Saturday, May 4, 2013

The USOE response to my concerns over ELA standards...

... and what I wrote back.

I got a very nice letter back from the USOE ( see letter below) about my concerns over Utah's new English Language Arts standards that are part of the new CCSS. However, the letter did not alleviate any of my concerns. The standard that bothers me is the 70/30 balance of "Informational Texts" to classics ratio. This is what the state says:

From: Tiffany Hall, MA, M.Ed.
K-12 Literacy Coordinator
Teaching and Learning
Utah State Office of Education

The study of literature is not limited or reduced by the Standards.
Rather, we are looking at a more comprehensive view of literacy that
includes a focus on reading information text in all content areas—and
not just reading, but reading and writing with purpose and understanding
in every subject area. You are correct that we already have these
informational  books; we are now focusing on using them more
effectively, and in supplementing them with authentic reading from the
appropriate content discipline.

The evidence of this can be found in the  Utah Core Standards , which
you can read here:

I’d like to guide you to a few specific places for evidence relative to
your concerns about literature and instruction in English Language Arts
(ELA) and how the /Utah Core Standards/ are focused on creating a
culture of literacy in schools.

On page 3, the /Standards/ state “The /Standards/ insist that
instruction in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language be a
shared responsibility within the school. The K–5 standards include
expectations for reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language
applicable to a range of subjects, including but not limited to ELA. The
grades 6–12 standards are divided into two sections, one for ELA and the
other for history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. This
division reflects the unique, time-honored place of ELA teachers in
developing students’ literacy skills while at the same time recognizing
that _teachers in other areas_ must have a role in this development as

This section continues on page 4, where there is a table indicating the
recommended distribution of literary and informational passages by
grade. This table shows a 50-50% split between literary and
informational text in grade 4; 45-55% in grade 8; and 30-70% in grade
12. However, this refers to reading _over the entire school day_/, /not
in a student’s English Language Arts course alone.
  The Standards strive
to balance the “reading

of literature with the reading of informational texts, including texts
in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects...” The level
and quality of reading informational text in all subjects is a critical
element of creating independent readers who can read and understand a
wide variety of texts that are present in career and college settings.

All that sounds pretty but... 

Ms. Hall,

I appreciate your long and thoughtful response to my question, but it does not alleviate my fears at all. These are called ELA standards. You are telling me that the 50/50 and 70/30 burden is going to be shared with teachers in other content areas. It makes me wonder if members of the USOE have been in a school recently. You are going to hand over the teaching of reading and writing to P.E. teachers, wood-shop teachers and math teachers? You would have to in order to meet that 70/30.

Math teachers barely have time to cover their own material. In addition coaches, shop teachers and others don't have "standards" under the CCSS. USOE members have told parents repeatedly that these are ONLY ELA and Math standards, not history, social science etc.

In addition, this interdisciplinary method makes the testing pointless. How are you going to know which teachers are truly effective by mixing all the subject matter into one big jumble? It's a great way to play "pass the buck", but not a great way to track effective teaching.

Please don't tell me that the districts will be expanding the "My Access" program. It is my fear that more time and money will be wasted on this program in order to fill the standard requirement in name. The person who came up with that idea should be sitting in jail for malpractice. Computers cannot teach writing.

I think the mistake being made here is one of intent versus reality. The intent to have teachers who can teach reading and writing in every subject is a laudable goal, but the reality is students are lucky to get an English teacher that can impart that knowledge.

I took honors English through school and there was quite a lot of reading. I was also reading in science, history and political science, but you simply can't make a 70/30 divide without cutting classics.
And, the reality is that the burden will fall on English teachers.

So, how will this breakdown be measured and how will it be enforced? And, if isn't going to be measured and enforced, why not alleviate the fears of parents and educators and drop it from the standards?

Cutting classics is the goal of "reformers" like David Coleman who are making untold fortunes as architects of CCSS. His views on reading and writing have been widely published, "As you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think." --David Coleman at NY State Department of Education presentation, April 2011. Through the CCSS, this is someone who has very unfortunate views and views that he should keep to himself and not inflict on Utah students.

In addition to radical views on ELA standards, these "reformers" have other ideas they want to share with students. Publishers are creating "Informational Texts" that are coming into Utah in the form of little booklets and have been approved for use in the classroom. I don't know if any districts have picked them up yet, but I have seen these texts supporting a very far left political agenda. I have attached photos.

The first photo I've sent is of an "informational text" about The Highlander Center, "In the 1960s and 1970s, Highlander began to focus on worker health and safety in the coalfields of Appalachia. Its leaders played a role in the emergence of the region's environmental justice movement. It helped start the Southern Appalachian Leadership Training (SALT) program, and coordinated a survey of land ownership in Appalachia. In the 1980s and 1990s, Highlander broadened from that base into broader regional, national, and international environmentalism; struggles against the negative effects of globalization; grassroots leadership development in under-resourced communities; and beginning in the 1990s, an involvement in LGBT issues, both in the U.S. and internationally."

The other photos are pretty self explanatory. These "informational texts" are a far cry from the classics and they are far left social engineering that Utah parents will not appreciate.

It is a wonder to me that the USOE could jump on these standards in some cases before they were even written and not have fully vetted those behind this movement.

I don't see Common Core as anything but a disaster. Utah needs to get out. We can do better.

Tiffany Mouritsen

photos attached: 

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