While the major push for standards was underway in California when I began teaching in 2001, I really can’t say that students today receive any better or worse education than I received as a student in the same district in the early 1990’s.
Of course, everything is relative and no two students have the same schooling experience. But reformers and business boosters don’t want to admit to that. We can standardize everything and then just differentiate and measure the results, they say. Do they mean that students in honors junior English are learning the same things as the mainstream students because they’re being exposed to the same standards? That’s just not the way it shakes out in practice. The Common Core Standards don’t address a fundamental conflict between high school and college expectations.
The Common Core Standards “toolkit” I received says that the standards are aligned with college and workforce expectations. The alignment, however, is not close enough. California’s secondary ELA standards are heavy on literature, light on expository reading and writing while community colleges and universities are heavy on expository reading and writing, light on literature (Intersegmental Committee of the Academic Senates (ICAS).
Some English teachers relish literature; that’s why they teach English. However, unless a student is going to be an English major they would be better served by more practice in expository reading and writing since everyone is supposed to be “College and Career Ready” according to the Common Core Standards.
It appears that these Standards don’t begin to address the soft skills that employers prize. “What we found was that there are a set of qualities, characteristics that these people would like to see in new college graduates,” says David Polk, a York College (PA) professor. “Unfortunately, they tend to be lacking.” Those qualities include the ability to communicate and listen respectfully, finishing tasks, and attention to appearance. But Polk says researchers pointed to one area where recent graduates stand out: “There’s a sense of entitlement that we’ve picked up on, where people think they’re entitled to become, let’s say, president of the company within the next two years; they’re entitled to five weeks of vacation.”
Maybe they should be teachers. I hear those teachers have it easy; they’re overpaid, and get lots of time off.
In closing, I would like to share with you some positive and negative feedback that I received from my seniors on their end-of-year surveys. Thankfully, there are more comments in the former category than there are in the latter. Please tell me where these student comments fit in the standards. Many of the things they say they learned would be deemed “good teaching,” yet they don’t appear anywhere in written standards that I have seen and who knows if any of the gibberish that the students said they learned would be captured by a standardized test. So it goes.
“Most important thing you learned in this class this year? MLA (Modern Language Association format for compositions, citations), how to write essays, MLA, MLA, a lot more then [sic] I have in any other english [sic] class, mostly about writing, how to improve my writing and how to cite, writing, that no matter how bad my English was there was always that [turn back in] TBI that taught me to review all my work before turning it in, writing skills, to do good research, MLA, to do better so we don’t get TBI’s, to not procrastinate, how to be responsible, ethos/pathos/logos, MLA, MLA, how to prepare yourself for college, that a great conversation can spring up from anywhere, to listen to others opinions and analyze everything, MLA, to improve writing essay [sic], several tips in life like money problems, social issues and laws, MLA, if you do your work you get a passing grade, MLA, discussions in class, to take notes with keywords instead of writing full sentences, to not stick to my ideas. The world is full of new, fresh perfectly logical ones, and I have to respect others’ opinions if I want them to listen/respect my own, make choices regarding debt and other relevant things, how to write a better essay, everything, a lot about life, MLA, a lot more than just english [sic], I actually learned about life and how to be a responsible college student for the future, class etiquette, tools, tips, and hints, life lessons, independent/dependent clauses, marking up writing promps [sic] / stories, MLA format, quoting and citing, MLA, rhetorical devices, everything, that reading is important, my writing has improved a lot, to be more cautious in life, for example, using the internet [sic], bank accounts, things we need and will use in life, who I am as a person, you have taught us the skills we need for the future.”
And the other end of the spectrum:
“No offense, your class was insufferable. I didn’t have to come to class once and still pass with an A. You honestly didn’t teach me anything that my dog couldn’t teach me. Your teaching is directed to 5 yr olds, then again, most of … is about as mature as that. I’m glad, no, grateful today is my last day. Best of luck. Ciao.”