The Common Core State Standards have been taking a beating lately in the court of public opinion.
One concern is their developmental appropriateness. Stamford Advocate columnist Wendy Lecker asserted on Feb. 21 that “the drafters of the Core ignored the research on child development. In 2010, 500 child development experts warned the drafters that the standards called for exactly the kind of damaging practices that inhibit learning: direct instruction, inappropriate academic content, and testing.”
Then, on Feb. 26, Connecticut Education Association Executive Director Mark Waxenberg revealed that 97 percent of 1,452 state teachers surveyed “believed there should be some sort of moratorium on the implementation of the standards.”
Connecticut House Republicans quickly followed with news that “they’d managed to force a public hearing on legislation to delay the standards.”
The very next day, the group Parent-Teacher Save Our Schools Alliance called upon lawmakers “to pass legislation to enable parents to opt their children out of statewide [Common Core] standardized tests.”
Clearly, the Common Core State Standards could use some positive press right about now.
“Teachers are not saying we don’t want standards,” said Waxenberg. “What we’re saying is give us time to digest what we are being asked to do, to make sure we can get this done right before children are being judged improperly.”
To me, “doing it right” means paring down the unwieldy bundle of standards into a focused and manageable set of principles that have been researched and proven effective — attributes glaringly absent from the current CCSS.
One standard I believe would make the cut is ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.3, which requires students to “evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.”
What could the students in my Media Literacy class learn, for example, by investigating the rhetoric surrounding the current Common Core controversy? They could start by reviewing this news item:
“In the face of growing opposition to the Common Core State Standards — a set of K-12 educational guidelines adopted by most of the country — officials in a handful of states are worried that the brand is already tainted,” reports the Washington Post. “They’re keeping the standards but slapping on fresh names they hope will have greater public appeal.”
Thus, “Arizona Governor Jan Brewer used an executive order to strip the name ‘Common Core’ from the state’s new math and reading standards for public schools.” Officials in Iowa, meanwhile, have begun calling the Common Core State Standards “the Iowa Core.” And some legislators in Florida would like to change the official name of the CCSS to “Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.”
My students could investigate this issue by focusing on “word choice.” First, they could consult resources such as the book “The New Doublespeak” in which author William Lutz defines doublespeak as “language that pretends to communicate but really doesn’t.”
Specifically, students could survey Lutz’s four types of doublespeak — euphemisms, jargon, inflated language, and gobbledygook (aka, “bureaucratese”) — to see if any apply.
As an example, students might focus on the phrase “Next Generation Sunshine State Standards” as a potential example of inflated language — that is, words “designed to make the ordinary seem extraordinary, the common, uncommon.”
After relating the specific types of doublespeak to the Common Core debate, my students could identify literary and historical examples, such as George Orwell’s invention of “newspeak” in the novel “1984” or his essay “Politics and the English Language.”
So there you go: a lesson aligned with one Common Core standard that makes sense, courtesy of the Common Core controversy itself.
Of course, I didn’t really need the CCSS dispute to inspire this lesson because I’ve been teaching these very concepts in my Media Literacy class for the past 15 years — long before the Common Core State Standards even existed. The current controversy simply provided the latest news event to which I could connect my lesson.
You might say it’s a lesson I teach to meet the “Honest Communication in the Nutmeg State Standards.”
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School. .