Transcript for Common Core State Standards for ELA & Literacy
Welcome to Education Update. I’m Rafael Pi Roman. It’s become an accepted part of the American education system. What our children learn depends on which state they live in. In 2010, a coalition of states and education experts set out to change this with the new Common Core State Standards for English and math, which more than 40 states have now adopted. In this episode, we’ll look at the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy, and what they’ll mean for our nation’s schools.
For decades, it was up to local school districts to come up with standards – the set of expectations of what kids need to know and be able to do. This meant thousands of different sets of standards that varied widely and, experts say, led to disparities in achievement. In the late eighties, a movement kicked off to improve the nation’s learning standards, and states took on the task.
01:01 MICHAEL J. PETRILLI
States generally got teachers together and came up with a set of ideas of here’s what kids should know and do in these core subjects. Well, not surprisingly, those standards were literally all over the map.
01:12 GENE WILHOIT
And so what we found in too many states was a plethora of expectations. Almost an un-teachable curriculum, that expectations were too broad.
Not only were many states’ standards too broad to teach – a problem experts call “a mile wide and an inch deep” – they also varied considerably.
01:31 MICHAEL WOTORSON
Because standards vary so much state to state, a young person might leave Memphis and move to Boston and suddenly realize upon arriving in Boston that he or she is in fact not ready for college.
01:44 MICHAEL COHEN
It began to become apparent that we had very different expectations for students from state to state for no particularly good reason.
These different expectations in each state presented a problem when the No Child Left Behind law began holding states accountable with tests based on the different standards. Experts say, instead of improving student performance, it created an incentive to make tests easier, and expectations lower.
02:05 MICHAEL PETRILLI
What became clear is that we had a charade. In most states we were telling parents that their children were doing just fine. They were passing the test, they were proficient according to the state in English and math. But then those same kids would go on to college and have to take remedial courses because they weren’t prepared at all.
02:24 DAVID COLEMAN
Far too many students who are in remediation never get out. And for those students, the possibility of a good-paying job that can support a family, or full-fledged citizenry in which they participate as a full member of our democracy, is scarce and limited.
In 2009, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief School State Officers launched an effort to come up with one set of standards for all states.
The Common Core State Standards were release in June 2010. More than 40 states have now agreed to replace their English & math standards with the Common Core by 2014, when new state assessments are expected to be introduced.
Susan Pimentel, a consultant and standards expert, and David Coleman, who founded the education think tank Student Achievement Partners, led a team of about 70 teachers and experts who spent a year writing the new standards for English Language Arts and Literacy.
They are broken into four main content categories: reading, writing, speaking and listening and language. Each section begins with something called the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards - broad standards defining what kids should know and be able to do to be successful in college and on the job. These standards correspond one-to-one with the specific content standards that follow.
03:37 SUSAN PIMENTEL
We’ve heard from teachers from around the country that have been looking at the standards, that it keeps the focus for them about what it is that they're preparing students for. So even if I’m a third grade teacher, wow, I have a role to play here in preparing students for college and career readiness. So there's a place there to really keep the focus on where it is I'm heading and what it is I'm preparing my students for.
The content standards begin with that most fundamental of skills: reading.
The anchor standards here emphasize reading closely, making logical inferences, citing specific textual evidence, and reading complex texts, a key concept experts say we have not been getting right in the classroom.
04:15 SUSAN PIMENTEL
What's been happening is that the reading we've been asking the students to do, all the way along and in high school has begun to go down, but the reading that we ask for students to do in college and then if they get into their careers has actually stayed steady or gone up. And the difference is wide.
Another big shift in the reading standards: more non-fiction. Experts say that while literature like fiction and poetry is important, kids must also be reading informational texts.
04:41 SUSAN PIMENTEL
When you look at what students actually read and what we read as adults and when we graduate in our careers and jobs and just in life, it’s about 80 percent of what we read is informational text.
04:50 DAVID COLEMAN
Students need to be able to read technical writing, as well as historical and scientific writing, as well as literature and literary writing.
