Key votes on common core this week
The Academic Content Standards Commission will be back at it today and tomorrow in Sacramento. If still on schedule by the end of Wednesday, the 21-person committee will have made the momentous recommendation of whether California should adopt the common-core standards that will form the basis of a de facto national curriculum in math and English language arts. The state commission will return for a final two days next week to decide how much, if at all, they should add and reorder the common-core package.
Common core is an effort organized by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, with encouragement from the Obama administration.
As of last week, according to Education Week’s running count, with Rhode Island’s adoption, 20 states had approved common-core as their state standards. EdWeek is predicting over half will do so by month’s end. (Correction: EdWeek didn’t make the projection; an article cited someone else who predicted it.)
In California, the State Board of Education will have the final word. It will vote up or down on the Standards Commission’s recommendations on Aug. 2, the statutory deadline that the Legislature set in January.
The Standards Commission will decide on English Language Arts today and math on Wednesday, saving the hardest and most contentious for last. For those who have the time, the meetings will be webcast (9 to 5:30 today and7:30 to 3:30 Wednesday).
My sense is that the commissioners were impressed with the proposed common-core English language arts standards after reviewing a detailed comparison, prepared by the Sacramento County Office of Education, of California’s current standards and common core. The standards outline skills in reading, writing, listening and speaking that students should be expected to know and perform at each grade level.
Advocates of common core point to two of the attractions of the ELA standards. First, an appendix lists exemplary works that students should be able to read and comprehend at every grade, such as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House in the Big Woods,” read aloud to first graders; Michael Shaara’s “The Killer Angels” and Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” in ninth and 10th grade. The detailed list is not required but provides useful guidance for states.
Second, reflecting the shift in emphasis to career and college readiness as the goal of high school graduation, the standards shift from literary works in the early grades to mostly informational texts in the upper grades. And the focus on writing is argumentation based on analysis of information and data.
Common core stresses levels of literacy in science and history and an ability to master technical material, so essays by H.L .Mencken, the Bill of Rights and constitutional amendments, an abstract by an author for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and a federal environmental protection regulation are all among suggested works.
The ELA high school standards would appear much in line with the thinking of California State University and University of California, which would like more expository writing taught in high school to eliminate the need for remediation in freshman year of college.
Running debate over Algebra I in eighth grade
How to handle math will be more problematic. The focus, as expected, will be on whether California should require Algebra I in eighth grade and how much of Algebra II to demand of high school students who don’t plan on majoring in science and math or are planning on work not requiring a bachelor’s degree.
Common core’s writers recommend going more slowly with fractions in preparation for algebra and, for most students, essentially splitting Algebra I into eighth and ninth grades. This would still allow students to fulfill the geometry and Algebra II requirement for admission to a CSU or UC school, and advocates argue, result in fewer students repeating algebra in ninth grade and feeling discouraged at math. But this approach would run counter to California’s push for universal Algebra in eighth grade and put it behind some high achieving nations like Singapore.
The common core consortium permits states to supplement each grade’s standards by up to 15 percent. By one line of interpretation, California could shift standards, fortifying algebra in eighth grade, without counting as part of the supplementary 15 percent. One complication is that the more California goes afar from common core, the more its curriculum won’t match up with common assessments that will be developed in the next four years.
Expect a lot of debate Wednesday over Algebra I, the 15 percent fudge factor and elements of Algebra II.