Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Common Core Texts Students Are Sure To Learn From

I left the following reply to a tweet by NYSED Commissioner John King:

It's not the first time I've taken this jab at King or other Common Core supporters when they talk about all the exciting reading teachers can have students do under the informational text-heavy Common Core Federal Standards.

And the reason why it's not the first time I've taken those jabs is because Common Core supporters actually listed Fed Views, the publication page of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, as recommended reading for the informational text category of the Common Core Federal Standards for 11th and 12th students.

Today I went over to Fed Views to see just what I could use for my 11th and 12th graders.

Here's what I found in the latest piece of writing posted, July 10, 2014:

John Fernald, senior research advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, states his views on the current economy and the outlook.
  • The first-quarter decline in GDP was revised to be even steeper than previously announced. The new data indicate that health-care spending fell in the first quarter, in contrast to earlier estimates that showed an increase. Nevertheless, the first-quarter dip appears transitory. In addition to the anomalous decline in health spending, other temporary factors include harsh weather in much of the country, a reduced pace of inventory accumulation by businesses, and weak net exports.
  • We expect growth to bounce back over the remainder of this year and next. Indeed, available data already suggest a second-quarter rebound. For example, business surveys show an ongoing healthy expansion in the manufacturing and services sectors. Also, light-vehicle sales in June reached their highest level since 2006.
  • The labor market report for June was strong—consistent with an economy that continues to improve. Employment gains have been solid in recent months, averaging 231,000 new jobs per month so far this year. The unemployment rate in June fell to 6.1%, the lowest level since September 2008. Nevertheless, the unemployment rate remains above our estimate of the natural rate, suggesting that economic slack remains.
  • Inflation has been running well below the Federal Reserve’s 2% objective. In recent months, inflation has run closer to the objective, in part reflecting higher food and energy prices. However, underlying inflation pressures still appear to be subdued. Hence, we expect only a gradual return to a sustained 2% inflation rate as the economy continues its recovery and slack diminishes.
  • A recovering economy has prompted a steady reduction this year in the pace of monthly asset purchases by the Federal Reserve. Nevertheless, with persistent economic slack and low inflation, monetary policy remains highly accommodative. 
  • Labor productivity, or inflation-adjusted output per hour worked, is an important factor underpinning the sustainable speed limit for the economy. From the early 1970s through 1995, productivity in the business sector rose only about 1½% per year. In the next eight years, through 2003, that pace more than doubled. Considerable evidence links that acceleration to the production and use of information technology (IT). However, over the past decade, productivity growth has returned to roughly its pre-1995 pace of about 1½%.
  • The early-2000s slowdown in productivity growth predated the Great Recession of 2007–09. Hence, it does not appear related to financial or other disruptions associated with the recession. Rather, it appears to mark a pause—if not the end—of exceptional productivity growth associated with IT. Many transformative IT-related innovations showed up in the productivity statistics in the second half of the 1990s and early 2000s. Over the past decade, however, the gains may have become more incremental. 
  • Productivity also fluctuates around its trend, with many of the most pronounced movements around recessions. For example, productivity growth was weak relative to trend early in the Great Recession. At the end of the recession and early in the recovery, productivity rebounded sharply. 
  • An important reason for these short-run cyclical fluctuations in productivity is variation in the intensity with which firms use capital and labor. For example, when the economy goes into recession and firms see a reduction in demand, they may want to maintain much of their existing workforce if they believe the reduced demand is temporary. In that case, firms may have a larger workforce than is ideal from a short-term perspective, and so measured productivity falls. When demand recovers, firms have excess capacity and can quickly ramp up production without needing substantial investment or hiring. 
  • Over the period of a decade, these short-term cyclical movements are probably not a key factor explaining weak productivity growth. Measures of capacity utilization, for example, are close to where they were a decade ago.
  • Since 2007, hours worked in the business sector have declined. Fewer hours combined with slow trend productivity growth means that output growth in the business sector has been very slow relative to the previous 60 years. As the economy continues its recovery, hours worked are likely to rise. But, with population growth slowing, future increases are likely to be muted relative to the historical experience since World War II. Assuming productivity growth continues at a pace similar to the past decade, output growth will remain slow relative to its historical performance.
  • Uncertainty about future productivity growth remains high. Pessimists argue that IT is less important than great innovations of the past that dramatically boosted productivity, such as electricity or the internal combustion engine. Optimists point to the possibilities offered by robots and machine learning. Economic history suggests that it is hard to know until after the fact how revolutionary any particular innovation will turn out to be.

