Proposed Nebraska Standards for English Language Arts and Reading
I have a strong belief that I try to apply to key issues: If I criticize something, I should also be prepared to offer a solution.
I have been interested in the Nebraska education standards for many years, especially those for English Language Arts and Reading. Over this whole period, I have offered real solutions to improve the Nebraska Standards.
In 1997, I testified twice before the Nebraska State Board of Education (SBOE) as part of a group that was proposing an alternate set of English Standards for Nebraska. These standards were called “NEEDS” (Nebraska Excellence in Education Document of Standards).
In 2008, I wrote a newspaper article in which I again proposed an alternate set of Standards for English Language Arts and Reading. This was termed the “English Success Standards.”
In February of 2013, Dr. Sandra Stotsky offered her excellent English Language Arts Standards as a free gift to any state or school district in the country. I proposed that the SBOE should consider the Stotsky set of standards for Nebraska.
Dr. Stotsky’s exemplary standards can be found here:
Not to be deterred, I again urged the SBOE on 8.14.13 to consider alternate standards for English Language Arts. I wrote a newspaper article in which I recommended either the Stotsky Standards or the Texas Standards.
In response to my newspaper article, Dr. Sandra Stotsky sent me a short guideline that can be used to evaluate standards for “academic rigor.” I sent this to the Nebraska education officials the very next day (on 8.15.13). This guideline is given here:
Existing Nebraska Standards
Independent organizations give low marks to the Nebraska standards. For example, The Thomas B. Fordham Institute has consistently rated the Nebraska standards as “clearly inferior.” Dr. Sandra Stotsky commented that the Nebraska standards “do not deserve to be called ‘standards.'”
My 7.02.08 letter states the following:
What about Nebraska’s proposed RWSL [Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening] standards? When I asked an English teacher who is well respected and has over 33 years of teaching experience what she thought about the new RWSL standards, she said without hesitation, “These standards are terrible!” She went on to say that the proposed standards are very vague and weak; there are no explicit elements listed for any of the RWSL curriculum strands. They are definitely not grade-level-specific because most of the items repeat themselves year after year. The standards represent more of a “wish list” than a “road map.” They include lots of cooperative learning, performance-based assessments, and subjectively assessed, “wishy/washy” statements. They are broad and generic so that the “kitchen sink” can be slipped in if desired. The standards are very weak on phonemic awareness and phonics, a proven reading strategy.
There are no explicit elements listed for grammar (usage, spelling, capitalization, punctuation) which means that teachers who follow these standards will not emphasize these all-important skills to their students. There are no content-rich elements that would indicate that students will be taught the time-honored classics nor the four modes of writing (persuasive, expository, narrative, descriptive). The proposed RWSL standards also do not give teachers direction for the teaching of expository research papers and informational texts.
Certainly, all of these criticisms can still be said about the Nebraska Standards today. Obviously, standards should be grade-level specific. Standards are needed for every single grade level to give the teachers and their students clear direction, and the exact same standards should not be repeated grade-after-grade. The present Nebraska Standards exclude Grades 9, 10, and 11.
We must make huge improvements in the Nebraska Standards!
A Way Forward
After all of this history, where do we stand today?
Instead of totally writing our own standards, I propose that we utilize the Texas English Standards as the basic framework. Most of the work has already been done; we do not need “to reinvent the wheel.”
Texas has produced Standards in the four core subject areas (English Language Arts and Reading, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies).
These are the links to the Texas Standards in the four subjects:
English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) — http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/rules/tac/chapter110/index.html
Social Studies — http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/rules/tac/chapter113/index.html
Additionally, Texas has developed standards in other subjects, as well. The full list is given below.
Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) by Chapter (live links):
Chapter 110. English Language Arts and Reading
Chapter 111. Mathematics
Chapter 112. Science
Chapter 113. Social Studies
Chapter 114. Languages Other Than English
Chapter 115. Health Education
Chapter 116. Physical Education
Chapter 117. Fine Arts
Chapter 118. Economics with Emphasis on the Free Enterprise System and Its Benefits
Chapter 126. Technology Applications
Chapter 127. Career Development
Chapter 128. Spanish Language Arts and English as a Second Language
Chapter 130. Career and Technical Education
This report will focus only on the Texas Standards for English Language Arts and Reading.
Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for English Language Arts and Reading
Evaluation of the Texas Standards
Numerous knowledgeable educators have deemed that the Texas Education Standards are the best in the country!
When the new Texas Standards were being written in 2007-2008, Texas called upon experts from around the country to write and review the standards. Two of those people were Dr. Sandra Stotsky and Donna Garner.
In a 10.31.13 article, Donna Garner states the following:
During the adoption of the TEKS, myriad opportunities are given for the public to voice their concerns in both public hearings and e-mails, phone calls, personal contacts, snail mail, etc. Writing teams made up of teachers, administrators, parents, businessmen, and private citizens help to draft the TEKS which also gives multiple opportunities for public input.
Once the TEKS are adopted by the SBOE, then those curriculum standards become the foundation for instructional materials (e.g., textbooks), day-to-day instruction in students’ classrooms, in-service training, ed-prep instruction in colleges/universities, and state-mandated tests (STAAR/End-of-Course tests).
I will evaluate the Texas Standards by various means.
First, I will utilize Dr. Sandra Stotsky’s Academic Rigor guideline to evaluate the Texas Standards.
Item No. 1 in the guideline suggests counting the number of Reading standards and Writing standards. This is shown in the following Table.
Texas Reading and Writing Standards
Grade or Description
|S/T — Kindergarten||88||83||171|
|Reading – Elective||9||—||9|
|Speech – Elective||—||6||6|
|S/T – Middle School||48||51||99|
|Indep. Study in English||1||1||2|
|Reading I, II, III||10||—||10|
|S/T — High School||64||58||122|
|Total — K-12||200||192||392|
From this Table, we can see that the Texas English Standards include 200 Reading standards and 192 Writing standards. Because the Texas Standards include more Reading standards than Writing standards, the Texas English Standards are strong. The English Standards will lead to good classroom curriculum; and good reading should produce good writing.
Item No. 2 in the Stotsky guideline refers to the literary content of the Reading standards at the high school level. I examined English I, English II, English III, and English IV to see how they fared in content. All of the Reading standards in those subjects (46) are strong in explicit literary, linguistic, and historical content. Likewise, the content at one level leads logically to the content at the next level. The Texas English Standards score well on this measure.
Item No. 3 and Item No. 4 in the Stotsky guideline are similar. When I followed the strands or categories across several grades, I found that they increase in intellectual demands. The Reading standards consider literary texts separately from informational texts. In the literary texts, the students need to understand and make inferences about the author’s imagery and theme. With the informational texts, the students are asked to summarize, explain, and evaluate the ideas and conclusions.
Item No. 5 asks if the standards are expressed in unambiguous, well-written English prose. The Texas English Standards are well-written and avoid the typical education jargon often found in standards. The Texas Standards are sensible and age-appropriate. This satisfies Item No. 6 in the Stotsky guideline.
If standards are clearly written, the state will not need to hire expensive consultants to design the curriculum and assessments. The Nebraska Educational Service Units (ESU’s) will not have that much work to do if the State establishes clearly-written, explicit standards. Likewise, costs for professional development (PD) and instructional materials (IM) can be controlled when the standards are Type #1. (Type #1 and Type #2 are explained a little later.)
Item No. 7 calls for numerous short examples to illustrate what the standard means. The Texas Standards are good in this respect. The following example is from the English IV Standards:
(A) plan a first draft by selecting the correct genre for conveying the intended meaning to multiple audiences, determining appropriate topics through a range of strategies (e.g., discussion, background reading, personal interests, interviews), and developing a thesis or controlling idea;
Item No. 8 asks if the Reading standards at one level are coordinated with the Writing standards at the next level. I found that the Texas Standards do this quite well.
In Item No. 9, the guideline asks if the standards cross over into other disciplines. The Texas Standards are very good in this regard. For example, an English standard should stick with English and avoid a diatribe on global warming.
I also examined the Texas Standards to verify that phonics was adequately covered. In Kindergarten through Grade 5, phonics received sufficient treatment. Phonics, of course, is the key to producing students who are good readers, writers, and spellers. Over $90 million of federal NIH (National Institutes of Health) research has proven this conclusively.
