Not All Standards Are Up to Standard: Invention of the Common Core State Standards Initiative
The Common Core State Standards Initiative is the most drastic reform of the K-12 education system in the history of the United States. The Common Core State Standards Initiative strives to establish consistent educational standards for English Language Arts/literacy and math nationwide compared to individual state education standards to help kindergarten to 12th grade students to be college and career ready. As of June 2014, the Department of Defense Education Activity, 43 states, Washington D.C., Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands have adopted the standards.
The Common Core State Standards (“the Standards”) need an intervention to question its emphasis on “results than means” in relation to its reading standards that promote multiculturalism without the full consideration of how race is constructed in the classroom and how the privilege in choosing certain literature and informational text on the basis of skill outcome can tokenize or erase the works by black feminist authors thus hurting the means that would better help students especially in diverse classrooms.
The Standards for ELA are specified by the NGA and CCSSO as “(1) research and evidence based, (2) aligned with college and work expectations, (3) rigorous, and (4) internationally benchmarked.” They also include College and Career Readiness standards in order to help students better read, write, speak, listen, analyze, and use language effectively. The Standards are not a curriculum, but guidelines of what students are expected to know and be able to do through establishment of essential skills, allowing the freedom to curriculum developers and teachers.
There is great attention by the Standards for students to have skill of close reading and analysis of both literature but more of informational text. By the time students reach grade 12, 30% of what they are reading across subjects should be literature and the remaining 70% informational text. The details of the standards focus primarily on what skills the student should reach rather than the content, remaining flexible for schools and teachers to choose what text will be used to achieve that outcome. Yet the emphasis results over the means is concerning because of the privilege in choice allows for the perpetuation of using works written by canonized white male writers without troubling why their work is considered part of the classics or why their themes are considered universal.
The emphasis on close reading by the Standards deemphasizes reading as a personal act and lessens the chance for non-white students to see works that have or written by people like them. Literature is a means of affirming the lived realities of students. When also considering that the skill building texts are already chosen for them to read, this minimalizes encounters of works by black feminist authors.
Black feminist works are derived from the lived experiences of black women who have many rich stories although only a handful of their work are suggested in the Standards’ Appendix B: Text Exemplars and Sample Performance Tasks. Of the recommendations for grades 4–5 of ten stories, nine poems, and nineteen informational texts, only five texts have significant black content, three black authors, and one Guyanese author.
The Standards works to promote ideals of multiculturalism alongside Appendix B, but the vague diversity approach rather tokenizes other cultures with a lack of self-reflection on race in the classroom. Close reading another culture may result in a single story representing an entire group of people and leading stereotypes of the Other. Teachers and students need to think about how race is construced in the classroom through American exceptionalism and colorblindness, which falsely naturalizes whiteness as a default.
We need to question such large frameworks and systems more frequently such as the lack of diversity in teachers in order to better educate and include students. It is great to see students reflected in the diverse text they read, but their existences needs to be reaffirmed for more than just one unit.
Skills are more valued than content by the Standards, but the content of black feminist authors can help to students in diverse classrooms understand themselves and the world around them. Students should be expected to meet up to high standards, but students need not to standardize themselves to fit into a mold.