Alan Singer, a professor of social studies at Hofstra University on Long Island, New York, adopts the close reading strategy of the Common Core to critique the “great debate” about Common Core. You may recall that the debate pitted educator Carol Burris and Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute against Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Carmel Martin of the Center for American Progress. The most unusual aspect of the debate was that it included one person who actually works in a public school (Burris, who is a principal). Typically, these forums and debates include only people who work for DC-based think tanks.

Singer goes through each of the presentations and makes sharp observations.

Here is a sample:

“Hess: Common Core is also about series of hypotheses about how kids will learn better. These hypotheses are baked into the Common Core, into the tests that have been designed to support the Common Core, and they have received shockingly little debate, given how radical they are. One is a fascination with what Common Core advocates called close reading. This is the idea that students ought to learn to read by deciphering the text — preferably nonfiction, by deciphering the text without regard to other knowledge and without any personal reaction to the text.

[Alan: Close reading of text without attention to student and teacher background knowledge has produced some disturbing curriculum suggestions. Because readings are assigned based on “text complexity” as determined by a mysterious algorithm, New York State’s Common Core website proposes that students be introduced to the European Holocaust using the novel ‘The Book Thief’ before they actually learn about it in social studies classes. On a lighter note, David Coleman, one of Common Core’s major champions, proposed a close and careful reading of Federalist #51, written by James Madison during debate over adoption of the new federal constitution “to teach students and teachers about carefully reading primary sources like Madison’s work and how to understand concepts like ‘faction’ as the authors themselves understood these terms.” The problem with Coleman’s suggestion is that Federalist # 51 is principally about checks and balances and the separation of powers in the new nation. Its title is “The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments.” Factions, what we now call political parties, are actually the major topic in Federalist #10 which was also written by Madison.]”