Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Common Core State Standards - Rich Pickings for Critical Reviews Once You Get Your Bearings

Two birds with one stone, a literature review for a paper on test results, and writing an assignment critically reviewing two papers. Well, that was the theory, but I got sidetracked yesterday with a close reading of Sanford, 2012. I came across the paper when I was wanting to get background on the CCSS. I knew the standards were politically contentious in the US, but had thought it was a simple Right v Left matter, with Republican deep-rooted distrust of central government leading to distrust of what might be framed as standards imposed by government. 

But it's not that simple, says Sanford. She's an ELA teacher. Her dissertation is an analysis of the CCSS from a Foucaultian perspective. This involves using Foucault's genealogical approach to history, starting from the point of view that we're asking a question of history now, in the present. What really jumped out from the historical analysis is how educational standards reforms are generally framed as a return to basics - a resurrection of the good-old classroom mores which our grandparents benefitted from. It's been a feature of UK educational "reform" since the 1980s, at least. 

And then we have the student as a "docile body", (no undergraduate jokes, please). The CCSS's main document is given a thorough CDA deconstruction, and doesn't come out very well, with a snapshot of what the graduated student should be like not really correlating to the standards she's supposed to have met whilst progressing through the grades. And a close grammatical analysis of references to students reveal an underlying view that students are a problem to be solved, referred to in the passive, or when they're active subjects, they get my old friend the finger wagging modal auxiliary should with all their verbs. 

According to Sanford, the CCSS and its proponents are the ones on the right, there's a neoliberal agenda of docile body students being prepped for college and the workplace, with emphasis on positivist analysis of texts in reading, and argument in writing, rather than any student centred approach, reading for one's own purposes, maybe just, you know, reading for pleasure. It's more to do with assessment than pedagogy. The people who drafted the standards were "standards" specialist, not teachers. The political engine has been state governors, not educators. 

And so it was worthwhile to give this most of a day for a close reading - I got my bearings. And it was refreshing to get out of the ESOL bubble for a day, even though I stayed in the ELA one. 

Sanford, A. D. (2012). A Foucaultian Genealogy of the Common Core State Standards' Production of Secondary English Language Arts and the English Language Arts Student. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Georgia, Athens, GA