Robert Shepherd has written curriculum, textbooks,
assessments, and lots else in recent decades.

Here he explains what
is wrong with the Common Core’s version of English Language Arts:

The CCSS in ELA appear to have been written by complete NOVICES
based upon

a. poorly conceived, unexamined notions about how the
outcomes of ELA education should be characterized and measured AND

b. vague memories of extremely mediocre English classes that the
authors happened to attend when they were in school years ago.

It would be amusing that so much money and time had been spent on
“standards” (I can barely bring myself to use this term to refer to
them) this mediocre if not for the fact that they are going to have
dire consequences on many different levels, including dire
consequences for curricula, for curricular innovation, for
pedagogical practice.

So, what are the problems with the new
national standards in ELA? (My God, I could write several books on
this topic, but I’ll settle for providing the outline.)

To begin with, with, as almost any teacher will tell you, the very idea of
creating a single set of mandatory standards for every child is
crazy. How could it be, I ask myself, that any sane person, any
thoughtful or experienced educator, anyone who gave the matter the
least critical examination, could possibly conclude that it makes
sense to have a single set of ELA standards for every child in the

At the risk of stating what ought to be the blindingly
obvious: a. Children differ; b. We need diversity in outcomes, not
identity in outcomes, from Pre-K-12 education; c. a single set of
standards dramatically reduces the design space within which
curricular and pedagogical innovation can occur; d. a single set of
standards for all effectively tells every curriculum coordinator,
every curriculum designer, every teacher, “What you know or think
you know about your students and about outcomes for them doesn’t
matter–we have made these decisions for you. Shut up and do as you
are told.”

These considerations, alone, should have been enough to
have stopped the CCSS in ELA. But I haven’t even begun to address
the problems with these PARTICULAR top-down, across-the-board,
one-size-fits-all, totalitarian “standards.”

A few of the many
problems with these “standards” in particular. The CCSS in ELA

a. are wildly developmentally inappropriate.

b. embody a lot of completely prescientific notions about how children acquire
language skills.

c. are full of glaring lacunae that teachers and
curriculum designers will not be able to address because they will
be told, “It’s not in the standards.”

d.reflect extremely unimaginative, pedestrian, mostly unexamined notions about what
education in that domain should consist of. The characterizations of what education in literature, in writing, and in language skills should consist of are particularly unimaginative and uninformed.

e. seem often to have been assigned to particular grade levels
completely at random.

f. preclude many logical, potentially highly
effective alternate curricular progressions both within particular
grades and across grades

But here’s the biggest problem of all with
these particular standards, and it’s a problem with most of the
state standards that they supplant: It’s an ENORMOUS mistake to
couch desired outcomes in ELA terms of abstract skills to be
attained rather than in terms of a. world knowledge (knowledge of
what) and b. SPECIFIC procedural knowledge (knowledge of how). In
other words, the CCSS in ELA are WRONG FROM THE START, misconceived
at their most fundamental design level, that of their categorical
conceptualization. The Common Core is a monoculture. It’s just NOT
what is needed by a diverse, pluralistic society, one that prizes,
and benefits enormously from, individual autonomy and