Tom Hoffman, a blogger in Rhode Island, took up the challenge to explain what is wrong with the Common Core ELA standards. He does it here. He goes through them in the spirit of “close reading,” and they read like a nineteenth century approach known as “parsing,” whereby the student analyzed a sentence or a paragraph or a story in minute detail, identifying its grammatical and syntactical features. Today, promoters of the Common Core call it “critical thinking,” but if you go through Hoffman’s analysis, it sure looks like parsing, in which students are expected to read not for the joy of ideas, words, and stories, but for the interpretation and interaction of minute (and dubious) details and (possible) literary devices.

 

After going through exemplar texts and the questions based on them, Hoffman writes:

 

I am not seeking out edge cases; I’m just trying to apply the standard as written to the exemplar texts provided. Try it yourself.

And I am not reading pedantic detail into the standard — pedantic detail was explicitly put there by the authors. They chose each word with specific intention (or with careless indifference, take your pick). The unambiguous message is that in third grade, precisely, teachers, textbook authors and testing companies should focus students on explaining how key details support the main idea.

Would you ever, while reading a book on dinosaurs with your child, pause to ask how a detail supports the “main idea” of the book? Could you blame her if she looked at you as if you were an idiot? What is the opportunity cost of steering 3rd grade teachers all over the country to spend time with their students not discussing the wonders of dinosaurs, medieval feasts, sprouting seeds and soap bubbles, but instead dragging their students through inane pseudo textual analysis? Does anyone really believe this is necessary to get them ready for college courses a decade in the students’ future?

 

In seeking more information about the author, Tom Hoffman, I found that he writes a blog and has a lot to say on subjects that interest me. His blog is called TuttleSVC. Here is a post about the issue of whether kindergartners should be expected to count to 100 (part of the Common Core). Frankly, I don’t see why it matters whether 5-year-olds learn to count to 100 or whether they learn when they are six, even seven. Hoffman seals the deal by posting the kindergarten expectations in Singapore, where students are expected to count to 10!