The Not So Surprising Findings in Fordham Institute’s Survey of ELA Teachers

The Fordham Institute released Reading and Writing Instruction in America’s Schools, authored by Fordham’s senior research and policy associate David Griffith and FDR Group’s Ann Duffett that looked at how Common Core’s ELA standards were being implemented in the classroom. They surveyed 1,200 ELA teachers and this survey follows-up one they released in 2013.

As a reminder, Fordham was paid by the Gates Foundation to push Common Core.

I wanted to highlight a couple of their findings, related to the “third shift” they mention in their report – “Building knowledge through content-rich curriculum.”

This is something Fordham said Common Core would accomplish, but according to their own survey it’s not happening.

Teachers are assigning less fiction.

Gee, who could not see that coming?

They write:

Between 2012 and 2017, the percentage of time that teachers reported devoting to fiction decreased (from 54 percent to 41 percent) as they moved toward some combination of literary nonfiction and informational texts—especially at the middle and high school levels. In general, the trend toward more informational texts is consistent with the third shift. However, teachers also report that they are assigning fewer “classic works of literature”—a concerning development.

I find it amusing they are concerned by this development when they should have known because they were warned it would happen.

Most teachers say content knowledge is getting slighted.

They write:

Overall, 56 percent of ELA teachers say that “not enough” attention has been paid to “building students’ general knowledge,” 46 percent say their curricular materials “do a poor job of building students’ general knowledge,” and almost one-third report that students’ general knowledge has gotten worse in recent years. These results are particularly troubling given that teachers also report moving away from fiction and toward more informational texts. What sort of information is in those texts, if they aren’t making students more knowledgeable?

Again, this is not surprising as Common Core emphasizes skills not content.

Writing instruction needs attention.

They write:

There’s a place for creative and narrative writing, but high school students in particular need to know how to construct a coherent argument based on their analysis of one or more texts. So it’s worrying that more teachers say students’ ability to “write well-developed paragraphs or essays” has worsened (36 percent) than say it has improved (27 percent) compared to a few years ago. Similarly, 46 percent say students’ ability to “use correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling” has declined in recent years, while just 14 percent say it has improved.

Again, none of this is shocking to us. We noted a weakness in the writing standards as well.

Read the survey:

Only 37% of Illinois Students Passed PARCC’s Reading and Writing Assessment

Fox Illinois reported earlier this month that only 37 percent of 3rd-8th graders in Illinois passed the PARCC’s reading and writing assessment.

Nearly two-thirds of Illinois students in 3rd through 8th grade are not up to standard for reading and writing, according to the state administered PARCC test and some parents said it would be best to go back to the basics.

“Every student is different and my opinion is if you really want to show a difference in any kind of testing at all, turn the classroom back over to the teachers, let the teachers teach, get the testing out,” Mike Foster, parent of an Illinois student said.

But not all agree that the testing should be what the standard is based upon for students to be considered.

“Minimize the standardized testing. It’s ok to have certain guidelines and make sure they’re adhering to certain minimal guidelines. But overall just let the teachers teach,” Foster said. Administrators said they are working hard to make sure their students don’t run into similar problems so every student can be ready for their future.

Predictably, the Illinois State Board of Education blamed the result on the test’s difficulty.

Read the whole article here.

Common Core is taking these students in the wrong direction. This story from Illinois brought to mind two articles that we’ve highlighted at Truth in American Education, both are from 2016, but nothing significant has happened since with the ELA standards to diminish their relevancy.

The first article was written by Jay Matthews who warned about the direction of writing instruction under Common Core in The Washington Post.

The Education Trust, a nonprofit that advocates for students from low-income households, has been peeking recently at what is happening inside classrooms, an intrusion rarely done because it is expensive and tends to expose unattractive realities.

The organization collected 1,876 school assignments from six middle schools in two large urban districts in two states. The idea was to see how well English, humanities, social studies and science were being taught in the new era of the Common Core State Standards. The results are distressing and show that the instruction students are getting — particularly in writing — is deeply inadequate.

“Only four percent of all assignments reviewed pushed student thinking to higher levels,” one report said. “About 85 percent of assignments asked students to either recall information or apply basic skills and concepts as opposed to prompting for inferences or structural analysis, or doing author critiques. Many assignments show an attempt at rigor, but these are largely surface level.”

