Teaching literacy has been my career and life for over thirty years now. Having grown up in the South with my own peculiar grasp of so-called standard English, I feel fortunate to have rich and lingering struggles with using the language in ways that conform to the ever-shifting conventions of “good English.”
As a teacher, I have watched the field of literacy flounder under this failure of logic: Expert reading and writers demonstrate X, Y, Z skills; thus, the way to move novice readers and writers to expert is to give them X, Y, Z skills.
Yes, that seems compelling and doable, but it is folly.
One of the main areas of that compulsion to teaching literacy in direct and isolated ways is vocabulary instruction, often anchored by the vocabulary book.
Many moons ago when I was a pup of a teacher, my English department was faced with choosing new vocabulary books. The decision came down to selecting the book that the company had cleverly placed in bold letters on the front, “Correlated with the SAT!”
Before the 2005 retooling of the SAT, isolated vocabulary knowledge was embedded in the infamous analogy section of the SAT (since 2005, the value of isolated vocabulary knowledge has been greatly reduced, but instruction has failed to follow suit).
Thus, in the weird and misleading world of the tests-justify-the-means of traditional schooling, isolated vocabulary instruction and vocabulary textbooks have remained robust parts of misguided literacy instruction across the U.S. (By the way, expert readers have extensive vocabularies because they read extensively—not because they learn words from vocabulary lists.)
This anecdote about testing, classroom instruction, and textbooks is offered as context for new research examined in Education Week, Research Questions Common-Core Claims by Publishers:
Hoping to boost their share of a $9 billion annual market, many publishers now boast that their textbooks are “common-core aligned” and so can help spur the dramatic shifts in classroom instruction intended by the new standards for English/language arts and math.
But in a Feb. 21 presentation of his research at a seminar in Los Angeles hosted by the Education Writers Association, William Schmidt, a professor of statistics and education at Michigan State University in East Lansing, dismissed most purveyors of such claims as “snake oil salesmen” who have done little more than slap shiny new stickers on the same books they’ve been selling for years.
People do not like math, but it is well past time to do the math on Common Core.
Put simply, Common Core is a guaranteed failure because it is a demonstrably failed reform strategy. As I have noted numerous times, the research base is clear that there is no correlation between the existence or quality of standards and student outcomes, and standards have not been shown to address equity (see Mathis, 2012).
Common Core and the related tests accomplish only one real positive outcome: The process creates an ever-revolving door of “new” standards and tests that feed the publishing and materials markets (the standards/testing accountability paradigm is a consumerism model).
While state and federal funds are being drained to re-train teachers, buy new textbooks, invest in new technology, and create and implement new tests (none of which will work and we’ll do this all again in 10 years or so), all of that effort and money could have (should have) been used to address the identifiable problems facing our schools—which have nothing to do with standards or tests (except that we need neither).
Common Core advocacy remains a mirage, a faith-based argument that is driven by commitments that have little to do with education, equity, democracy, or children.
If we have “new” standards and thus “new” tests, we need “new” textbooks, and if we need “new” materials, a few somebodies somewhere make $9 billion dollars.
The next time someone starts to endorse Common Core, superimpose in your mind’s eye “$9 billion taxpayers’ dollars” over her/his face because that is all that really matters.
Finally, the math:
Classroom time – isolated vocabulary instruction and texts = time for students to read
$$$ spent on Common Core – Common Core = $$$ better spent on real problems facing schools
Business Opportunities Seen in New Tests, Low Scores, Jason Tomassini