Diana Senechal writes:

I am one of those who do NOT perceive the standards as totally bad. In fact, I see a great deal of potential good in them. (Full disclosure: I played a minor role in the creation of the standards: I suggested some text exemplars and commented on drafts.)

I do see several problems:

1. They need piloting and revision.

a. For instance, the term “informational text” is limiting. A great deal of nonfiction is much more than informational–and a great deal of literature contains rich information (think of Moby-Dick and the passages on cetology).

b. Similarly, in the writing standards there’s a divide between argumentative/persuasive writing and informative/explanatory writing. What happened to analytical/interpretive writing? An interpretation of a literary text is somewhere in between “argumentative” and “explanatory”–but the standards don’t acknowledge this.

c. The specified ratios of literary to informational text serve no constructive purpose that I can see. Yes, students should read nonfiction as well as fiction. They should read historical material in history class, literature in literature class, etc. Also, not every class needs to have extensive reading. One wonderful thing about math and music is that you get to think in nonverbal ways (well, of course they involve words, but they also have their own symbols). If the curriculum is substantial and well designed, students will read plenty of literature and nonfiction (and will learn to think in other modes as well).

d. The “Speaking and Listening” standards have very few references to listening. Granted, listening is implicit, but it deserves more attention. Shouldn’t students develop the practice of listening to a poem, a presentation, or (gulp) the teacher? Shouldn’t quiet students who listen attentively and write thoughtfully get their due?

There are other aspects that might need touching up or changing, but enough of that for now. As for other problems:

2. Many schools have received the message that everyone, including English teachers, should include more informational texts among their readings. The situation that Tim Clifford describes is not isolated. CCSS leaders should state clearly that a rich curriculum comes first–that it should not be subordinated to some narrow aspect of the standards.

3. Along similar lines, although the standards do mention Shakespeare and American literature/foundational documents, they are still heavily focused on skills. Assessments are being created to match the standards; they, too, will focus on skills. This means that students will be tested primarily on skills, as they have been in the past. This in turn may force an emphasis on skills in the classroom.

4. Yes, many literacy programs have gone too far in the direction of personal narratives, generic reading strategies, and low-level texts. Unfortunately, CCSS spokespeople have countered this with extremes of their own. David Coleman (whom I have met and whom I like) has stated that people in the business world don’t care how you think and feel; what matters to them is that you be able to make an argument and support it. Two points: first, this isn’t so. Even in the business world, logos, ethos, and pathos all come into play. Second, the business world is not all of life. We also educate for intellectual, civic, and cultural life, and for the beauty of the subjects themselves. (In all fairness, I wouldn’t be surprised if Coleman had reconsidered his statements by now.)

5. As with many other education reforms, they have been rushed in (thanks in large part to Race to the Top). People are anxious because they don’t know what’s coming (in terms of assessments, for instance) and don’t know how this will play out. States that adopted them for funding may not actually like them or may not find them superior to their own state standards. It would have been wiser to make their adoption entirely voluntary, pilot them, work out the problems, and take it from there.

All that said, they do contain some good, in my view. I applaud the emphasis on attentive reading, high-quality literature and nonfiction (specifically, Shakespeare and American foundational documents), and argumentative writing (with all the caveats I have mentioned earlier). This nudges in the direction of a real curriculum without telling schools exactly what to teach.