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Contrary to critics, Common Core opponents busy taking 'next steps'

Thursday, April 24, 2014 - 12:01 am

Writing at National Review Online, Rick Hess and Mike McShane of the American Enterprise Institute make the complaint that critics of Common Core have not come up with the 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.

Hess and McShane should have asked me what I’ve done instead of presenting such a baseless complaint. In fact, I’m getting exhausted from all the “next steps” I’ve been doing.

First, two years ago I crafted an updated set of English language arts standards based on the first-rate 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 inferior standards since May 2013. The document can be accessed at my old home page at the University of Arkansas and on the website of the Association for Literary Scholars, Critics and Writers.

In an introduction to the document, John Briggs, an English professor at the University of California, Riverside, and current ALSCW president, notes:

“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 to which the standards-drafting committee referred. 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 Gov. Mike Pence’s education policy director and the Indiana Department of Education staffer co-directing the project with her.

After the barrage of public criticism of drafts 1 and 2 as mostly cut-and-paste jobs (in both subjects) they realized that the standards had to look a bit different from Common Core’s to salvage Pence’s reputation. The major problem was that the committees selected by the co-directors weren’t capable of much more than making the standards weaker and more incoherent.

“Not making mathematical sense (NMMS),” as most of the mathematics standards were described by Hung-Hsi Wu, one of the reviewing mathematicians, and at University of California, Berkeley.

In addition to making a complete set of English Language Arts standards easily available, I have also written a book to help secondary English teachers develop a coherent literature curriculum. “The Death and Resurrection of a Coherent Literature Curriculum” was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2012 and addresses a topic that needs concentrated attention. The secondary literature curriculum in our public schools has been in shambles for decades, and Common Core’s stress on “informational” texts in the English class is serving to damage it even more.

Third, I am now helping two local school districts, one in Wisconsin, the other in New Hampshire, to develop first-class standards for ELA. I do this pro bono, too. The school boards in both districts voted out Common Core unanimously, and, using their own legal authority (which local school boards in most states have), also voted to develop their own standards and curriculum.

The idea is beginning to cascade. The school board in Wakefield, N.H., just voted out Common Core, 4-2, recently, and then voted to adopt the old Massachusetts standards (four yes votes, with one abstention). This is what is known as self-government in action.

Sandra Stotsky, Ed.D. is professor emerita at the University of Arkansas.