“Relevance and choice — powerful levers to engage early adolescents — are mostly missing in action,” it said. “Only two percent of assignments meet both indicators of engagement.”

Here are even more depressing numbers: 18 percent of the assignments required no writing at all. Sixty percent demanded just some note-taking, short responses or a sentence or two. Fourteen percent required students to write a single paragraph — whoopee. Only 9 percent went beyond that.

The second article was written by D’Lee Pollock-Moore, an English teacher and department chair at Warren County High School in Warrenton, Georgia,  writing for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Get Schooled Blog she critiqued the Common Core ELA Standards. She said the reading standards neglect to teach the basics.

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.

She also addressed how Common Core addresses writing:

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?

Is it any wonder Illinois students (and students across the nation) are struggling?

4th Graders Scores Drop with International Literacy Assessment

Another day, another failed promise from Common Core. Education Dive reports that U.S. 4th-graders scores have dipped on a recent international literacy assessment.

In the years since most states have adopted the Common Core standards, reading achievement has declined among America’s 4th-graders, both in terms of the average score as well as in comparison to their peers in other countries, according to the results of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) announced today.

U.S. 4th-graders scored an average of 549, which is still close to a “high” score of 550 on the 0-1,000 scale, but is seven points lower than in 2011, the last time PIRLS results were released. The average U.S. score was behind 12 other countries, ahead of 30 countries, and about the same as 15.

Moreover, excuses are plentiful, such as, the controversy has hampered our efforts!

But Timothy Shanahan, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago and one of the authors of the standards, says even though the standards are in effect in 42 states, the ongoing controversy surrounding them has hampered efforts to make the changes in curriculum, assessment, teacher preparation and other areas of education needed to see a jump in reading performance at the national level.

Also, we need better curriculum!

“We have yet to see any kind of concerted national or federal effort towards improving curriculum and instruction in ways that are aligned to these new standards,” he added. “There definitely have been moves towards this locally, but those are piecemeal and sporadic and given that, it will take a while before you will see any kind of national movement in performance due to them.”

Followed up with the shallow promise that “quality curriculum” is on the way… THEN we will see results!

Susan Pimentel, a lead writer of the CCSS for ELA and a founding partner at Student Achievement Partners, added that high-quality curriculum materials aligned to the standards are just now reaching the market and that teachers are still learning how to change their practices to help students meet the standards.

Excuses, excuses….

These 4th-graders, for the most part, have been under Common Core since Kindergarten. If Common Core is all that it is cracked up to be, we should have seen an increase in scores, not a decline.

However, it is not, it was a dataless reform, and the current data is showing us it is a miserable failure.

Republicans Resist Requiring Illinois Schools to Teach Cursive

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner

One of the criticisms of the Common Core English language arts standards is how it did not include standards for teaching cursive. Illinois lawmakers want to require schools in their state to teach cursive, and Republicans have fought against that. Governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican, even vetoed a bill that was passed, but the Illinois Legislature is poised to override that video.

The Chicago Tribune reports:

Among the losses state lawmakers dealt Gov. Bruce Rauner Wednesday was one over a signature issue: Whether the state should require schools to teach cursive writing.

Rauner vetoed a bill to enact such a requirement, and the Illinois Housevoted to override him on Wednesday. The Senate would have to follow suit when it returns next month for the proposal to become law.

In pushing for one mandatory cursive unit in elementary schools, Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch said children need to be able to read documents the Founding Fathers wrote, as well as notes from grandma. And there was a political angle to making sure kids could sign their names too.

“Can sign your driver’s license. Can sign your passport,” the Hillside Democrat said. “Can sign a petition to run for office.”

Some Republican lawmakers contended requiring the teaching of at least one unit of cursive amounts to another Illinois mandate on local schools that doesn’t come with any state money to pay for it.

Rep. Sue Scherer said during debate that it was so clear that kids should be taught cursive that there shouldn’t even be a debate.

“It’s unbelievable we’re even having this discussion,” said the Decatur Democrat.

Considering that some Republicans, including Governor Rauner, have done next to nothing about repealing the standards, it is mindboggling to me that this is even up for debate.

They are worried about cost? How much did the state spend to implement Common Core and PARCC? Compared to that implementing a unit of cursive is peanuts.

