I have been a proud member of NH-NEA and NEA since I first began teaching. I am strongly pro-union and strongly pro-NEA. When an article about my classroom was featured on the front page of NH-NEA’s “Educator” publication (Jan. 2012), it was one of my proudest professional moments.  That’s part of what has made it so frustrating for me to watch NEA’s administrators make such glaring missteps, standing for and, even worse, promoting Common Core.

In an 1/14/14 EdWeek article, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel is quoted as having said, “When I sit on panels and someone chastises us for supporting the Common Core, I always ask: ‘Are there specific things you believe should not be there?’ I never get an answer.  Second, I ask, ‘What’s missing?’ I don’t get an answer. And the third thing I ask is, ‘What is the alternative? What do you want? Standards all over the ballpark, tests all over the ballpark?’ ” He continued later, saying, “The Common Core State Standards are our best guess of what students need to know to be successful, whether they choose college or careers. If someone has a better answer than that, I want to see it.”

Mercedes Schneider, in her 1/18/14 “Deutsch29” blog , answered Van Roekel in her own way.

Peter Greene, in his 1/19/14 “Curmudgucation” blog, answered him in his own way.

Now it’s my turn, with due thanks to Girard at Large for hosting my comments.

“Are there specific things that should not be there?”

YES.  The standards are not developmentally appropriate, especially as the lowest grades. Dr. Joseph Ricciotti, a former elementary school principal, wrote in a Connecticut Post Op-Ed, “Sadly, what we are are also experiencing with the Common Core Elementary Standards for these very young children is stress as many of these vulnerable young children are not prepared for this level of education.” And he goes on to quote others:

In a recent speech given by the noted child psychologist, Dr. Megan Koschnick at the American Principles Project (APP) in Washington, DC, she cited how the CCSS “will cause suffering, not learning, for many, many young children.” Likewise, Dr. Carla Horowitz of the Yale Child Student Center claims, “the Common Core asks small children to behave like little adults and they are not little adults.” Noted child development expert, Dr. David Elkind wrote two books, The Hurried Child and Miseducation, citing how schools have had a downward extension of the curriculum which has impacted children in their early years of schooling with inappropriate and test-driven instruction. He also believes that “miseducation” in the early years can leave the child with lifelong emotional disabilities. (http://dianeravitch.net/2013/10/13/dr-joseph-ricciotti-how-ccss-ruins-kindergarten/)

Professor Tom Newkirk of UNH, writes, “…these standards are one more example of magical thinking: the universalization of ‘advanced placement.’ The framers of the common-core standards have consistently taken a level of proficiency attained by the most accomplished students and made it a general expectation.” (http://cola.unh.edu/english/standards-and-art-magical-thinking)

“What’s missing?”

PLENTY. I teach writing at the middle school level, so I’m most familiar with those standards. In NH, we had robust, teacher-created standards that are being replaced with Common Core, and the losses are dramatic. Specifically, the mention of writing fiction is reduced to TWO WORDS:  The standards refer to writing narratives, “…whether real or imagined….”  That’s it. No other reference to fiction. And these are standards for middle schoolers, who live and breathe and learn through the flexing of their imaginations.

But even worse? There are NO standards for the writing of poetry. None. (This might not be such a problem if the Common Core Standards could be modified by districts, but they are copyrighted, and the creators require that once adopted, no more than 15% curricular content can be added.) Do you know any middle school girls? Do you know how important poetry is to some of them? Isn’t it obvious that poetic devices, practiced in the liberating realm of poetry, are eventually going to creep into an author’s prose, improving it?

But enough of the rhetorical questions; let’s ask one that can be answered. Why did two members of the Common Core Validation Committee, Dr. Sandra Stotsky  and Dr. James Milgram, refuse to sign off on the academic quality of the standards? Was it something present that shouldn’t be there, or something lacking that should have been included?  Stotsky writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they both felt the CCSS were insufficient to prepare high school students for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) careers. Read more here:


“What is the alternative? What do you want? Standards all over the ballpark, tests all over the ballpark?”

First, this (inaccurately) presupposes that the state standards which were being used were all randomly fired buckshot, wholly incompatible with one another, and insufficient in every case. (If that were so, how was NH able to be in a group with Vermont and Rhode Island that used the common NECAP assessment?)  Second, it implies that national standards are preferable…but doesn’t indicate how, or why. Third, it ignores the fact that professional teaching associations such as the National Council of Teachers of English and the National Council of Teachers of Math had already done this work, and disseminated it to an impressive percentage of teachers nationwide. If we really need national standards–and I am not convinced that we do, or even that they are Constitutional–then why not look to these professional organizations for educator-created, developmentally appropriate options?

There is much more I could say in opposition to the Common Core:

  • The rollout of the standards–which were specifically designed to build on each other from academic year to academic year–is happening all at once instead of starting at Kindergarten and “growing up” with the students each year;
  • The role of corporate money in the rollout;
  • The fact that these are untested standards, and that no mechanism is in place to revise or adapt them as their inadequacies become evident;
  • And most importantly, the misdirection from the real problem our schools are facing today: poverty.

Others have already written eloquently on those points, though, and I’ve compiled some of the best arguments here: commoncorecriticisms.wikispaces.com

Perhaps Mr. Van Roekel and the NEA will acknowledge the problems inherent in the national adoption of untested, unchangeable, unsound standards. (Even if they are Van Roekel’s idea of somebody’s “best guess.”)  Perhaps the corporate grants–significant funds offered in difficult financial times–are too appealing. Until there is a change, though, I will continue to play the role of the squeaky-wheeled conscience that my union seems to need me to play.

This piece was originally published on NH Labor News’ blog on 2/7/14.


Larry Graykin teaches ELA at Barrington (NH) Middle School. His classroom was most recently written about in Parenting NH magazine: http://www.parentingnh.com/February-2014/NH-teachers-have-gamified-their-classrooms-to-motivate-their-students-to-learn/