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Common Core State [sic] Standards


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    Who's On First?

    by Susan Ohanian

    Trying to trace the source and the sense of the material assigned to 5th grade Common Core language arts classes brings to mind the comedy routine made famous by Abbott and Costello. Here are the names of the baseball team Abbott is identifying for Costello:

    First Base: Who
    Second Base: What
    Third Base: I Don't Know
    Left field: Why
    Center field: Because
    Pitcher: Tomorrow
    Catcher: Today
    Shortstop: I Don't Care/I Don't Give a Darn/I Don't Give a Damn

    Allthough the following barely scratches the surface of enterprises large and small churning out Common Core lessons, it's a place to start. The standard being addressed is:

    Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.

    Quoting accurately from a text. Thereby hangs this tale. The choice of text used in Fresno Unified School District fifth grades rather boggles the mind. But they didn't create the lesson.

    Read on.

    At the top of its website, the Fresno Unified School District features a monthly Common Core newsletter. It lists lots of teacher imperatives. Today, I'm choosing these two, although they are all overflowing with arrogance and obfuscation.

    Teachers will understand and implement the
    CCSS in ELA/literacy, ELD, and mathematics
    to operationalize the instructional shifts;

    Teachers and leaders will be able to
    understand and utilize the scope and sequence
    to plan and deliver lessons and modules in
    CCSS each quarter.

    Think about these teacher imperatives as you read on.

    Fresno fifth graders teacher have had their first taste of Common Core performance tasks for the first quarter--combining reading and writing. I found it fascinating to discover that these tasks come from a Common Core Wiki set up for Georgia elementary school teachers.

    Now get this: While New York teachers are being trained on material produced by EngageNY and designed by Expeditionary Learning and/or material produced by the Teachers College Reading Writing Project, Fresno fifth graders are working on a performance task that comes with the New York City Department of Education imprint and the guarantee that "the task and unit was" reviewed for Common Core Alignment by the NYC Department of Education Common Core Fellows" at Public School 83.

    I've read that statement at least half a dozen times. There is no claim that anybody in New York ever taught this unit.

    This unit arrived in Fresno via a Common Core wiki set up for Georgia elementary school teachers "to find, share and discuss resources from around the state."

    Meanwhile, at the Georgia Department of Education site, fifth grade teachers are informed that the units developed in 2012 have to be revised because they don't measure up to a rubric developed/facilitated by Achieve. Georgia teachers (and everybody else) can get a narrative description of this rubric here (via EngageNY).

    Who's on first?

    In New York City, fifth graders might get material from EngageNY, designed by Expeditionary Learning

    and/ or

    TCRWP Nonfiction Reading and Opinion/Argument Writing Performance Task. TCRWP is shorthand for Teachers College Reading Writing Project, founded and directed by Lucy Calkins. The teacher is informed that this TCRWP material might last for two or three days depending on how much time you can allocate each day and on your students' stamina.

    Did teachers ever before have to figure student stamina quotient into their lesson planning? Stamina. In truth, it's the teacher who needs a good deal of stamina. There are 101 pages of instructions to study for this one performance task. Some of the instructions are a suggested script for teacher prompts--with this directive: Of course, you'll want to adapt and modify the language to suit the language you use in your classroom. You'll want to study the content of the spoken prompt before you adapt it; it is related to your students' understanding of the tasks, and therefore their potential success.

    I dunno, but to me this sounds like alter these words we have chosen at your own very real risk of catastrophe.

    Meanwhile, Back in Fresno

    Following those New York City directions (retrieved from the Georgia Wiki), Fresno students were given the prompt Should the school day be extended? Their task was to read five articles from the New York Times expressing opinions on this topic--and then to decide from this reading if they were pro or con, and write their own persuasive essay on the topic, using details from the New York Times sources to support their own opinion.

    Joseph says his district chose the New York (via Georgia) performance tasks because "they were ready." I find it a bit odd that after much searching, I can find no evidence that these tasks were used in New York or Georgia. . . although they do bear the imprint of the New York City Department of Education. But remember, New York City has at least three sets of Common Core tasks.

    Go Fresno!

    GRADE 5
    This packet contains a curriculum embedded Common Core aligned task and instructional supports. The task is embedded in a four
    week unit on opinion writing that will culminate in students independently writing an essay based on texts they have read in
    Task Name:Should the School Day Be Longer?
    Task Description:The students will use information from at least two or three newspaper articles on extending the school day, select a point of view, and write an opinion piece supporting their argument. Their goal is to persuade the reader to agree with their argument.

    Standards Assessed: RI.5.9
    Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

    Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.
    a. Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which ideas are logically grouped to support the writer's purpose.
    b. Provide logically ordered reasons that are supported by facts and details.
    c. Link opinion and reasons using words, phrases, and clauses (e.g., consequently, specifically).
    d. Provide a concluding statement or section related to the opinion presented

    NOTE: Consequently and specifically are the holy words of Common Core writing assignments.

    Let's take a look at the readability of these essays.

    Geoffrey Canada: president and chief executive officer of the Harlem Children's Zone and president of the Harlem Children's Zone Promise Academy Charter Schools.
    Help for Parents and Society

    Flesch Kincaid score: 11.2.

    Annie Murphy Paul: author of Origins, is writing a book about the science of learning.
    Naps, Recess, and the Arts

    Flesch Kincaid score: 10.7

    Mary A. Carskadon: professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, directs studies of adolescents in the sleep research lab at the E.P. Bradley Hospital in Providence.

    Let Students Sleep

    Flesch Kincaid score: 12.5

    Vern Williams: teaches honors math at Longfellow Middle School in Fairfax County, Va. He was named to the National Mathematics Advisory Panel in 2006
    Let Teachers Teach

    Flesch Kincaid score: 12.8

    Richard Barth: chief executive officer of the KIPP Foundation, which oversees a national network of more than 100 KIPP public charter schools in 20 states
    For Us, More Time is Critical

    Flesch Kincaid score: 11.4

    The summary from the Common Core-recommended reading analysis for all of these articles is similar: This text is low in narrativity which indicates that it is less story-like and may have less familiar words. Less story-like texts are usually harder to comprehend. . . .This text has low referential cohesion, indicating little overlap in words and ideas between sentences. Cohesion gaps require the reader to make inferences, which can be challenging and even unsuccessful without sufficient prior knowledge. This text is low in both referential and deep cohesion, suggesting that the reader may have to infer the relationships between sentences and ideas. If the reader has insufficient prior knowledge, these gaps can be challenging.

    Here's another statement from the Fresno Unified School District website:

    October 2013
    Common Core State Standards Newsletter
    The Common Core State Standards and
    Parents and Guardians

    The Common Core State Standards (CCSS)
    provide a practical way to prepare children for
    the challenges of a constantly changing world by
    learning step-by-step the real-world skills they
    need for career and college.

    California is putting these standards to work,
    using them as the foundation for remodeling our
    education system for preparing career ready

    What is practical--or decent-- about assigning New York Times op eds to fifth graders as the basis for their own writing? Forget all the echo chamber talk about our schools preparing kids to be college and career ready. Our schools are on-course to prepare very very angry adults who were deprived of a childhood.

    When will the revolution begin? So far, we don't even have a good rumpus going.

    — Susan Ohanian
    November 09, 2013

    Index of Common Core [sic] Standards

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