October 18, 2013
The Common Core Standards. Yes, those four words together have had an impact on the education of our youth, although the impact has been less than impressive. What exactly is the Common Core Standards Initiative? According to the Common Core Standards Initiative website, “The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.” Specifically, there are Mathematics core standards and English Language Arts core standards.
However, more and more, we are seeing that these are more problematic than they are “reflecting the knowledge.” In fact, redOrbit recently published an article that stated, “Only one in four US students are performing at a proficient level in writing, and one Michigan State University (MSU) professor believes the quality of instruction those pupils are receiving is at least partially to blame.” Most specifically, the core standards are failing to address the seriously flawed classroom instruction on writing in American classrooms. Gary Troia called this instruction “abysmal” particularly for teaching and improving writing.
I can attest to these abysmal writing abilities. Amongst the classes I teach, I teach Composition 1 and 2. Plus, I teach Developmental English courses, as well. At my college, we have an integrated reading and writing developmental English course. At both the credit level and the developmental level, I have students who simply cannot write. They know what writing is, but they were never taught how to put a thesis statement together, how to organize their support and transition in their essay, or even how to explain and analyze their details. Many cannot explain what a subject and a verb are. They can write simple sentences, but anything beyond that and they struggle. They do not know how to use commas. And don’t get me started on citing sources and research.
Now, not all of my students struggle with these, of course, but this is a majority. No joke. A majority of my students struggle this much and more in writing, which is a foundation of American higher education. Students will write in more classes than not. Furthermore, good writing leads to good reading. They must have those skills.
So, I am tasked with catching them up in their first semester of writing class, either the developmental or the Composition 1. This is a problem. They should have these skills already, thus they are disadvantaged from the beginning of their college and university careers.
As redOrbit explains, “According to the study authors, the standards are strong in some writing-related areas but come up short in others – especially spelling and handwriting, which are not comprehensively covered during the first few years of schooling. In addition, the increasingly essential skill of keyboarding is emphasized only during the third through sixth grade years, and the Common Core fails to address areas of writing useful to community or personal affairs.”
In fact, today’s common ed (elementary through high school) student is not taught how to write in cursive. At all. So, it is not just that they cannot formulate a thesis, but it is also that they taught neither spelling nor cursive.
This is not good for our students. Instead of watering down and cutting parts of our educational system, we need to be looking into the academic rigor. We need to be challenging our students to rise. They will if given the chance, but if we continue to legislate education (poorly, mind you) in these ways, then we continue to put our students at a disadvantage for their higher learning and their lives as a whole. This, I cannot abide.
Writing is crucial to communication, education, and success. We cannot ignore that. I am not just saying this because I teach writing and am a writer. I say this as a citizen, traveler, and participant in the world. We cannot pretend that writing is unimportant. That would be foolish.
We must demand a change. We must demand that education be a focus instead of at the bottom of the legislative list. Education is important. Education is crucial. And it starts very young, so we cannot ignore the importance of that foundation. We must fix our American educational systems before it is too late…and we are flirting with that line today.
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