Thompson: Nobody Will Win The "Next" Reading Wars, Either
I am impressed with everything in Kathleen Porter-Magee ‘s recent post called Common Core Opens the Second Front in the Reading Wars -- except for her conclusion.
Porter-Magee’s overview of past and future “reading wars” provides a constructive format for discussion. I can’t agree, however, that, “No one likes war, but this is an important fight that’s worth having. And it’s one that has been put off for too long.”
Too many “reformers” love our risk-free (for them) educational civil wars. Common Core has potential but, like most conflicts, the battle it is prompting is not worth fighting.
In the end, I predict, this second reading war will end in a draw. When the dust settles, most will conclude (many reluctantly) that the decisions on instructional tactics must be made by teachers. Even then, many “reformers” will reject that outcome and bide their time before launching another offensive against the professional autonomy of teachers.
Her emphasis and wording is significant, assuming that question of what we teach, and how we do it, can determine student outcomes. The implication is that we are capable of deciding what can work for all students. That is precisely the type of overreach that leads to unnecessary wars. (Coincidently, Paul Tough's "What Does Obama Believe In?," in Sunday's New York Times Magazine, refutes her assumption.)
Porter-McGee says that Common Core is “revolutionary” because it affirms that students must “analyze grade-appropriate texts, with scaffolding as necessary.” It is hard to believe that Common Core advocates have any idea about how much scaffolding is needed, especially in high school, for low-performing students. She makes no mention of the enormous, and expensive, foundation of socio-emotional supports that must be built before the scaffolding has a place to stand on.
Porter-McGee then provides a nice summary of the battleground where Common Core advocates must challenge many (or most) teachers. One pedagogy uses, “a bevy of ‘just right’ books that will challenge them just enough to nudge them to read increasingly complex texts.” On the other side, true believers in Common Core argue that ”reading comprehension improves as domain-specific content knowledge deepens, and as students are exposed to increasingly complex literature and nonfiction texts.” In making that affirmation, some argue, “the Common Core has violated the principles of the ‘grand compromise’ of standards-driven reform.”
The problem is that Porter-McGee implies that educational failure is due to a lack of “clarity and purpose.” If only the world was so simple.
The other implication is that vague standards prompted the “basest ‘teaching to the test’ that has plagued far too many classrooms for the past decade.” No! That was the predictable result of test-driven accountability, and it still plagues us.
Here’s the problem. Common Core advocates criticize teachers for seeking “just right” texts for their students. But they believe that they can mandate the “just right” balance for schools across the nation. As long as family life is disrupted by cancer, heart disease, and the trauma produced by intense concentrations of generational poverty, the realities in our classrooms will be far messier than the experts realize.
And here’s a metaphorical illustration why the final word must lay, unambiguously, with the teacher. Let’s just argue that the experts, with 90% accuracy, lay out a 120 foot vertical course (ten feet by twelve years). In the early elementary years, if the supports are 10% short, that may or may not be insurmountable. By the time they reach middle school, such miscalculations will be fatal to their theories. Their offensive will collapse when inner city kids and their teachers only get the help necessary to climb a 54, 63 or 72 foot ladder to get over a 60, 70, or 80 foot wall.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.