It’s for this reason that there are two sets of reading standards across all grades, reading literature, and reading informational text. Things like essays, news articles and historical documents. By fourth grade, at least half of students’ reading should be informational, and by high school, at least 70 percent. And the responsibility for teaching all this doesn’t fall just on English teachers. The standards call for literacy and writing to be taught across all disciplines: history, social studies, science and technical subjects.
05:25 DAVID COLEMAN
There is no way we will break the barrier of eighth grade reading scores in this country being flat for decades unless science and history teachers are full partners in demanding that students read and write to gain knowledge in their disciplines.
05:40 DAVID RIESENFELD
Nineteenth-century European imperialism in Africa resulted…
David Riesenfeld is a social studies and history teacher at Robert Wagner High School in Queens, New York. He’s started working with the Common Core Standards for literacy as part of a city-wide pilot.
05: 54 DAVID RIESENFELD
We're looking at how to work specifically on kids reading more complex text. So we started by looking at the concept of finding textual evidence in primary and secondary sources.
To prepare for today’s history class, a debate on European imperialism in Africa, his tenth-graders studied photos and illustrations from an Eyewitness book on Africa, read an essay by 16th century social reformer Bartolomé de las Casas, and read excerpts from the novel “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, a complex text recommended in the standards’ appendix. Risenfeld now assesses all his class readings with a text complexity rubric developed through the pilot.
06:28 DAVID RIESENFELD
There's a heavy component in these standards that try to address the things that kids are going to need to know as they walk into any aspect of life. Anywhere from the auto mechanic to the university professor, we're going to have to look at how kids can take information that they're presented with, whether it's a manual or an academic text, and understand what to do with it.
The ability to read well connects directly with the ability to write well – which is the next section of the Common Core standards. Here again, experts say the type of writing kids have traditionally done is not preparing them for life after high school.
07:00 DAVID COLEMAN
If you’re to ask yourself what the most popular forms of writing are today in the American high school, the most popular ones are likely a narrative of your own experience and a narrative of your opinion.
07:08 SUSAN PIMENTEL
When's the last time an employer asked one of us to write a story about ourselves? No. They ask us to read something and then write about it.
07:17 DAVID COLEMAN
What you have to be able to do is show that you can argue based on evidence and show that you can convey complex information clearly.
The anchor standards for writing emphasize writing arguments, writing informative and explanatory texts, drawing evidence from texts to support analysis, and assessing the credibility and accuracy of sources, something Jill Lee, an English teacher at Hillcrest High School in Queens, New York, is working on today.
07:41 JILL LEE
How do you know what he’s saying is real or not?
Lee’s students are preparing to write an argumentative essay by reading informational texts, including a New York Times column about the role of social media in the Middle East uprisings, and a report on media use among kids and teens.
The biggest increases are in TV and video game use.
07:59 JILL LEE
One of the things we noticed about our high school kids is that we are not preparing them for college. They need to know how to read sources. They need to know how to independently research papers. And they need to know how to write a proper paper. It is really important for them to know, number one, that there are various sources. Some are reliable, and some are not. And they need to independently be able to determine that.
08:24 DAVID COLEMAN
If you look at the standards throughout, the core of them is evidence. The core of them is having mastery of the evidence when you’re reading, when you're writing, as well as when you're speaking and listening.
“Speaking and Listening” is the next section of the Common Core State Standards.
The anchor standards here emphasize participating in a range of conversations and collaborations, expressing ideas clearly and persuasively, and adapting speech to a variety of contexts.
08:49 DAVID COLEMAN
The strands of speaking and listening, require a student to build the ability to share evidence, not only in formal ways, like a formal presentation, but an everyday conversation
If you guys can turn to page 12.
At Fillmore Academy in Brooklyn, New York, also Common Core pilot school - seventh grade students are conducting a conversation based on an article they read about child marriage in Afghanistan.
The most recent Unicef study found that 43% of Afghan women were married before age 18.
Once they were sold, the girls were considered as “property.”
Child brides are also at greater risk for domestic violence.
Teacher Rosemarie Cantelmo thinks this type of work will go a long way towards preparing her kids for the real world.