This doesn’t make any sense at all. Kids should know how to write and, more importantly, read cursive. Writing cursive is beneficial for the development of their fine motor skills. This should be a no-brainer, but it probably does not fit into the workforce development scheme that it seems many Republicans, especially Chamber Republicans, have bought into.

Why teach them cursive when they’ll be working on computers and tablets at work? They won’t need cursive for the 21st Century Economy!

Kudos to Illinois Democrats for pushing this bill, now if we can only get them to repeal Common Core and replace them with quality standards.

Common Core Reinforced Not Teaching Cursive

A local school board in Maryland has come under fire after a grandfather learned his grandson graduated high school without learning how to read or write cursive.

The Baltimore Sun reports:

“I am appalled that a graduate of high school in this county couldn’t read a note I wrote,” Jim Hudson of Aberdeen told members of the Harford County Board of Education at their meeting July 17. “You are on purpose graduated students who are illiterate.”

A couple weeks earlier, Hudson told the board members, he had given a note to a young woman who graduated this year from Fallston High School. She looked at the note, written in cursive, and told him she would read it later. She didn’t read it then because she was struggling with it, he said.

Common Core, unfortunately, exacerbated the neglect of teaching cursive since its English language arts standards make no mention of them. (Update: I’ll elaborate on this since I was accused on my Facebook page for not being clear. Teaching cursive was already in decline, Common Core did not cause that. Cursive was not part of Common Core’s ELA standards. Since they were not included in the standards, Common Core-aligned assessments do not test them, and since they are not assessed they are not a priority. This really isn’t rocket science, and this is not a new complaint – or the first time I’ve written about cursive. Much of this particular problem goes back to No Child Left Behind. So no, Common Core did not start it, but it didn’t help either, and with the focus being placed on what the standards do include it did exasperate the problem. Schools that offer Common Core offer it in spite of the standards, not because of them. 2nd Update: Exasperate should have read exacerbate, sorry about exasperating those of you who thought using that word exacerbated problems you saw with my  argument.)

It isn’t a 21st-century skill because how can we expect students to be still able to read hand writing, after all, when everyone is using smart phones and tablets?

I’m sure there would NEVER be a circumstance where a student would need to know such an antiquated skill.

With the Common Core State Standards, our nation will graduate more students who, when it comes to cursive, are functionally illiterate.

States That “Revise” Common Core Don’t Revise Much

Abt Associaties in a report they submitted for the state of Massachusetts did a cross-section of nine states that had gone through some process of revising the Common Core State Standards. They looked at Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio and Utah.

The authors of the report, Jill Norton, Jennifer Ash, and Sarah Ballinger, acknowledged due to the states that were chosen it doesn’t give a full picture of what has taken place nationally, but essentially they found states that revise the standards didn’t really revise much at all.

They reported on changes with the math standards, “Across all grade levels in mathematics, the nine states revised 26.5 percent of the standards, with 73.5 percent of the standards were kept the same. The number of math standards revised ranged from 17 changes in one state to 282 changes in another. Moreover, eight of the nine states added math standards, with a total of 51 new standards added.”

With those changes we’re really talking minor tweaks.

With ELA standards it isn’t much different.

They write, “The story for ELA revisions was similar, with 23 percent of ELA standards revised and 77 percent left unchanged. Again, the number of revisions varied by state, ranging from 12 standards revised in one state to 330 standards revised in another. States added fewer new standards in ELA, with only six new standards added across all nine states. For example, one state added a new standard in sixth grade reading literature that requires students to ‘Differentiate among odes, ballads, epic poetry, and science fiction.’”

Read their analysis of their findings here.

Takeaway…. bills or actions from the state board that just lead to revising the Common Core are generally worthless. We can’t really even note significant improvement in these states. We need to continue to push for a full repeal of the Common Core.

More Blind Faith Placed in Common Core

The Center for American Progress issued a “report” about how the Common Core State Standards “arm students with the necessary literacy skills needed for college and careers.”

Here is an excerpt of their summary:

One only need skim the data to see that just a small proportion of students are on the path to graduate from high school ready for college and a career. Only one-third of fourth- and eighth-grade students—36 percent and 34 percent, respectively—performed at the proficient level or higher in reading, according to the most recent data, on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. Students do not close these gaps as they continue in the K-12 system. Only 38 percent of high school seniors are proficient in reading according to NAEP, and NAEP reading scores are even bleaker for black high school students at 16 percent, Latino students at 23 percent, and English language learners, or ELLs, at 4 percent. And while students in the fourth grade are reading on par with students in other high-performing countries, U.S. 15-year-olds rank 17th out of students in 34 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries.

The Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects—or ELA standards for short—help address some of these readiness gaps. Forty-two states and the District of Columbia are currently in the process of implementing the state-developed ELA and math Common Core K-12 standards, which were finalized in 2010.

The ELA standards are changing how students read and write in American classrooms in some fundamental ways. Under the new standards, students are getting regular practice with complex and grade-level appropriate texts, using more informational texts, and practicing more evidence-based writing.

All they do in this “report” is regurgitate Common Core advocacy talking points. There is no data given to show Common Core is working. There is no evidence. In fact the NAEP scores they share in the excerpt above disprove their point.

Also ACT took issue with some of what Common Core advocates consider being “college-ready.” For instance with the Common Core approach to writing they said:

….high school teachers and perhaps some middle school teachers may be emphasizing certain approaches to writing over others due to a concern for source-based writing in response to the Common Core State Standards. But if so, college instructors appear to value some key features of source-based writing (the ability to analyze source texts and summarize other authors’ ideas) much less than the ability to generate sound ideas—a skill applicable across much broader contexts.

Sandra Stotsky, who wrote Massachusetts’ ELA standards pre-Common Core and was on the Common Core validation committee, addressed in a Heritage Foundation Report why the Common Core approach to reading was inappropriate.

Why do Common Core’s architects believe that reading more nonfiction and “informational” texts in English classes (and in other high school classes) will improve students’ college readiness?

Their belief seems to be based on what they see as the logical implication of the fact that college students read more informational than literary texts. However, there is absolutely no empirical research to suggest that college readiness is promoted by informational or nonfiction reading in high school English classes (or in mathematics and science classes).

In fact, the history of the secondary English curriculum in 20th-century America suggests that the decline in readiness for college reading stems in large part from an increasingly incoherent, less challenging literature curriculum from the 1960s onward. This decline has been propelled by the fragmentation of the year-long English course into semester electives, the conversion of junior high schools into middle schools, and the assignment of easier, shorter, and contemporary texts—often in the name of multiculturalism.

From about the 1900s—the beginning of uniform college entrance requirements via the college boards—until the 1960s, a challenging, literature-heavy English curriculum was understood to be precisely what pre-college students needed. Nonetheless, undeterred by the lack of evidence to support their sales pitch, Common Core’s architects divided all of the ELA reading standards into two groups: 10 standards for informational reading and nine for literary reading at every grade level.

This misplaced stress on informational texts (no matter how much is literary nonfiction) reflects the limited expertise of Common Core’s architects and sponsoring organizations in curriculum and in teachers’ training. This division of reading standards was clearly not developed or approved by English teachers and humanities scholars, because it makes English teachers responsible for something they have not been trained to teach and will not be trained to teach unless the entire undergraduate English major and preparatory programs in English education are changed.

In short, Stotsky writes that the direction Common Core took with reading material really won’t help students become “college ready.”

Here is what you really need to know.

The Gates Foundation just awarded them $1,000,000 in July “to increase support for and reduce opposition to the Common Core and high-quality assessments, and to promote high-quality early childhood education through strategic advocacy efforts that bring new voices into the early childhood movement.”

Seriously for one million dollars they really need to do better than this. In fact since 2008 the Gates Foundation has given the Center for American Progress almost $6.7 million for their K-12 education efforts.

The Center for American Progress “report” on the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts is just a Gates Foundation-funded piece of propaganda.

Common Core’s Negative Impact on Cultural Literacy

Photo credit: Kate Ter Haar (CC-By-2.0)

Photo credit: Kate Ter Haar (CC-By-2.0)

The Common Core’s shift towards informational text we warned would have a negative impact in the classroom. Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University who was involved in writing the Common Core ELA standards, admits that there is a problem.

From Education Dive:

“The humanities are over…things that make us human as opposed to just animals is a part of education that is largely dead. Now, education is about achievement, readiness and career. Education is instrumental.”

So says Mark Bauerlein, English professor at Emory University and award-winning author, who believes that many of his incoming students are unprepared for higher education, particularly when it comes to cultural literacy. Among college instructors, he’s not alone in this opinion….