Now if you're an economics teacher, there might be something useful from Fed Views, but I see not much of use for me as an ELA teacher.

Washington Post reporter Lyndsey Layton reported that the architects of the Common Core also recommended students read some government studies:

Proponents of the new standards, including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, say U.S. students have suffered from a diet of easy reading and lack the ability to digest complex nonfiction, including studies, reports and primary documents. That has left too many students unprepared for the rigors of college and demands of the workplace, experts say.

The new standards, which are slowly rolling out now and will be in place by 2014, require that nonfiction texts represent 50 percent of reading assignments in elementary schools, and the requirement grows to 70 percent by grade 12.

Among the suggested non­fiction pieces for high school juniors and seniors are Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” “FedViews,” by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (2009) and “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management,” published by the General Services Administration.

Here's a little bit “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management,” for your reading enjoyment:

Executive Order (EO) 13423, "Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management," was signed by President Bush on January 24, 2007. EO 13423 instructs Federal agencies to conduct their environmental, transportation, and energy-related activities under the law in support of their respective missions in an environmentally, economically and fiscally sound, integrated, continuously improving, efficient, and sustainable manner. The Order sets goals in the following areas:

  • energy efficiency
  • acquisition
  • renewable energy
  • toxic chemical reduction
  • recycling
  • sustainable buildings
  • electronics stewardship
  • fleets
  • water conservation
E.O. 13423 rescinds several previous EOs, including E.O. 13101, E.O. 13123, E.O. 13134, E.O. 13148, and E.O. 13149. In addition, the order requires more widespread use of Environmental Management Systems (EMS) as the framework in which to manage and continually improve these sustainable practices. It is supplemented by implementing instructions, issued on March 29, 2007 by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).
OMB is also integral in the execution of E.O. 13423. The E.O. requires the OMB Director to issue instructions concerning periodic evaluation, budget matter, and acquisition relating to agency implementation of the E.O. OMB issues budget guidance through updates to Circular No. A-11. OMB will also continue to track agencies' progress on EO and EPACT goals through the three management scorecards on environmental stewardship, energy, and transportation.
Information relating to EO 13423 can be obtained through the following links below:

CCSS architect David Coleman says the emphasis on informational text and non-fiction reading that Common Core pushes is not limited to just the ELA classroom - much of this reading can be done in math, science, social studies, physical education and CTE classes.

And certainly the two texts above do not lend themselves to ELA classrooms, that's for sure.

I can imagine the Fed Views site could have some use in an economics class and Executive Order (EO) 13423, "Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management" could be discussed in a science or sustainability class.

But the thing is, I'm not sure how useful these texts would be even in those classes.

These are the kinds of texts that best show how the Common Core Standards and many of the people who wrote them and push them fetishize difficult reading, complex language, and jargon often for what seems like their own sake.

This is silly to me.

The older I get, the simpler I like to keep things - including in the language that I speak and use to communicate.

My thinking is, life and communication are complex enough without adding to it by purposely using complex language and jargon.

That doesn't mean you can't ever use either - sometimes you need to use complex language or jargon to communicate something.

But more often than not complex language and jargon does more to obfuscate (sorry!) meaning rather than clarify it.

Whenever I'm writing something or thinking about something I want to teach in class, I ask myself "What would the two Georges think?"

By that, I mean George Orwell and George Carlin, two people who have been influential on my own thinking and teaching.

Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language" has stuck with me since I first read it in, yes, high school - especially this part:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable.

Truth is, I'm guilty of sins on Rule (i) and Rule (iii) more than I would like - some of that is out of laziness, some of it out of sheer necessity (blogging half a dozen posts a day while holding down a full-time job sometimes requires letting go of perfection!)

