Approaching the Common Core from an Uncommon Perspective

TheNationsReportCard small letters

By A. G. Moore

A Fractious Public Rejects the Common Core
The Common Core has become a lightning rod in communities across the U.S. New York Newsday, for example, recently ran an article describing a “Tsunami of test refusals” that targeted the Common Core. Despite such popular protests, a strong belief in the need for education reform continues to drive government commitment to the Common Core curriculum. Into the fray this past week came a contrary voice that supported neither Common Core nor its opponents.

Euardo Porter, writing for the New York Times, suggested that educational reform may not be the way to raise lagging U.S. student achievement scores. Rather, Porter suggested, improvements may come only if a broad range of social issues is addressed. Porter cited the results of a study by the EPI (Economic Policy Institute) which indicates that instead of comparing national achievement levels, student performance should be broken down into social classes. The data from these subsets yields an interesting result.

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A Sounder Basis for Comparison
When students from different countries but similar economic backgrounds are compared, U. S. student achievement doesn’t look bad. It turns out that students with similar advantages (or disadvantages) demonstrate education achievement at similar levels. Economic and social class, more than nationality, correlate to academic achievement.

Though this news may be welcome by educators who have had the scolding finger of reformers pointed at them, it may not be so welcome by many others. If the EPI study is correct, it means that in order to improve academic achievement nationally, we need to address economic inequality in the U.S.

While some people will balk at this suggestion, there are aspects of the argument that are undeniable:
1) Overall academic achievement of U.S. students lags in international comparisons; 2) A dramatic academic deficit is not in the nation’s interest; 3) In order to be a global leader in the future, the U.S. will have to produce citizens who can compete with peers internationally.

redone Students_who_scored_600_or_more_on_the_math_SAT
The National Science Foundation; public domain

U.S. Education, By the Numbers
Evidence of the U.S. academic deficit can be found in a number of surveys. A 2012 report from PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), for example, showed U.S. students ranking 36th in a group of 65 participating countries. In another survey of academic achievement, the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (the ‘Nation’s Report Card’), there were signs that recent educational reform had not significantly changed student performance. As a matter of fact, students in some grades actually scored more poorly in 2015 than they did in 2013.

Something is obviously wrong with U.S. education. Whatever is at the root of the problem, we don’t seem to be able to fix it. Porter’s article offers interesting insight into the problem. This insight becomes more interesting if two sets of seemingly unrelated data are compared: one is a measure of economic equality and the other a measure of academic performance.

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Photo: FDR Presidential Library; public domain
The U.S. Surplus Food Program began under
FDR and continues today as the Emergency
Food Assistance Program

The GINI, Where Scoring High Is Not a Good Thing
The OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), of which the U.S. is a member state, has developed a way to quantify economic equality/inequality. Called the GINI index, this number gives members an idea of how they fare, relative to other member states, in delivering economic equality to their citizens. A high number means less equality. In 2015 the OECD released its survey. Of 34 members, the U.S. ranked 31. Only Turkey, Mexico and Chile had worse (higher) scores.

Compare the U.S. GINI (economic equality) rating to the U.S. PISA (education) rating: 31 to 34. It may strike some as remarkable that the U.S. ranking in economic equality and the U.S. ranking in education achievement are virtually at the same level.

Going Forward Toward a Solution
Do these numbers prove anything? Perhaps not, but community furor over the Common Core isn’t dying down. Nor is the government’s ambition to increase achievement levels of U.S. students. What if community and government are focused on the wrong issue? What if neither the Common Core, nor any other curriculum change will substantially improve the global standing of U.S students? The question deserves a full and honest appraisal.


Prompting Students to Write Poetry

Rupert Brooke was known for his war poems. On his way to battle, in 1915, Brooke was bitten by a mosquito. It was the mosquito bite and not a gunshot wound that killed him.
From: Teacher’s Manual The Artist Inside

•Suggest to your students that anyone can write a poem.