….. Bauerlein says that despite an exemplary list of fiction and nonfiction works to choose from, however, high school instructors appear to be moving away from the types of texts that actually provide the necessary depth of complexity for students.

“If you understand informational as including memoirs, essays, autobiographies, historical works, and philosophical works, then it’s wonderful,” said Bauerlein. “If ‘informational’ means Wikipedia, op-eds and blog posts, then we are in big trouble. And sadly, all too often it’s the latter. I see more and more students coming into college having not read very much and not knowing very much.”

The trend is causing alarm among many educators and even comedian, Joel Stein, who confirmed Bauerlein’s sentiments on informational texts years ago in a 2012 Time Magazine piece, aptly titled, “How I replaced Shakespeare.”

“I was not worried about the American education system until after I started writing a column, because that’s when I found out there are English teachers who assign my column as reading material,” wrote Stein.

“I regularly get e-mails from students asking about my use of anastrophe, metonymy, thesis statements and other things I’ve never heard of. To which I respond, ‘Transfer high schools immediately, to one that teaches Shakespeare and Homer instead of the insightful commentary of a first-rate, unconventionally handsome modern wit!’”

All Stein’s jokes aside, ACT’s survey points to several noteworthy discrepancies in college and career expectations at high school, and higher education levels that serve to question Common Core’s emphasis on nonfiction informational texts and the strategies by which teachers can adopt those standards.

Read the whole piece.

Medical Doctor Explains Why Handwriting Is Still Essential


One of numerous complaints about the Common Core State Standards is how it eliminated learning cursive in the ELA standards. To be fair, this push has been well underway as we are in a “keyboard age.”

Perri Klaus, MD, objects to that however, and in an op/ed in The New York Times explains why handwriting is still essential even in a “keyboard age.”  Dr. Klaus writes:

And beyond the emotional connection adults may feel to the way we learned to write, there is a growing body of research on what the normally developing brain learns by forming letters on the page, in printed or manuscript format as well as in cursive.

In an article this year in The Journal of Learning Disabilities, researchers looked at how oral and written language related to attention and what are called “executive function” skills (like planning) in children in grades four through nine, both with and without learning disabilities.

Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington and the lead author on the study, told me that evidence from this and other studies suggests that “handwriting — forming letters — engages the mind, and that can help children pay attention to written language.”


“This myth that handwriting is just a motor skill is just plain wrong,” Dr. Berninger said. “We use motor parts of our brain, motor planning, motor control, but what’s very critical is a region of our brain where the visual and language come together, the fusiform gyrus, where visual stimuli actually become letters and written words.” You have to see letters in “the mind’s eye” in order to produce them on the page, she said. Brain imaging shows that the activation of this region is different in children who are having trouble with handwriting.

Read the whole piece, it’s a fascinating read.

Teaching Literature as Teaching Particular Concepts and Skills

Will Common Core kill students' love of reading?Photo credit: Kate Ter Haar (CC-By-2.0)

Will Common Core kill students’ love of reading?
Photo credit: Kate Ter Haar (CC-By-2.0)

Valarie Strauss highlighted a disturbing quote from this New York Times article entitled, “English Class in the Common Core Era: ‘Tom Sawyer’ and Court Opinions.”

“Unfortunately there has been some elimination of some literature,” said Kimberly Skillen, the district administrator for secondary curriculum and instruction in Deer Park, N.Y. But she added: “We look at teaching literature as teaching particular concepts and skills. So we maybe aren’t teaching an entire novel, but we’re ensuring that we’re teaching the concepts that that novel would have gotten across.”

Teaching particular concepts and skills is not teaching literature as Strauss points out:

Concepts are general notions, abstract ideas; a skill is a particular ability. Isn’t there more? How about teaching literature so students can learn to examine (not conform to) societal values, expand world views, understand their own and different cultures, appreciate the beauty of strong, eloquent language, develop emotional intelligence?

Literature is a mirror that reflects a society’s values, behaviors, history and culture. Teachers with any hope of capturing students’ attention and getting them engaged in reading Shakespeare or Tolstoy or Faulkner have to think beyond skills and concepts.

Yes you do.  This approach to literature isn’t much better than kids just reading Cliff Notes or Spark Notes on a book and calling it a day.