Education experts have found that one book is especially good at teaching phonics. The book is Reading Reflex: The Foolproof Phono-Graphix Method for Teaching Your Child to Read. The authors are Carmen McGuiness and Geoffrey McGuiness; the book is published by Simon & Schuster. The paperback version sells for about $7.29 to $18.99 on Amazon.com.
I also verified that English grammar was thoroughly covered in the Texas standards. Grammar was given good treatment in all of the grades, even starting in elementary school. Throughout the K-12 grades, adequate grammar standards are provided. In some state standards, grammar is postponed until high school; that is not an effective strategy.
English grammar must be thoroughly understood if we expect to see intelligent, well-written essays and reports from our students. Of course, effective oral communication also depends upon good grammar skills.
As Donna Garner describes, the new Texas Standards are Type #1. Please read her descriptions of Type #1 and Type #2 educationin the link below:
In Nebraska, we definitely want Type #1 standards and Type #1 curriculum in our schools!
In a 10.31.13 article, Mrs. Garner provides some additional insight into Type #1 education and the Texas Standards. She states:
The TEKS are the roadmap, and the TEKS that we now have in the four core subject areas (English/Language Arts/Reading, Science, Social Studies, and Math — adopted since May 2008) reflect the Type #1 philosophy of education:
Basically Type #1 means the Texas curriculum standards are traditional/knowledge-based/academic, emphasize back-to-the-basics core knowledge and skills that grow in depth and complexity from one grade level to the next, are specific for each grade level (or course), and can be tested largely through objective questions that have right-or-wrong answers. Texas is the only state in the nation that has Type #1 curriculum standards in the four core subject areas.
For a handy chart that compares Type #1 and Type #2 education, follow these links:
Permission Granted to Use Texas Standards
It took the Texas State Board of Education and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) many years to develop a tried-and-true process for writing, reviewing, revising, and adopting their own State Standards. Nebraska can now benefit from those efforts because a summary of the adoption process has been published on the TEA website for public use.
Statements from Texas Education Agency:
The following statements were obtained from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on 11.04.13. Please note that the Texas Standards are not copyrighted.
11.4.13 — The Texas Education Agency has made available for public use an outline of the process through which Texas went to develop, write, and adopt its own state curriculum standards. That outline can be found here:
The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) documents are not copyrighted. The TEKS are posted on the TEA website at:
I believe the Texas Standards for English Language Arts and Reading are very good. I strongly recommend that the Nebraska State Board of Education and Nebraska Department of Education utilize these standards as a framework for our standards. We can add or subtract from these standards to meet the needs in Nebraska. Obviously, we would delete “Texas” and “TEKS” from the standards and insert “Nebraska” in the appropriate spots.
Nebraska could easily have some of the best state standards in the country (second only to Texas).
Nebraska could also benefit from the sizeable buying power of Texas. Because Texas is the largest single purchaser of textbooks in the country, the publishers produce books that comply with the Texas Standards. We can take advantage of this fact in Nebraska. (California is suffering from a financial crisis and will not be adopting any new textbooks until 2016.)
By way of comparison, Nebraska has 295,368 students; Texas has 4,850,210 students. Nebraska has 22,256 teachers; Texas has 333,164 teachers (NCES: 2009 – 2010 School Year).
If we start with good standards, we will likely end up with good standards. Certainly, the opposite is true. If we simply tweak and revise our existing Nebraska Standards, we will still have poor standards! Nebraska deserves much better. I trust we will make the right decision this time.
We might also consider utilizing the Texas Standards in Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies in a similar way.
Bio for Henry W. Burke
Henry Burke is a Civil Engineer with a B.S.C.E. and M.S.C.E. He has been a Registered Professional Engineer (P.E.) for 37 years and has worked as a Civil Engineer in construction for over 40 years.
Mr. Burke had a successful 27-year career with a large construction contractor.
Henry Burke serves as a full-time volunteer to oversee various construction projects. He has written numerous articles on education, engineering, construction, politics, taxes, and the economy.
Henry W. Burke