Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Common Core: Bad for Libraries, Librarians, and Students

The President of the American Library Association is enthusiastic about the common core for school libraries and school librarians. I am not. I posted this comment on:

In contrast to the view presented in “Common Core Thrusts School Librarians Into Leadership Roles” (Education Week, Sept 12, 2012), I argue here that there are no clear benefits from the common core standards for libraries and librarians, that the standards themselves are unnecessary and that the standards movement will bleed funding from libraries, among other essential programs.

The claim that the librarian’s role will be expanded because of the common core is based on the assumption that the common core (CC) curriculum will be inter-disciplinary and promote inquiry.

This is unlikely. First, the CC documents state that the CC does not support any particular pedagogy. Second, the common core will make it difficult to be inter-disciplinary and to promote real inquiry. The standards approach limits what can be taught to what is on the standards, which drastically limits the range of inquiry and amount of inter-disciplinary material that can be considered.

For example, the English Language Arts standards are so demanding that there will be little time in English language arts classes for anything not directly linked to the standards. Nor should there be, according to the Publisher’s Criteria: “By underscoring what matters most in the standards, the criteria illustrate what shifts must take place in the next generation of curricula, including paring away elements that distract or are at odds with the Common Core State Standards.” (Coleman and Pimental, 3-12, page 1; Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy, Grades 3–12. CCSSO. Achieve.)
Genuine inquiry will also be limited because of the massive amount of testing that is coming to enforce the standards. As Jim Crawford has stated, “With standards come tests; with more standards, more tests” (letter submitted to the New York Times, July 17, 2012). It is highly likely that the common core will introduce more testing than we have ever had before, tests that are tightly linked to the common core standards and that are insensitive to local conditions.

So far, we have been informed that there will be tests in reading and writing and math in grades 3-8 and in high school, along with formative assessments given throughout the school year. The administration is eager to add tests in all subjects and expand testing to all grade levels. Because of the interest in measuring improvement on test scores, it is not unlikely that we will also have pretests in the fall, in order to control for the effects of summer learning and loss. Massive and continuous testing, especially high-stakes testing that affects both students and teachers, means tight control and close adherence to the prescribed curriculum, making real inquiry unlikely.

It also needs to be pointed out that there is no need for new standards and tests. The standards were initiated because of the perception that American students are doing poorly compared to students in other countries, but a close look at the data shows that the real problem is poverty: Middle-class American students do very well on standardized tests. Our overall scores are unspectacular because we have so many children living in poverty, among the highest percentage of all higher-income countries. Poverty means lack of health care, poor nutrition, and lack of access to books, all of which impact school achievement profoundly.

There is also with no evidence that Americans lack inquiry-based skills: In fact, the USA ranks at or near the top of the world on several measures of creativity.

The standards and tests are going to cost a lot of money. They will bleed funding from places that are badly in need of additional financial support, such as health care, food programs, and, of course, libraries. Investing in these areas will protect children from some of the effects of poverty and will increase school achievement.

Finally, support for the standards is support for an approach that has no supporting evidence; there are no studies showing that imposing standards raises achievement, and there is evidence suggesting that increasing testing does not increase achievement.


More testing coming.
Krashen, S. 2012. How much testing? Posted on Diane Ravitch’s blog: AND
Posted on The Answer Sheet, Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post blog:

Middle class American students:
Berliner, D. 2011. The Context for Interpreting PISA Results in the USA: Negativism,
Chauvinism, Misunderstanding, and the Potential to Distort the Educational Systems of Nations. In Pereyra, M., Kottoff, H-G., & Cowan, R. (Eds.). PISA under examination: Changing knowledge, changing tests, and changing schools. Amsterdam: Sense Publishers.
Bracey, G. 2009. Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality. Educational Research Service
Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics
achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13.

Level of poverty in US:
UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (2012), ‘Measuring Child Poverty: New league tables of child poverty in the world’s rich countries’, Innocenti Report Card 10, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence.

The impact of poverty:
Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit.
Coles, G. 2008/2009. Hunger, academic success, and the hard bigotry of indifference. Rethinking Schools 23 (2);
Krashen, S., Lee, SY., and McQuillan, J. 2012. Is the library important? Multivariate studies at the national and international level. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 8(1)? 26-36.
Rothstein, R. 2010. How to fix our schools. Economic Policy Institute, Issue Brief #286.;

Zhao, Y. 2012. Flunking innovation and creativity. Phi Delta Kappan, September. 56-60.

The cost:
National Cost of Aligning States and Localities to the Common Core Standards. Pioneer Innstitute, February 2012. (

No evidence it will work:
Nichols, S., Glass, G., and Berliner, D. 2006. High-stakes testing and student achievement: Does accountability increase student learning? Education Policy Archives 14(1).
Krashen, S. NUT: No Unnecessary Testing.

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