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The Common Core – Who Benefits? September 29, 2011

Posted by Susan Polos in Check this out!.
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AASL released its position statement on the Common Core College- and Career-Readiness Standards in March of 2010. Since that time, AASL Learning4Life has issued its Crosswalk of the Common Core Standards and the Standards for the 21st-Century Learner, providing school librarians with an amazing tool that enables school librarians to see and to share the many instances where AASL Standards overlap with Common Core Standards.

As school librarians begin this school year with the Common Core Standards mandated in most states, they are finding reasons to welcome the new standards as well as reasons to be concerned. The new writing standards have a strong focus on research; this is good news for school librarians who recognize a leadership opportunity when they see one. On the other hand, school librarians who adhere to the AASL standards’ belief that reading is a window to the world and an opportunity for personal aesthetic growth may be taken aback by the Common Core’s Appendix A and Appendix B which argue for more complex texts and then list exemplar texts which some think are more likely to turn off young readers than to encourage reading (see Susan Ohanian’s Huffington Post column specific to the exemplar text list for 11th graders).

Even as school librarians and other educators debate the positive and negative aspects of the Common Core Standards, most of us seek, as always, a defined and recognized role and a seat at the table in conversations and curriculum work. We want to find the optimal way to serve students using our specialized skills within this new framework. Some might not look further than their own building or district and still find much to question. Others may react to the new standards with alarm, realizing that neither the standards themselves nor the curriculum, testing, and data management that will follow them is being created or guided by educators but instead is driven by foundations and corporations that may have questionable motives.

“Common Core Standards: Implications for Instruction” by Jack Farrell, published in Washington Post’s The Answer Sheet, Valerie Strauss’ column on Feb. 4, 2011, argues that the Common Core Standards change “essentially teacher-centered oral education with visual and text-based support, to a text-based writer-centered education with oral and visual support” adding that “such a shift will be monumental pedagogically.” I am sure this shift has its merits; yet for me, the idea of high-stakes fixed expectations for students whom we know are not developmentally alike is always disturbing. I didn’t appreciate or understand some of those 11th grade text exemplars until I was in college or beyond, and I am, and was in 11th grade, a strong reader. How does this address the achievement gap?

Many of us worry about the position of school librarian. We fear the loss of a program we know to be valuable, so we look for our role in this national mandate, hoping that we can save our programs by stressing aspects of our work that are embedded in the Common Core Standards. At the same time, we are part of a larger educational community and we need to join the debate about trends in education. We need to listen to educational leaders like Susan Ohanian, Diane Ravitch and Linda Darling-Hammond. These educators are tirelessly championing true school reform, and they include our programs in their advocacy. Even while we work within the lines drawn by mandates, if we question these standards by researching where they came from and understanding their implications, we can speak out and participate in this very important conversation.

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