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Common Core and Reading

common core

Common Core and Reading

Since 2009 there has been a lot of passionate discussion and debate in the public common core and readingarena about something referred to as Common Core (CC). It is the newest education initiative in a long history of initiatives for what is supposed to be best for America’s children in learning. Kathleen Porter-Magee in the National Review says:

“Here’s what the Common Core State Standards do: They simply delineate what children should know at each grade level and describe the skills that they must acquire to stay on course toward college or career readiness. They are not a curriculum; it’s up to school districts to choose curricula that comply with the standards. The Fordham Institute has carefully examined Common Core and compared it with existing state standards: It found that for most states, Common Core is a great improvement with regard to rigor and cohesiveness.”

Read more at:

As listed by Pauline Hawkins in the Huffington Post, an accomplished English teacher, the four standards for reading and language arts of Common Core are:

Standard 1: Oral Expression and Listening

Standard 2: Reading for All Purposes

Standard 3: Writing and Composition

Standard 4: Research and Reasoning

common core and reading These standards seem reasonable and straightforward. Ms. Hawkins says that,

“These four are titles more than they are standards, but the Common Core Standards document for reading, writing, and communicating includes detailed benchmarks or “evidence outcomes” for all grade levels; this document is 173 pages long.”

Upon further research there are separate evidence outcomes written for math. Within Common Core literature there are no standards written or mentioned for other subjects such as science and history.

Common Core initiatives have put even more emphasis on testing, and it still causes problems in the learning environment. @yesphonics Click to tweet

For the first several years of Common Core in operation, teachers and their principals spent an inordinate amount of time delving into the benchmarks to figure out how to implement them. School districts scrambled to purchase curricula written that specifically earmarked the outcomes. This is messy business, and knowing teachers like I do, many had their own ideas about what to do and in which order to do it. The states are free to choose their own curricula and ways to do this. I’m glad for that, but I imagine this undoes a little of what Common Core had in mind from the beginning: to have students across the country on the same page of ideas at the same time.

Getting Common Core in gear for the classroom took a lot of work and still does. From Ms. Hawkins:

“What has been difficult the past few years is having to unpack the Common Core Standards. We have spent countless hours reading through the document for each level we teach, lining up our curriculum to what the standards deemed as critical skills and looking at the skills students would be tested on in the spring (which will now be a battery of tests instead of just one). We’ve had to switch our curriculum around so our students will be ready.”

Ready for What?

The students need to be made ready for the battery of tests that are now required. The initiative before common core and readingCommon Core was referred to as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). It was considered a dismal failure and put American students even further behind in their reading and other subjects. When reading fails everything else is effected, which makes sense because the ability to read IS nearly everything. One of the biggest criticisms of NCLB was that it relied heavily on testing and test results. Teachers felt compelled to teach to the test, something that was nearly hush-hush in the NCLB days (not that long ago). However, that climate has changed. It is no longer a taboo topic to speak aloud about teaching to the test.

Common Core initiatives have put even more emphasis on testing, and it still causes problems in the learning environment, to say the least. Precious teaching time is taken away from students and teachers so that they can be prepared for the battery of tests. These tests have their own language to them, and students must understand it or they won’t know what is expected on the test.

The Good and the Bad

The people who write or speak positively about Common Core initiatives say that it has great benefits to students. On paper it does sound wonderful: students will learn fewer things but go deeper into the subject matter, learn critical thinking skills, and be able to move across the country, drop into any classroom and know what’s going on. Common Core is also supposed to be leveling the playing field so that children who live in poverty have the same advantages as children who don’t.

Often the answer to the question of, “Why Johnny cannot read, still?” is poverty. Poverty is also the common core and readinganswer given for why prisons are full of people raised in lower socio-economic situations, and why high school dropout rates continue to climb. I do believe too much poverty exits. I do not believe that poverty is the answer to why we have these particular problems. A teacher from Pennsylvania told me that she was required to read a book on poverty in America to understand that her lower socio-economic kids should not be required to do their homework, and that she shouldn’t expect it of them.

