nashville Post calls a recent 86-8 vote in the Tennessee House to delay PARCC testing by one year a small victory.  I agree it is small, has loopholes which may render this bill ineffective, and it provides another example of real change is being stonewalled often by Republican leadership.  Tennessee isn’t alone in having that problem with their legislature.

They couldn’t agree to even delaying the Common Core State Standards by two years so this is the compromise which still needs to be approved by the Senate.

Here’s an excerpt of the story:

The governor’s office and Republican leadership would have rather the legislature leave the new standards alone, but say they support this plan.

“What has come out of this conversation is agreement that Tennessee should have higher standards,” said Alexia Poe, the governor’s director of communications. “This RFP process will ensure that everyone feels good about how we are testing those higher standards.”

A pack of House members made up the major opposition to Common Core and PARCC, short for the Partnership for Assessment in College and Career Readiness and the standardized test at the heart of the dispute. Members teamed with Democrats to seize an unrelated bill and install a two-year delay in the standards. Leaders in the Senate refused to go along.

Although the governor’s office and Republican leadership in both chambers initially rejected any move to budge on the standards and test, they came to a compromise that would keep the current TCAP tests in place for one more year while the state puts the new testing contract out for bid instead of accepting the PARCC exam without competition.

“We just blew it with this language,” said Rep. Rick Womick, a Rockvale Republican opposed to Common Core and the PARCC test. He argued the compromise created loopholes, such as allowing the state to eventually contract with PARCC.  “I’m sorry, but it’s nothing more than lipstick on a pig.”