Common Core Gets Personal

by Pat Austin | March 9th, 2014

Readability

Common Core Gets Personal

By: Pat Austin

Among the many top­ics cov­ered dur­ing CPAC this year has been a good, hard look at Com­mon Core. Here, on this blog, Lady Lib­erty does an excel­lent job cov­er­ing Com­mon Core top­ics. From my point of view, I’m glad to see CPAC and other con­ser­v­a­tive groups tak­ing a hard look at the mon­stros­ity that is Com­mon Core.

My per­spec­tive is that of a class­room teacher; I teach high school Eng­lish. While I rec­og­nize that the stated inten­tions behind Com­mon Core are good, I’m not sure I trust the stated inten­tions. The oft quoted ratio­nal­iza­tion behind Com­mon Core is that schools should be teach­ing the same basic stan­dards across the coun­try: a kid in Alaska needs to know long-​division at the same time a kid in Florida does. The­o­ret­i­cally this will help kids who move from one school or state to another..

That being said, there’s a whole lot more to Com­mon Core as we all know. Michelle Malkin has done an excel­lent job in bring­ing much of this to light, as has the Her­itage Foun­da­tion, among others.

My gripe with Com­mon Core at this point is per­sonal. I resent that it takes all of the deci­sion mak­ing out of the hands of the class­room teacher and the local school dis­tricts. Case in point: for years in tenth grade Eng­lish I have taught To Kill a Mock­ing­bird. With the advent of Com­mon Core, TKAM has been bumped down to the ninth grade read­ing list. I’m told that “really it’s an eighth grade level book.” It seems that the Lex­ile level of To Kill a Mock­ing­bird just isn’t high enough (rigor!) for tenth grade. Last sum­mer we were given a new read­ing list from which to choose new nov­els. For tenth grade the list is a selec­tion of “world lit­er­a­ture” which includes titles such as My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, A Thou­sand Splen­did Suns by Hos­seini, and The Life of Pi by Martell, among others.

Oh, there’s a few clas­sics still there such as The Grapes of Wrath.and Twelve Angry Men. But, if we’re going to talk about Lex­ile lev­els and com­plex, rig­or­ous text, Twelve Angry Men is not exactly dif­fi­cult read­ing. When I brought up this point, it was sug­gested that it’s not just the text itself that must be rig­or­ous, but “what you can bring in and do with it.”

Which brings me back to To Kill a Mock­ing­bird. Why can’t a teacher of any grade level for that mat­ter bring in com­plex side read­ings to raise the rigor of any text? Fur­ther­more, what of the teacher who has a high school class with an aver­age read­ing level of about fifth grade? Not that we need to teach down to that, but how frus­trated is a kid with a third grade read­ing level going to be try­ing to read The Grapes of Wrath or One Hun­dred Years of Soli­tude?

As another exam­ple, Julius Cae­sar is not on the read­ing lists any­more at all. In tenth grade it’s been replaced with Mac­beth (which pre­vi­ously had been grade 12) and the twelfth grade Shake­speare is now Ham­let (which kids will read again in col­lege.) I’m told this is non-​negotiable. I’m told that Mac­beth is more rig­or­ous than Cae­sar. Did Shake­speare really sit down and decide to write Mac­beth at a higher Lex­ile level than Cae­sar? I’m dumbfounded.

There is an entire gen­er­a­tion of kids that will now never know what the ides of March means.

The point of all this is sim­ply that all of this deci­sion mak­ing is no longer in the hands of the dis­tricts or the schools them­selves, not to men­tion the teacher. Among the many prob­lems with Com­mon Core, it treats kids as if they are all the same and func­tion on the same level. Many of the nov­els are new “touchy fee­ley” non­sense or are just down­right inap­pro­pri­ate as we have seen.

Am I bit­ter because they’ve ripped my beloved To Kill a Mock­ing­bird from my chalk cov­ered fin­gers? You bet I am. I’ll con­tinue to fight for the Amer­i­can clas­sic until my dying breath. And I will con­tinue to fight for excel­lence and high stan­dards in edu­ca­tion as well. But the bot­tom line in all of this is that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment should have no say in the matter.

Pat Austin also blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

Among the many topics covered during CPAC this year has been a good, hard look at Common Core.  Here, on this blog, Lady Liberty does an excellent job covering Common Core topics.  From my point of view, I’m glad to see CPAC and other conservative groups taking a hard look at the monstrosity that is Common Core.

My perspective is that of a classroom teacher; I teach high school English.  While I recognize that the stated intentions behind Common Core are good, I’m not sure I trust the stated intentions.  The oft quoted rationalization behind Common Core is that schools should be teaching the same basic standards across the country:  a kid in Alaska needs to know long-division at the same time a kid in Florida does.  Theoretically this will help kids who move from one school or state to another..

That being said, there’s a whole lot more to Common Core as we all know.  Michelle Malkin has done an excellent job in bringing much of this to light, as has the Heritage Foundation, among others.

My gripe with Common Core at this point is personal.  I resent that it takes all of the decision making out of the hands of the classroom teacher and the local school districts.  Case in point:  for years in tenth grade English I have taught To Kill a Mockingbird.  With the advent of Common Core, TKAM has been bumped down to the ninth grade reading list.  I’m told that “really it’s an eighth grade level book.”  It seems that the Lexile level of To Kill a Mockingbird just isn’t high enough (rigor!) for tenth grade.  Last summer we were given a new reading list from which to choose new novels.  For tenth grade the list is a selection of “world literature” which includes titles such as My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Hosseini, and The Life of Pi by Martell, among others.

Oh, there’s a few classics still there such as The Grapes of Wrath.and Twelve Angry Men.  But, if we’re going to talk about Lexile levels and complex, rigorous text, Twelve Angry Men is not exactly difficult reading.  When I brought up this point, it was suggested that it’s not just the text itself that must be rigorous, but “what you can bring in and do with it.”

Which brings me back to To Kill a Mockingbird.  Why can’t a teacher of any grade level for that matter bring in complex side readings to raise the rigor of any text?  Furthermore, what of the teacher who has a high school class with an average reading level of about fifth grade?  Not that we need to teach down to that, but how frustrated is a kid with a third grade reading level going to be trying to read The Grapes of Wrath or One Hundred Years of Solitude?

As another example, Julius Caesar is not on the reading lists anymore at all.  In tenth grade it’s been replaced with Macbeth (which previously had been grade 12) and the twelfth grade Shakespeare is now Hamlet (which kids will read again in college.)  I’m told this is non-negotiable.  I’m told that Macbeth is more rigorous than Caesar.  Did Shakespeare really sit down and decide to write Macbeth at a higher Lexile level than Caesar?  I’m dumbfounded.

There is an entire generation of kids that will now never know what the ides of March means.

The point of all this is simply that all of this decision making is no longer in the hands of the districts or the schools themselves, not to mention the teacher.  Among the many problems with Common Core, it treats kids as if they are all the same and function on the same level.  Many of the novels are new “touchy feeley” nonsense or are just downright inappropriate as we have seen.

Am I bitter because they’ve ripped my beloved To Kill a Mockingbird from my chalk covered fingers?  You bet I am.  I’ll continue to fight for the American classic until my dying breath.  And I will continue to fight for excellence and high standards in education as well.  But the bottom line in all of this is that the federal government should have no say in the matter.

 

Pat Austin also blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

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