But I try my best to subscribe to these rules as best I can as a writer and I don't go out of my way to look for reading material for classes based on the Lexile Framework or anything like that.

On the point of jargon, something that I have posted before is how much contempt I have for people in the education world who throw jargon around.

Let's be frank here - the education world is full of jargon lovers and cliche-meisters who really dig throwing this kind of language around:

across content areas
across spatial and temporal scales
across the curricular areas
across cognitive and affective domains
for high-performing seats
for our 21st Century learners
in authentic, "real world" scenarios
in closing the achievement gap
in data-driven schools
outside the box
throughout the Big Ideas
through cognitive disequilibrium
through the collaborative process
through the experiential based learning process
through the use of centers
throughout multiple modalities
via self-reflection
with a laser-like focus
within a balanced literacy program
within professional learning communities
within the core curriculum
within the new paradigm
within the Zone of Proximity
with synergistic effects

You can find that exact language - and much more of it - at the education jargon generator website that can help you too put together a combination of jargon and cliches that will amaze and terrify your friends and neighbors.

It seems to me that people often use jargon when they want to obscure meaning, want to fool people into thinking they know stuff they don't really know, or just generally do things without people actually understanding what it is they're doing.

George Carlin's work on language hits on this idea often, but I think this one gets at it best:

"Smug, greedy, well-fed white people have invented a language to conceal their sins, it's as simple as that" - indeed, it is as simple as that.

And now that language is codified in the Common Core Federal Standards, those "higher" standards brought to us by David Coleman, Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, Barack Obama and a host of other ed reformers.

Frankly, I think we could better raise the standards by taking Fed Views and Executive Order (EO) 13423, "Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management" off the CCSS reading list and putting some George Carlin - along with more George Orwell - on it.

Sure, the Lexile Framework might not like the "level" of the language (not complex enough!) and the jargon festishists might not like the absence of jargon (unless you consider the "Seven Dirty Words You Can't Say On TV" jargon), but I'll tell you what, I bet students would learn a whole hell of a lot more from Carlin and Orwell than the Federal Reserve Board of San Francisco and the General Services Administration.


  1. RBE...ELA teachers at my school had the students read "Lyddie," a story about young women working in the New England Mills during early-mid 19th Century. Although book was interesting, the common Core curriculum mandated 4 months on this book. The students were totally sick about this book after a couple of weeks. As a social studies teacher, we covered the Lowell Mills and the poor working conditions the young women had to endure. We did this in 2 weeks and the students had a better feel of what these women went through when we read many of their diaries. What a waste of time putting these kids through this book for 4 months! I mean, how much informational text can you possibly extract from a book? Imagine how many other books could be read during that time! What a complete waste of a student's mind.

  2. Great post. What Coleman and Gates are trying to do with these complex/mundane reading lists, I would describe as hurtfully clueless.

    It's heart surgery by an auto mechanic, or a surgeon trying to fix a carburetor. They're throwing things at a wall to see what little sticks, if anything does at all.

    And, our union leaders are A-OK with it. Brilliant!

  3. I grew up in the sixties reading Mad magazine and Shakespeare.
    You might say I went from mad to verse.

  4. Your essay would perfect as a Common Core piece for 11th grade ELA.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. The sad thing is, English teachers won't be able to skip over the dry, government memos. That type of reading will probably be on the required to graduate Regents.

  7. I think it's time to tell the powers that be such as David Coleman,Bill Gates et al to FUCK OFF.
    They should Close Read those two words for at least two months so as to be aligned with common bore.
    Angry Nog

  8. I read the Fedview excerpt you included and saw only one piece of jargon in it, "accomodative."

    It would be great if a high-school grad could read it and come away with some understanding of the state of the economy as well as the govt's approach to managing it. You say that's the responsibility of the economics dept. Well they need some help from the english dept, and the science dept. does too, as poor reading and comprehension skills are a big part of the difficulty in teaching other subjects. Instead you seem to want them to help you in teaching english skills.

    You could have just as easily handed off 1984 to the politics, philosophy, and psychology depts. Methinks the english dept. needs to teach more than just poetry and fiction.