Tuesday, May 14, 2013

$150 million of Gates money later, we're still clueless

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post reports that Bill Gates has given over $150,000,000 to promote and develop curriculum for the CCSS.  This is a lot of money. But we are still mostly clueless.

Yesterday my curriculum coordinator was asked what our department was doing to align our curriculum to the Common Core, and she didn't have a quick and easy answer, because there is no quick and easy answer. The Common Core English Standards demand an ability to read complex texts, ability to make coherent arguments grounded in evidence from text, and an increased familiarity with academic language and "content-rich non-fiction."  The most important things students need to be doing, in other words, is meaningful reading and writing--just what we should have been doing before.  The only new thing here is the emphasis on "informational texts," but the best way to learn to read non-fiction is to read a lot of any old text: I am pretty good at reading informational texts, but I read hardly any non-fiction as an adolescent; Malcolm Gladwell is a master of reading, synthesizing and writing informational texts, but the main thing he reads now, just as, no doubt, when he was in high school, is junky airport fiction. Again, the main job of English teachers should be ensuring that their students are doing as much meaningful reading and writing as possible.

Things may look different in other subjects.  The math department at Leafstrewn has apparently done all sorts of work on Common Core "implementation."  This is probably appropriate; in math, you have to decide which skills to teach when. In English, we should be doing similar things over and over again, just with different texts, and different types of writing.  Trying to teach to the Common Core's "Shifts" (yes, the word is capitalized--it is, in the eyes of the Common Core people, that important) is, as I have tried to show, very likely a mistake, since it will lead to a narrow focus, boring curriculum, and not enough reading.  What we need is reading and writing--provide kids with books, time, and a humane, caring community in which they can do their work.

No comments:

Post a Comment