August 1, 2021

Comments on the Florida Common Core English Language Arts Standards

This analysis of the Florida Common Core English Language Arts Standards was prepared at the request of Florida Parents against Common Core, a large group of parents across the state. The format used for comments on individual standards is the one provided by the Florida Department of Education on its website. However, because of the large number of standards, the comments are for only the vocabulary and reading standards (for informational and literary texts).

This analysis begins with several General Comments (pages 1-2). It then provides 40 pages of comments on Common Core’s individual standards for vocabulary and reading in eight grades—kindergarten, grade 1, grade 2, grade 3, grades 9/10 and grades 11/12—and in the “Anchor Standards.” It ends with concluding remarks on pages 42-43.  General Comments and Concluding Remards are presented in this article.

General Comments

1. Most of Common Core’s college-readiness and grade-level reading standards are content-free skills. Skills training alone doesn’t prepare students for college. They need a fund of content knowledge. But Common Core’s ELA standards (and its literacy standards for other subjects) do not specify the literary/historical knowledge that students need. They provide no list of recommended authors or works, just examples of “complexity.” They require no British literature aside from Shakespeare. They require no authors from the ancient world or selected pieces from the Bible as literature so that students can learn about their influence on English and American literature. They do not require study of the history of the English language. Without requirements in these areas, students are not prepared for college coursework.

2. Common Core’s ELA standards stress writing more than reading at every grade level—to the detriment of every subject in the curriculum. There are more writing than reading standards at every grade level in Common Core. This is the opposite of what an academically sound reading/English curriculum should contain, as suggested by a large body of research on the development of reading and writing skills. The foundation for good writing is good reading. Students should spend far more time in and outside of school on reading than on writing to improve reading in every subject of the curriculum.

3. Common Core’s writing standards are developmentally inappropriate at many grade levels. Adults have a much better idea of what “claims,” “relevant evidence,” and academic “arguments” are. Most elementary children have a limited understanding of these concepts and find it difficult to compose an argument with claims and evidence. It would be difficult for children to do so even if Common Core’s writing standards were linked to appropriate reading standards and prose models. But they are not. Nor does the document clarify the difference between an academic argument (explanatory writing) and opinion-based writing or persuasive writing, confusing teachers and students alike. Worse yet, Common Core’s writing standards stress emotion-laden, opinion-based writing in the elementary grades. This kind of writing is not helpful to the development of critical or analytical thinking, and it establishes a very bad habit in very young children. There is no research evidence to support this kind of pedagogy.

4. Common Core expects English teachers to spend at least half of their reading instructional time at every grade level on informational texts—a percentage from which students cannot benefit intellectually. Common Core lists 10 reading standards for informational texts and 9 standards for literary texts at every grade level. However, there is NO body of information that English teachers are responsible for teaching, unlike science teachers, for example, who are charged with teaching information about science. English teachers are trained—by college English departments and teacher preparation programs—to teach the four major genres of literature (poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction) and the elements of rhetoric, not a large body of information about the English language.

5. Common Core reduces opportunities for students to develop critical thinking. Critical, or analytical, thinking is developed in the English class when teachers teach students how to read between the lines of complex literary works. Analytical thinking is facilitated by the knowledge that students acquire in other ways and in other subjects because it cannot take place in an intellectual vacuum. )” As noted in a 2006 ACT report titled “Reading Between the Lines:” “complexity is laden with literary features.” According to ACT, it involves “literary devices,” “tone,” “ambiguity,” “elaborate” structure, “intricate language,” and unclear intentions. Critical thinking applied to low-complexity texts, ACT concluded, is inferior to critical thinking applied to high-complexity texts. By reducing literary study in the English class in order to increase informational reading, Common Core not only reduces the opportunity for students to learn how to do critical thinking, Common Core, in effect, retards college readiness.
Summary of General Observations
(1) Common Core’s ELA standards are NOT rigorous. They were designed to allow mid-level grade 11 students to enroll in credit-bearing courses in a non-selective college.
(2) Common Core’s standards are NOT internationally benchmarked and will not make any of our students competitive.
(3) There is NO research to support Common Core’s stress on writing instead of reading.
(4) There is NO research to support Common Core’s stress on informational reading instead of literary study in the English class.
(5) There is no research to support the value of “cold” reading of historical documents, a bizarre pedagogy promoted by the chief architect of Common Core’s ELA standards.
(6) Available research suggests exactly the opposite of what Common Core’s chief architect promotes in the ELA classroom.

Concluding Remarks
1. Most of the statements that appear as vocabulary, reading, and literature standards in the Florida Common Core English Language Arts Standards document are not standards at all. They point to no particular level of reading difficulty, very little cultural knowledge, and few intellectual objectives. These statements are best described as skills or strategies when they can be understood at all. They therefore cannot be described as rigorous standards.

2. Florida’s Common Core standards are not “fewer, clearer, and deeper” than Florida’s previous standards. They may appear to be fewer in number because very different objectives or activities are often bundled incoherently into one “standard.” As a result, they are not clearer, nor are they necessarily deeper. It is frequently the case that the statements are not easily interpretable.

3. Many of Florida’s Common Core ELA standards are poorly written. They need to be revised by experienced, well-trained high school English teachers for clarity and readability before they are used to guide curriculum development anywhere.

4. The vocabulary standards, which should be the strongest set of ELA standards because of the importance of vocabulary knowledge in reading comprehension, are weak and poorly written. Moreover, they often contain inappropriate pedagogical advice. This advice is a particular disservice to children who need strong vocabulary development.

5. Florida’s governor would help the state’s teachers and all its students by requiring a return to its former ELA standards, standards that are academically stronger and clearer than the standards the state department and board of education chose to replace them with. The tax money now being spent to implement and assess a set of standards needing drastic revision woulld be better spent on assessing the state’s previous standards.

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