The Council of Great City Schools (CGCS) promotes a video From the Page to the Classroom: Implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English Language Arts and Literacy that purports to supply the background for the Common Core State (sic) Standards. There’s no mention that The Council of Great City Schools has, so far, received $8,496,854 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to promote these standards.
In delivering on its mission, the 52-minute CGCS video features the usual suspects—Common Core architect and now head of the College Board David Coleman, David Liben and Sandra Alberti of Student Achievement Partners, a group co-founded by David Coleman and heftily funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ($6,533,350) and the General Electric Foundation ($18,000,000) , and Michael Casserly, Executive Director of CGCS. Professor of education at the Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley, Lily Wong Filmore makes a brief appearance to explain the rationale for a kindergarten on complex text. More about this later.
The film is narrated by Frederick Secrease, who, in an audience-ingratiating move, starts out by saying, “Like you, I am an educator” and “as educators, we know. . . .”
I assume that Secrease will add this role to his acting credits which, according to a Google search, include Oh Snap! I’m Trapped in the House with a Crazy Lunatic Serial Killer! and Color of the Cross2: the Resurrection. I mention this only to indicate that Mr. Secrease is doing what he was hired to do: recite a script. I don’t think this qualifies him to the title “educator.”
The film opens with a bizarre metaphor of learning as a hurdles race at a track meet. The hurdles are set at different heights and different places in various lanes, and the script reader intones, “How can the race be fair if all the runners aren’t running the same race. . . and the fans won’t be able to tell how each racer is performing. . . . This has been the problem with academic standards in the past.”
Then comes the message that CCSS puts everybody on the same track with the same hurdles. If the school analogy held, this would mean the rich, the poor, the lame, the fat, the asthmatic, the Olympics trainee-all get the same track-and this means the race is fair.
- The direct message is that lack of national standards puts students of color, students of poverty, students learning English, and students with disabilities at a disadvantage and providing them with these new standards will “level the playing field.” Yes this worn out phrase is in the script.
- The direct message is that from the outset CCSS was a state-led initiative.
They want us to believe we have the Common Core as a result of grassroots agitation. No mention of the hundreds of millions dumped in by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The plan has been from the get-go that if you state a lie loudly enough and often enough, people will believe it.
This Standardisto script highlights Three Important Shifts:
Shift 1: Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction and Informational Test: In K-5 CCSS demands a 50-50 balance between nonfiction and fiction. This is right from CCSS emperor David Coleman’s lips and is repeated by the script reader.
Shift 2: Reading and writing must be grounded in evidence from the text and there must be a shift away from narrative writing. No opinions allowed.
Shift 3: Regular practice with complex texts and its academic vocabulary
Shift is the Big Word with the Common Core State (sic) Standards brigade. Just remove the ‘f’ and you’ve got my condensed critique.
King of smug disdain David Coleman offers some advice to the child who reads several grade levels below the complex text ALL members of his class are assigned to read: “You’re going to practice it again and again and again and again. . . so there’s a chance you can finally do that level of work.”
What have we got when we’ve got an 9th grade immigrant learning English and another 9th grader who tests out at grade 4.0 on a diagnostic test reading The Gettysburg Address again and again and again and again? In the Washington Post Answer Sheet blog, an experienced teacher explains the frustration of following the Common Core rules of text complexity that forbid giving any background information-not even telling students that this speech was given at a funeral and certainly not being able to ask them, “Have you ever been to a funeral?”
The New York Post ran a piece Playtime’s Over, Kindergartners: Standards stressing kids out, explaining that the city Department of Education wants 4- and 5-year-olds to forget the building blocks and crayons and get busy writing “informative/explanatory reports.” This includes writing a topic sentence.
In a kindergarten class in Red Hook, Brooklyn, after three children broke down and sobbed on separate days last week, a teacher told The Post. “This is causing a lot of anxiety.” The teacher said. “Kindergarten should be happy and playful. It should be art and dancing and singing and learning how to take turns. Instead, it’s frustrating and disheartening.”
Teachers must stop for tears. Stop this insane push and return to the children’s garden that kindergarten was meant to be. That goes for every other grade. Get off the Common Core train wreck that victimizes children.