•Explain that, in a way, writing poetry is easier than writing prose. There are no punctuation or grammar rules in poetry. There is something called poetic license, which means an author can break all the rules if breaking the rules helps to advance the poem.

•Tell students that sometimes prose is like poetry and sometimes poetry is like prose. It’s usually up to the author to decide how to characterize a piece.

•Rules were much stricter years ago about poetry. Today there are almost no rules.

•Suggest to your students that poetry might give them more freedom to express ideas than a prose piece might. Poetry, more than prose, is the medium of feelings.

Sample Poems

Both selections in this section were written during war time.

•Explain to students that war provokes strong emotions.

•Ask students if they detect emotion in the two selections. If so, how?

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln of the United States gave one of the most famous speeches in American history–The Gettysburg Address. This speech was so artfully written and conveyed emotion so eloquently that it is has often been called a prose poem. The speech is printed in its entirety on the following pages. The first version of the speech is in prose, as Lincoln wrote it.

The second version of the speech is in verse, the way many people believe the poem sounds.

•Ask your students if they think the speech works as a poem.

•Ask them to find phrases that are particularly eloquent and moving.

•Ask students if they can hear a cadence, a kind of music, in the words, whether they are presented as prose or verse.

The selection following the Gettysburg Address is excerpted from a poem, Safety, by Rupert Brooke. Brooke was British; he wrote Safety in 1914, the first year of WWI. In 1915, as the poet was headed toward battle, a mosquito bit him. The bite became infected and Brooke died shortly after of blood poisoning. His poem, Safety, was written in sonnet form; this means it has a definite meter (like a beat in music) and it rhymes.

•Ask your students if they think this poem is of a very serious nature, or if the subject matter is not terribly significant.

•Ask your students to find words that help to set the mood. Ask them how they would describe the mood of the poet.

•Invite your students to try their hand at writing any kind of poem they’d like. Remind them that they want to choose their words carefully so that mood and tone are conveyed.

•Tell them to have fun; writing poetry is personal and can be a very rewarding experience.

lincoln PinkertonLincolnMcClernand
This photo of Lincoln was taken at Antietam by Alexander Gardner, in 1862. Allan Pinkerton, head of Union Intelligence Services, is on his right. Major General John A. McClernand is on his left. The picture is available from the US Library of Congress. It is in the public domain.



Commonsense Approach to Creative Writing

manual trait 1 smash
The Image is taken from “Teacher’s Manual The Artist Inside”. This is one of the sample pictures offered to prompt creative thinking about personal traits . Students are encouraged to look beyond age, gender and race. They are asked to describe what the action in the picture suggests to them. Teachers are invited to copy sample pictures and hand these copies out as part of their lessons.

The following essay is copied from  Rhythm Prism’s writing development book,Teacher’s Manual The Artist Inside

There is a national debate about Common Core and standardized testing. However, when it comes to writing, the discussion is almost irrelevant. Whatever position may be taken on the value of Common Core and standardized testing, the goal of every writing program everywhere is the same: to develop in students the ability to express themselves logically, clearly and effectively.

The Artist Inside writing development book and the accompanying Teacher’s Manual are designed to achieve this universally acknowledged goal.

Those who wish to advance a classic writing development program will find their tradition richly respected in The Artist Inside system. Those who wish to follow guidelines of the Common Core curriculum will find those standards seamlessly incorporated into the system. The ‘gimmick’ of The Artist Inside writing development system is simply this: it is engaging.

Students are invited to use their imagination. They are guided in that use with the introduction of specific tools. Teachers are offered modalities that facilitate student use.

The goal of all language–spoken, written, signed–is to convey information. Writing may require more discipline than speech but, like speech, it becomes more fluent with practice. This is what The Artist Inside system promotes.

The first challenge in any writing program is to get students writing. Extend an invitation, not a challenge. Offer guidance, not rigid structure. With this approach, the skill will evolve, as all language does in the proper environment.