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Dr. Sandra Stotsky’s Gift to America: An Education

Feb 18, 2013 by

By Donna Garner


Dr. Sandra Stotsky, one of the foremost authorities on curriculum standards, has produced a set of English / Language Arts / Reading curriculum standards that she is offering FREE to any state and/or school district to use as an alternative to the nefarious Common Core Standards.

Dr. Stotsky knows what students need to learn to become truly proficient in English; and her free standards document is easy to understand, is built upon the empirical reading research, and is scoped and sequenced so that big gaps do not exist from one grade level to the next.  Dr. Stotsky’s ELAR document contains an emphasis on the traditional skills that help students to become well-rounded and educated adults.

Dr. Stotsky made herself available to the state of Texas when we wrote and adopted our own ELAR standards (May 2008), and her own free set that she just released a few days ago is similar in many ways.

States and/or school districts do not have to spend millions to write their own ELAR standards nor do they have to adopt the Common Core Standards which were written by people closely aligned with the Obama administration and its social justice agenda.

Here is the link to Dr. Stotsky’s free set of ELAR standards; they are a GIFT to this country given by a very generous and trusted expert who has given her life to help educate so many:

To read a brief bio of Dr. Sandra Stotsky, please go to the following link:

I personally have great admiration for Dr. Sandra Stotsky and am constantly impressed with her courage in going out all over this country to educate the public about the Common Core Standards and their unconstitutional development and many content weaknesses.

Excerpts from the following presentation by Dr. Sandra Stotsky:

Invited Testimony for a Hearing on Indiana Senate Bill No. 193

Sandra Stotsky

Professor of Education Reform Emerita

University of Arkansas

January 16, 2013

1. Why Common Core’s English language arts standards won’t lead to college readiness:  Common Core’s “college readiness” standards for ELA are chiefly empty skill sets and cannot lead to even a meaningful high school diploma. Only a literature-rich curriculum can. College readiness has always depended on the complexity of the literary texts teachers teach and a coherent literature curriculum.

Common Core’s ELA standards have several major flaws:

Common Core expects English teachers to spend over 50 percent of their reading instructional time on informational texts at every grade level. It sets forth 10 reading standards for informational texts and 9 standards for literary texts at every grade level, K-12.  This is not what English teachers are trained to do in any college English department or teacher preparation program. College readiness will likely decrease if the secondary English curriculum prioritizes informational reading and reduces the study of complex literary texts.

Common Core’s 50/50 mandate makes it impossible for English teachers to construct a coherent literature curriculum. Common Core prevents a coherent curriculum from emerging since over 50 percent of their reading instructional time must address nonfiction or informational texts. What information are English teachers responsible for teaching?

Common Core’s middle school writing standards are an intellectual impossibility for average middle school students. Adults have a much better idea of what “claims,” “relevant evidence,” and academic “arguments” are. But most children have a limited understanding of these concepts, even if Common Core’s writing standards were linked to appropriate reading standards and prose models. Nor does the document clarify the difference between an academic argument (explanatory writing) and persuasive writing, confusing teachers and students alike…

2.  Why Common Core’s standards lack a research base and international benchmarking: Common Core’s Validation Committee, on which I served, was supposed to ensure that its standards were internationally benchmarked and supported by a body of research evidence. Even though several of us regularly asked for the names of the countries the standards were supposedly benchmarked to and for citations to the supposed body of evidence supporting the organization and content of its standards, our requests were ignored.  I can only surmise that we received no reply because Common Core’s standards are not internationally benchmarked and there is no research to support the 50/50 mandate.

Reading researchers have since acknowledged there is no research to support Common Core’s claim that an increase in instruction in informational reading in English or other classes will make students college-ready. In addition, the organizations that developed these standards, as well as recent reports on the “validity” of Common Core’s standards financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have failed to provide evidence that Common Core’s standards meet current entrance requirements for U.S. post-secondary institutions or major universities elsewhere.

3. What leads to college readiness in secondary English classes: Two kinds of evidence show that the study of complex literature in the English class, not informational texts, leads to college readiness. The first is empirical: The focus of the Massachusetts 1997 and 2001 ELA standards, considered the “gold standard” among state ELA standards long before Massachusetts students scored in first place in grades 4 and 8 in reading on NAEP—and stayed there—was literary study (as Achieve, Inc. pointed out in its own reports). This emphasis is indicated by the list of white and black authors, male and female, in Appendix A. Bay State English teachers indicated approval in surveys in 1997 and 2001, and as recently as 2009 when department of education staff surveyed them to find out what changes they wanted, if any, in preparation for a routine revision. Less than a handful even bothered to reply.

The second kind of evidence is historical: From about 1900—the beginning of uniform college entrance requirements via the college boards—until the 1950s, a challenging, literature-heavy English curriculum was understood to be precisely what pre-college students needed.  From the 1960s onward, the decline in readiness for college reading (acknowledged in the Common Core document) reflected in large part an increasingly incoherent, less challenging literature curriculum that was propelled by the fragmentation of the year-long English course into semester electives, the conversion of junior high schools into middle schools, and the assignment of easier, shorter, and contemporary texts—often but not always in the name of multiculturalism.

4. What students learn when they study complex literary texts: As ACT found, complexity is laden with literary features: It involves characters, literary devices, tone, ambiguity, structure, elaboration, intricate language, and unclear intentions. Contemporary selections on computer geeks, fast food, teenage marketing, and the working poor (suggested in a 2011 NCTE volume) are hardly the kind of material to exhibit ambiguity, subtlety, and irony. By reducing literary study, Common Core’s 50/50 mandate decreases students’ opportunity to develop the analytical thinking once developed in just an elite group by the vocabulary, structure, style, ambiguity, point of view, figurative language, and irony in classic literary texts.

Let me say something more about vocabulary.  It is well known that 18th and 19th century writers used a far broader vocabulary than contemporary writers do, even when writing for young adolescents (e.g., Treasure Island or The Black Arrow). The literary texts that were once staples in the secondary literature curriculum were far more challenging than contemporary texts (or the Young Adult Literature) frequently assigned.  And because the “literate” vocabulary that writers like Robert Louis Stevenson used was embedded in stories with exciting plots, students would absorb this vocabulary as they read challenging literature because exciting plots kept them reading (which we know is the main way we learn the meanings of most words).

This vocabulary learning is in serious danger of never occurring because of the failure of Common Core’s ELA document to provide mechanisms that would guarantee students the opportunity to acquire the general academic vocabulary needed for college work. The missing components are easy to identify: no specification of the contents of literary/historical knowledge students need or the criteria for selecting texts for study; no list of recommended authors as in the Massachusetts framework; no historical period coverage requirements; no British literature aside from Shakespeare; and no study of the history of the English language.

5.  Why Common Core’s standards cannot be changed:  The two organizations that developed Common Core’s standards have copyrighted their documents. States that have adopted Common Core’s standards cannot change one word of the standards in them, even if their teachers find the standards confusing, placed at inappropriate levels, or poorly written. States can add up to 15% of their own standards but must assess this 15% themselves. Indiana needs public schools responsive to Indiana parents, teachers, and other citizens…

Donna Garner

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