What This Common Core Shift Means to Kindergartners
In this Council of Great City Schools video, Professor Lily Wong Fillmore, who has acknowledged the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation support of her work on text complexity offers a brief introduction to a “Classroom Example of Teaching Complex Text: Butterfly.” We’re told this video features a New York City kindergarten class of English language learners as a showcase for “demonstrating Lily Wong-Fillmore’s guidance in how teachers can support students in acquiring and using academic language and working successfully with complex text.”
I’ve never taught kindergarten, but I have spent lots of time in pre-Common Core kindergarten classrooms in 26 states—from poor rural to poor urban to affluent suburban. I’ve witnessed children’s delight and inventiveness in the play house, the sand table, the building block area. I’ve read the books they’ve written, watched their impressive mathematical reasoning. Those kindergartens were wonderful places to be. My first objection to this model lesson on teaching complex text is the rigidity of the scripted lesson, the lack of spontaneity, the lack of joy. Everything is teacher-directed and the two teachers have miles to go and CCSS promise to keep.
In his classic The Informed Vision: Essays on Learning and Human Nature, David Hawkins points out that there is an essential lack of predictability about what’s going to happen in a good classroom, not because there’s no control but precisely because there is control, of the right kind-the teacher bases her decisions on her observation of actual children in actual situations. Such a classroom makes room for accidents, the unexpected happening that directs attention in some new way. Suddenly there it is. The bird flies in the window, and that’s the miracle you needed. If the teacher is ready for and is able to make educational capital out of the interests and choices of children and out of this accidental appearance of the bird, then great things happen. If the bird coming in the window is just a nuisance, interrupting your planned lesson, then you don’t deserve it, and in fact, it never happens. If you deserve it, the bird will fly in the window.
I fear that in this model CCSS classroom, the bird will never happen. We’re only seeing seven minutes of a school day, but I shudder to imagine what came before this snippet to get these kindergartners ready to recite such sentences as “The most awe-inspiring event in a butterfly’s life is its metamorphosis, as it transforms from a caterpillar to a chrysalis.” The video shows us only the children sitting in the front of the class and although we can hear some chatter from the back of the room (while the teacher is talking), even in the front of the room, asone boy chants the requisite sentence, his head is turned away from the chart paper where the teacher is pointing to each word. Many of the children recite ahead of the pointer. They’ve got the words down pat. How many are reading is an open question.
When my favorite group of second graders were studying a caterpillar’s transformation, some of the kids wrote me exuberant notes along with drawings about what they were learning. I didn’t check these notes for text complexity or topic sentences. Yes, some kindergartners are ready to read. But many children are harmed when, in the name of rigor and complexity, what was once second grade is now kindergarten. We don’t expect all babies to walk or talk at the same age. Why do we think five- and six-year-olds should be standardized in their learning—and shoved as a pack into more rigor? (Look up the definition and ask yourself if that’s what you want for a child you love.)
In a Slate essay, Why Preschool Shouldn’t Be Like School, developmental scientist Alison Gopnik discussed new research showing that teaching kids more and more, at ever-younger ages, may backfire.
Professor of Curriculum and Teaching at Hunter College and author of numerous books on children’s literacy development, Sandra Wilde worries about the pressures on kindergartners. She suggests, “Read the book, watch the butterflies develop, act it out, but skip the close reading of long sentences. Fingerpaint butterfly pictures instead. What’s the hurry?”
Indeed, what’s the hurry? In Norway, highly touted for its students scoring at the top on international tests, children aren’t introduced to reading skills until they’re seven years old.
The school featured in this CCSSO video is in Chinatown and Gerald Coles, an educational researcher and activist who has written extensively on literacy and the politics of schooling, speculates, “If this lesson were billed as ‘filmed in China’ it would immediately be described as group thought control.”
I close with Coles’ final remark. “I’m not kidding you when I say I had to pause the video after about 4-5 minutes because it was too painful to watch. e.e. cummings nailed this pedagogy when he wrote:
beware of heartless them
(given the scalpel, they dissect a kiss;
or, sold the reason, they undream a dream)”