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An Open Letter to NCTE Members about the Release of the Public Draft of the Common Core State Standards for K-12 English Language Arts

March 10, 2010

Dear NCTE Members,

A year ago, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) convened a group to draft a Common Core of State Standards in math and English language arts for College- and Career-Readiness.  These standards were designed to “define the knowledge and skills students should have to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing, academic college courses and in workforce training programs” and were meant to represent consensus around “fewer, clearer, and higher” standards, leaving room for local innovation and approaches to advance student learning. 

The release of the College- and Career-Readiness Standards was followed-up by an effort from the same organizations to create K-12 standards in English language arts, and a public draft of these standards will be released today, March 10. To date, 48 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia have signed on to the effort to adopt these K-12 Common Core Standards.  In fact, all state applications for federal stimulus funds submitted to the Department of Education have been required to demonstrate alignment with a common core of standards.


Last summer, NCTE was contacted by the organizations coordinating this initiative to provide comment on the draft of the College- and Career-Readiness Standards. While NCTE had not been involved in any way to craft these standards, NCTE’s Executive Committee authorized providing critical, informed feedback because they reasoned that withholding expertise and comment from this effort would be inconsistent with NCTE’s mission and could further isolate teachers from a process which might profoundly influence the conditions of teaching and learning.  And so, NCTE appointed the first of two blue ribbon panels -- to respond to the July draft of the College- and Career-Readiness Standards. In November 2009, NCTE was again contacted by the same organizations to provide comment on early drafts of the Common Core State Standards for K-12 English Language Arts and the second blue ribbon panel was convened to respond to the December, January, and February drafts of the Common Core State Standards for K-12 English Language Arts. Each panel based its responses on NCTE policies and positions, substantiated by research and also on a growing understanding of what it means to educate all students for productive life in the 21st century -- a world very different from that for which we’ve educated students in the past.

Both panels that represented NCTE were comprised of literacy leaders from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives.  Though I was not involved with the review of the College- and Career-Readiness Standards, as chair of the K-12 review panel, I cannot begin to express how impressed I was at the knowledge, rigor, and dedication that all members brought to the review task. As literacy teachers who understand the complexities of the reading process, the intricacies of writing development, and the diverse nature of language acquisition and development, we had a strong conviction to strive for clarity through the revision process and we know that our efforts were not futile -- there are numerous places in the current draft where our advice appears to have directly influenced the evolution of the document towards language and clarity that will have positive impact for both teachers and students.

Throughout this process of review and response to several drafts of the standards, representatives from CCSSO and the NGA Center engaged in dialogue with NCTE, taking time to discuss our reviews with us, and weighing our input with that received from other organizations. While we acknowledge that the effort to build a consensus around core standards has been arduous and is somewhat contentious for many entities, both within and outside of NCTE, we believe that the coordinating organizations have carried the task out with vigor and good faith. Nevertheless, NCTE has always maintained the stance of an independent critic throughout this process and continues to believe that we best serve our members and literacy learners by focusing efforts on helping teachers meet the challenges they face in the classroom rather than offering a summary judgment of these or other standards. 


In her letter to members on August 17, 2009, Kylene Beers pointed out what still stands as true today, 


I know that some of you would have preferred that this update be one to offer a particular stance NCTE will take regarding the Common Core State Standards.  We each bring to the table our own beliefs concerning such a document.  Some of us acknowledge the importance of commonly held standards that could serve as high goals for all in this nation; others of us resist any standards that are not created by individual classroom teachers for their individual classrooms.  And many of us fall somewhere along that continuum . . . And all of us -- no matter our personal positions on common standards -- find a place and space at the National Council of Teachers of English.


NCTE recognizes that no standards document in and of itself will change instruction or student learning; teachers will.  And so, with the release of the Common Core standards, we are renewing our commitment to teacher learning communities -- collaborative, local efforts to support teachers in making complex judgments about how to best advance students as engaged literacy learners. Such sustained efforts are the real key to making progress towards improved literacy learning and for providing the foundations for enjoying the rich gifts of literacy across a lifetime. 


As mentioned earlier, NCTE has provided three different responses to the K-12 drafts and each was bound by a confidentiality agreement that extended until today, when the first public draft of the Common Core State Standards for K-12 English Language Arts was released.  These reports are now available to members: the December draft of the Common Core State Standards for K-8 English Language Arts, the January draft of the Common Core State Standards for K-12 English Language Arts, and the February draft of the Common Core State Standards for K-12 English Language Arts.  I encourage you to read these reviews, as well as the Standards documents themselves, and to join a discussion on the NCTE Ning about the Common Core State Standards in relationship to your classroom.  More importantly, you should consider responding directly to the CCSSO and NGA Center, using the online survey on the Common Core Standards website.  Just make certain to do so by the April 2 deadline.




Jeff Williams
K-12 Literacy Coach
Solon City Schools, Solon, OH
Assistant Chair of Elementary Section and Executive Committee Member
Chair, NCTE Review Team for the Common Core State Standards for K-12 English Language Arts

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A Professional Association of Educators in English Studies, Literacy, and Language Arts