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 are meant 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 are meant to represent the broadest consensus around "fewer, clearer, and higher" standards, leaving room for local innovation and approaches to advance student learning. A November 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 was released on March 10. To date, 48 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia have signed on to the effort to create a Common Core. Since last spring, state applications for federal stimulus funds submitted to the Department of Education have been required to demonstrate alignment with a common core of standards.
While NCTE was not invited to help craft the Common Core of standards for English language arts, we were approached on several occasions to review and respond to drafts of the standards. NCTE’s Executive Committee decided to authorize providing input because they reasoned that to withhold expertise and critical comment from this effort would be inconsistent with our mission and would further isolate teachers from a process which could profoundly influence the conditions of teaching and learning.
Since last spring, NCTE has appointed two blue ribbon panels -- one that responded to the July draft of the College- and Career-Readiness Standards and one that responded 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 in the field 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. CCSSO and NGA Center have requested that each report remain confidential until the standards drafts being reviewed were made public.
In September 2009, CCSSO and the NGA Center publicly released the first public draft of the College- and Career- Readiness English Language Arts Standards, standards that serve as the foundation for the K-12 Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts. With the public release of that first draft, the confidentiality ban on NCTE’s September report was lifted and NCTE shared that report with the membership, encouraging them to discuss how these standards would help or inhibit their best work as literacy educators and to provide feedback on the document directly to CCSSO and NGA Center by the October deadline.
In November 2009, NCTE was again contacted by the organizations coordinating the initiative to provide comment on early drafts of the Common Core State Standards for K-12 English Language Arts. Since that time NCTE has been consulted and has provided three different responses to drafts. Each of these reports was also 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’d like to encourage you to read these and to join a discussion on the NCTE Ning about the Common Core State Standards in relationship to your classroom. You also may want to respond directly to 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.
Throughout this process of review and response to several drafts of the standards, representatives from CCSSO and 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. There are numerous places in the current draft where our advice appears to have influenced the evolution of the document. We acknowledge that the effort to build a consensus around core standards has been arduous and that the coordinating organizations have carried the task out with vigor and good faith. Nevertheless, we have maintained the stance of an independent critic throughout this process and continue to believe that NCTE best serves its members and literacy learners by focusing its efforts at helping teachers meet the challenges they face in the classroom rather than offering a summary judgment on these standards.
In her letter to members on August 17, 2009, Kylene Beers pointed out what still stands as true,
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. As the Common Core Standards are released, we are re-doubling 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. It is the key to making sustained progress towards both narrowing gaps in our education system and providing a foundation for enjoying the rich gifts of literacy across a lifetime.