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An Open Letter to NCTE Members about the Common Core State Standards

Ohanian Comment: So far, only three people have expressed disapproval of NCTE's participation. Their comments follow the letter. You can go to the url below and express your own opinion. They claim to allow 1,000 characters. I found that I couldn't get in more than about 950.

I do hope people will comment.

Dear NCTE Members:

The purpose of this letter is to give you an update regarding the Common Core State Standards and NCTE.

The National Governor̢۪s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers invited NCTE to review the July draft of the Common Core State Standards and to present findings of that review in a meeting on August 10. The NCTE Executive Committee accepted the invitation and created a blue-ribbon panel of NCTE members who had expertise in NCTE policies and positions as well as expertise in secondary schools, high school standards, college readiness, higher education, and the areas addressed in the Common Core State Standards (reading, writing, listening and speaking, media, and research). Members of this review panel included Randy Bomer (chair), Bill Bass, MaryCarmen Cruz, Doug Hesse, Henry Kiernan, Jennifer Ochoa, and Diane Waff. Kent Williamson served as the NCTE staff liaison, and I served as an ex officio member of the team. As a group, this review team brought to the table many years of classroom experience both in secondary education and higher education. Furthermore, they represented ethnic diversity, geographic diversity, and a range of experiences (classroom teachers, district level personnel, a school superintendent, college faculty, a technology specialist).

With a short ten days in which to work, this group not only reviewed the Common Core State Standards draft document, but also considered it against existing NCTE policies and practices. They then crafted a thorough report that offered comments about the scope, the omissions, and the specific language of the standards document. I know that you are anxious to read the review team̢۪s report; however, we have assured the members of the CCSSO work group writing the standards that while they are still revising their document, we will not release our critique. Once the final document of the Common Core State Standards is released (mid-September), NCTE will publish on our website the Report of the NCTE Review Team as well as any additional comments we see fit to make at that time.

On August 10, Jennifer Ochoa (NCTE secondary representative-at-large, high school teacher, NCTE Executive Committee member, and a member of the NCTE Review Team), Kent Williamson (NCTE Executive Director), Barbara Cambridge (Director of the NCTE Washington, DC, Office) and I met with Ilene Berman (National Governor’s Association), Chris Minnich (Council of Chief State School Officers), and two members of the work groups working on the standards—David Coleman (project director) and Jason Zimba (project director). The purpose of the meeting was to share the NCTE review team’s observations and concerns about the standards.

We had a frank conversation regarding the concerns the review team highlighted in their report. As mentioned above, we focused our remarks in three areas—the scope of the document, the omissions, and the specific language. We made clear our points of concern not only about this document but the benchmarks, assessments, and curriculum that will follow. The 90-minute meeting was, at times, blunt and by the end of the meeting, it was obvious that all were very impressed by the thoroughness of the NCTE review.

That said, I am not naïve enough to believe that the work group revising the ELA standards will embrace all the revisions we requested. Like each of you, I wait to see the result of review. Though I do not know how influential the NCTE review of the document will prove to be, I do know that of the 300 hundred or so groups or individuals who have offered response to the Chiefs, only six groups were invited to a face-to-face meeting regarding the draft document. NCTE was one of those six. The Executive Committee is appreciative of the meeting.

In closing, I know that some of you would have preferred that this update be one to offer a particular stance NCTE will take regarding the Common Core State Standards. We each bring to the table our own beliefs concerning such a document. Some of us acknowledge the importance of commonly held standards that could serve as high goals for all in this nation; others of us resist any standards that are not created by individual classroom teachers for their individual classrooms. And many of us fall somewhere along that continuum. We see value in educational standards that are consistent from state to state and yet understand that each student deserves the right to an education that best suits his or her unique needs. We worry about national standards that could result in a national test and see immediately the problems with a national curriculum. And all of us—no matter our personal positions on common standards—find a place and space at the National Council of Teachers of English. The Executive Committee members themselves represent the range of positions and yet, when thinking not about our own personal views but about the well-being of the Council, understand what it means to be guided by democratically developed NCTE policies.

The Executive Committee waits with cautious optimism the release of the Common Core State Standards final document, and we invite the Council of Chief State School Officers to continue to turn to NCTE for its members̢۪ professional expertise on literacy education policy. We remain, as per our 2020 Vision, committed to providing direction for policymakers.

Kylene Beers
President, National Council of Teachers of English

Stephen Krashen Comment:
The committee made good points, especially the impact on curriculum/testing. Duncan has said that national tests will emerge from the standards. The rationale for standards is the perception that schools aren't doing their job, not helping the US become globally competitive. Rigorous standards will force teachers and students to work harder. But: The US is ranked #1 in global competitiveness. Our tests scores are good. Also, American children from high income/well-funded schools outperform nearly every country in the world. The US has the highest level of poverty among industrialized countries. Children of poverty do poorly on literacy tests because they have little access to books. Duncan plans to spend billions on tests. This is unnecessary. All we need is teacher evaluation and NAEP. The money should be invested in school libraries in high poverty areas, and/or given to teachers for classroom libraries.

Susan Ohanian Comment:
I've heard from reliable sources that the Common Core Standards were written in 20007 by Achieve. When I see how many consultants paid by Achieve are currently involved in the project, I worry about the result no matter when the final 'i' is dotted. Even acknowledging the NCTE Executive Committee's good intentions and optimism, I am worried sick about this top-down approach. I worry when committees with "expertise in secondary schools, high school standards, college readiness, higher education, and the areas addressed in the Common Core State Standards" review the standards set by corporate interests because those standards will impact the curriculum of pre-schoolers, kindergartners, primary graders, and so on. I worry that "college readiness" will infect teachers' attempts to provide developmentally appropriate and kid-friendly curriculum at all ages. Where is the pedagogy in such an approach? --Susan Ohanian, www.StopNationalStandards.org

Anonymous Comment:
I'm all for the NCTE looking at what we do and making recommendations, but I am troubled by the heavy handed control its accrediting body wields in education. We're fast becoming a system based on a template. All syllabi look the same; all assessment looks the same; all standards are the same. It's an educational malling of America, and NCTE is partly to blame. Maybe we should be focusing on educating parents and communities instead of mandating compliance to rigid standards.

— Kylene Beers, President NCTE





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