Not requiring things like home work because of poverty makes no sense to me. If you think this through what would you conclude? One thing that occurs to me is that someone somewhere does not WANT certain people to succeed. But how can this be proven? I don’t think I can prove it here, but if we want to eradicate illiteracy and poverty (they go hand in hand) we must encourage and allow people to be educated, not necessarily with free college, but long before that with basic tools that will help them get to anywhere they want in life whether it’s college or endless entrepreneurship.

When Will We Learn

When will we learn from our mistakes in education, and why can’t we teach children the most basic foundational things to help them get ahead — READING? Of all things: reading. It should be a simple thing to teach reading and thinking skills, yet it’s difficult and political. However, study after study has been done and has shown that systematic phonics approaches (widely known as explicit phonics) to reading far out-play the prevailing look-say, sight word, whole-language methods, yet educators turn a blind eye time and time again with uneducated, unpracticed, and unproven opinions on the subject.

Whenever a systematic explicit phonics approach to reading is brought into a school whether private or common core and reading in the lowest of socio-economic school districts their scores always go up, first in reading, then in every other subject as the reading improves.

There is a lot of proof that systematic phonics approaches to reading are effective, but educators do not want to hear it. Try to discuss this with a school board member, superintendent, principal or 2nd grade reading teacher. The discussion will not be coherent, and it will be frustrating to you. Some analysis by the National Reading Panel on why systematic phonics instruction helps students learn to read well sheds a lot of light on the subject.

Other proofs to the effectiveness of explicit phonics programs are in private schools, classical schools, Christian schools, and home schools. Those who use explicit phonics instruction to teach reading and language arts to their students are having tremendous successes.

Extreme misunderstandings and misinformation abound around the ideas related to explicit phonics methods of reading instruction. At an annual conference of the New England Reading Association held in October 2015, nationally recognized reading experts, Regie Routman, Richard Allington, and P. David Pearson were trying to rally teachers against phonics. P. David Pearson is quoted as saying,

“The phonics troops are gaining ground. They’ve already made inroads in states such as California, where legislation mandating a phonetic approach to teaching reading has been passed. Join me in the Radical Middle! If not, the voices from the far sides will be the voices that will be heard — and ONE side will win!”

See more of their rhetoric at

Consistency is Key

common core and readingThis argument is annoying. The frustration lies in what they say about their own whole language methods: that they work, they do use phonics, and people just are too ignorant to know. But that’s what I think about their criticisms toward phonics approaches to reading. A systematic explicit phonics approach to reading WHEN USED CORRECTLY, CONSISTENTLY, and HOW IT’S INTENDED far better teaches children how to think, how to decode and encode words, builds a strong vocabulary, fixes fluency problems, helps dyslexic tendencies, gives systematic tools for spelling, and sets a solid foundation for reading comprehension and coherent thoughtful writing.

Bringing it Altogether

Children need the proper tools to learn to read and think well, and they aren’t getting them from schools that are constantly changing programs to make things better only to make them worse.

Common Core is supposed to teach less and get deeper into fewer ideas with students while spending more time teaching critical thinking skills. Does anyone think that American school kids in 2016 should be learning less? The statistics are dismal with how we are doing in math, science, and the most basic of needs to function in society: READING! This is a complicated issue. Schools blame parents. Parents blame teachers or schools, and government blames poverty and other influences.

I would like to end with an intriguing idea, however. Education initiatives like Common Core are not necessarily the main crux of the problems in education and reading in our schools today, but the methods indeed need fixed. Changing the methods in how reading and other subjects are taught would mean a major overhaul in thinking, training, and teaching from the university level down to the classroom teacher.

The study cited in is from the National Reading Panel, Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction–Reports of the Subgroups.

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About Pam Fink

Far from the rolling hills of PA where Pam grew up and went to college, she now resides in sunny southern Arizona with her husband. Pam used her Bachelor’s in Elementary and Special Education as a starting point to teach her children at home until they went off to pursue careers and families, and then she taught in other capacities. For over 25 years this diversely talented woman has tutored students and mentored teachers and parents in the areas of reading, spelling, writing, teaching with a classical bent, and home schooling in general.