Randall Hendee is a English teacher in Illinois. He wrote the following comments about E.D. Hirsch’s views about the Common Core. Hirsch is the founder of the Core Knowledge curriculum and author of several books on the importance of establishing a sequential, specific, knowledge-based curriculum.

Hendee writes:

“I hope everyone who reads Hirsch’s article on Common Core testing also reads his strong endorsement of the CCSS in his previous piece: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/e-d-hirsch-jr/why-im-for-the-common-cor_b_3809618.html

“Part of that endorsement hinges on a belief that we can’t predict whether the standards will work or not. To which I’d answer 1) That’s what pilot projects are for, and 2) there’s such a thing as “highly predictable unintended consequences,” such as the ones that played out in Iraq, and in the implementation of NCLB. It’s not just that well informed people predicted them in advance but were drowned out by the poorly informed herd. It’s that we can analyze the assumptions behind the Common Core Standards right now and identify the logical–and ideological–fallacies that point to failure.

“Check out this paragraph from Hirsch’s earlier piece (dated August 27):

“Not even most prescient among us can know whether the Common Core standards will end in triumph or tragedy. That will depend on what the states actually do about developing rich content knowledge ‘within and across grades.’ To do so will take the courage to withstand the gripe-patrols that will complain about the inclusion of say Egypt, in the second grade. But who can be sure that the required political courage to withstand such gripes won’t be forthcoming once the absolute need for specific, cumulative content is understood. As Niels Bohr said: ‘Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.’ If just one state or district shows the way, with big, unmistakable gains resulting, those results will influence many others.”

“Gripe patrols? Is he referring to the early childhood experts that had no role in writing the standards? Anyway, Hirsch is saying that the Common Core Standards might not work, but if somebody CAN get them to work, everyone else should follow their lead. This might have been a tenable position BEFORE almost every state adopted the standards (if you believe in standardization, that is). Still, he has no problem at all with running a long-range experiment using the bulk of the nation’s kids as test subjects!

“Also note his reference to Egypt for second graders, which I take to be a slap at Diane’s blog post that questioned a crazy list of outcomes expected of six year olds from their study of Mesopotamia, Egypt, comparative religion, ancient languages, and what all: https://dianeravitch.net/2013/08/23/can-you-explain-the-code-of-hammurabi-and-a-ziggurat/comment-page-1/ based on this… http://www.engageny.org/resource/grade-1-ela-domain-4-early-world-civilizations

“I don’t share Mr. Hirsch’s belief that intense, sequenced instruction in all prescribed content areas is the key to helping young children improve their reading comprehension, or to inspiring a lifelong love of learning, for that matter. I don’t believe in “the absolute need for specific, cumulative content.” I think it’s impossible, and counterproductive, to conjure up a body of knowledge that every child has to master–that is, a detailed scope and sequence of facts, concepts, and vocabulary–in order to be considered educated. (Now, if we’re talking about training–in neurosurgery or air traffic control–that’s a different story.) Admittedly, that’s a philosophical difference. But I think we should look at research, too. Here’s the comment I left on his Huffington Post entry on Common Core Testing:

“Where did you get the idea that forcing advanced subjects on young kids is the best way to improve reading comprehension? I got good at English by reading what I liked. This has been borne out by research. Stephen Krashen reports on the value of “sustained silent reading”: http://successfulenglish.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/81-Generalizations-about-FVR-2009.pdf and the importance of “narrow reading”: http://www.sdkrashen.com/articles/narrow/all.html

“Looks like background knowledge is more effectively built when a student selects his own reading material within a limited range (than when the teacher assigns a variety of unfamiliar short passages). I went through phases as a kid: mystery, adventure, nature, war. Sure, I also read the encyclopedia, but it wasn’t just learning academic subjects that built my background knowledge. It was all those Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and We Were There books.

“You’re right that “value added” models shouldn’t be used to evaluate teachers, but really good teachers will finesse the bad mandates as best they can. Their main concern isn’t to keep their jobs. It’s to help children learn. The “many teachers” that you report “were still going to do test prep, as any sensible teacher should” might not represent teachers as a whole. I’ll bet there are just as many trying to subvert the ill-conceived testing regimes and other bad practices. Lots of teachers will either keep trying to do right by their students, or reluctantly quit.”