09:28 ROSEMARIE CANTELMO
Well they'll be in a situation where they have to interact with people. It's not only going to be them and a book. You know, you go into business and you need to, you know, sit at a meeting, you need to know how to cite your information, and not just talk randomly. So this is a life experience, to be socially adept in conversation.
The final section is language. The anchor standards here emphasize a command of the conventions of standard English, knowledge of language, and vocabulary acquisition and use – especially academic vocabulary. Susan Pimentel says there was some disagreement about whether to include a separate section just for language.
10:05 SUSAN PIMENTEL
We took some heat on that but we thought it was important enough because we hear from the business community, who say grammar and conventions are important. I'm not gonna hire somebody if a letter is filled with mistakes, and they meant that in terms of writing and also in terms of speaking and listening.
10:19 ROSEMARIE CANTELMO
Let’s talk about the customs…
Cantelmo co-teaches with Bridget Cronin, a special education teacher. The standards don’t contain sections specifically for special populations, like children with special needs or English Language Learners. But Cronin says she’s found them accessible to all learners.
10:36 BRIDGET CRONIN
Using the Common Core Standards definitely does bring tasks to another level. All students, whether they're struggling or they're the top of the class, they're able to accomplish these standards, it's just the means of getting there that may be different.
10:49 SUSAN PIMENTEL
What we've lost, I think, in this country, is the fact that there's no shame for any one of us to pick up a piece of reading and not get it the first time around. That sometimes I have to read it and often times I have to read it again and I have to read it again perhaps, with some, maybe, some scaffolding, someone giving me some good questions about it, someone helping me through it. I happen to believe there's genius in every child, and it's our job as educators to find that and to nurture that.
States are allowed to add 15 percent more content to the standards. For example, New York added a section for pre-kindergartners, and standards to reflect the cultural diversity of the state. John King is the New York State Education Commissioner.
11:30 RAFAEL PI ROMAN
Now, why is it important to allow states to add some of their own content to the standards? Doesn't that defeat the purpose?
11:37 JOHN KING:
The standards' effort I think wanted to be respectful of state differences and state autonomy, make sure that the standards ultimately reflect what local leadership in each state feels what is best for students. And I think over time if states arrive at additional standards that make a real difference for students, other states will learn from that example.
In many ways, the hard work is just now getting under way, as states, districts and schools restructure their curricula and instruction before 2014, when new exams aligned with the Common Core are expected to go into effect. Two groups of states are now designing these new assessments, which will likely look a lot different.
12:18 JOHN KING
We expect them to be more performance-based, so a lot more writing, a lot more opportunity for students to apply their knowledge. And our other hope is that we're able to have the assessments not just happen one time at the end of the year, but that we're able to imbed the assessments in the instructions over the course of the year.
12:35 MAGGIE BAILEY TANG
State exams aligned to the Common Core will be more rigorous than the ones we’re currently using.
Maggie Bailey Tang is an instructional coach for the New York City schools. She’s helping prepare teachers and administrators for the new standards and the new exams. She says she’s hearing some anxiety.
12:49 MAGGIE BAILEY TANG
They're worried. They're worried they're not going to be ready in time for the state tests when they change in 2014. They’re a bit overwhelmed. What I'm doing to help them prepare is to identify the areas in the Common Core State Standards that are similar to the current state standards so they can see that they don't have to start all over again. This isn't starting from day 1. They're doing some of these things already. So if we can start there, and start the alignment there, then they feel better.
Bailey says it will be crucial for teachers to have adequate time and resources to implement the common core state standards in their classrooms, scarce commodities made even more rare by the recession and budget cuts across the country. But despite the challenges, supporters say we need to move forward.
13:33 RAFAEL PI ROMAN
What's at stake if we don't get this right?
13:35 JOHN KING
I think our economic future as a country, and our, and the future of our democracy. At some level we can't sustain our current level of prosperity unless our graduates are competitive with the graduates of high schools all across the world. I think we ought to have, across the education sector, an incredible sense of urgency about that.