High Standards Don’t Narrow Academic Focus, They Widen Student Skill Sets

Former Middletown, Rhode Island educator Barbara VonVillas recently wrote to her local paper, The Westerly Sun, expressing her concerns about the changing landscape in education. Among her complaints is the lack of “importance of reading in the development of critical thinking… and a declining focus on civics and history.”  Implying that Common Core State Standards are likely responsible, VonVillas also blames high standards for the lack of cursive writing curriculum in schools today.

The truth is that higher education standards help young people develop the critical thinking and analytical abilities they need to compete and lead in today’s world.  While VonVillas believes the standards mean a decrease in critical thinking, current educators overwhelmingly say the opposite is true. The increased emphasis on close reading is helping students to explore texts more deeply and build the literacy skills they need to be successful in school – and become lifelong readers.

James Dittes, a high school English teacher, says high, comparable education standards have elevated learning to a higher level. “Now, students are demonstrating knowledge in far deeper ways… Students are learning more—they progress faster and with more certainty through the curriculum as writing and literacy have joined to form a two-lane thruway.”

Another high school English teacher, Meaghan Freeman recently wrote in The Atlantic, “I went to college and got a degree in English literature. I spent four years reading, talking, and writing about books. I wanted to spend the rest of my adult life teaching kids to do the same. Common Core allows me to do exactly that—and more.”

VonVillas claims that states’ commitment to raising academic expectations has edged out history and social studies instruction. However, as states implement higher standards, educators have begun to incorporate more non-fiction texts and materials across all subjects, allowing for civics and historical discussions to thrive under the standards. Her misconception is nothing new, but still doesn’t make it any less misinformed. Overwhelmingly, educators indicate that the transition helps them teach students to think critically and to grapple with challenging material.

Finally, to the former teacher’s claims that Common Core State Standards have resulted in a lack of cursive writing curriculum, we’ll point her to those conversations we’ve had in the past about this myth.  While the Common Core State Standards don’t explicitly require students to learn cursive, they don’t discourage it. And as states across the country have continued to build on the Common Core framework, many have reintroduced cursive requirements.

The use of high, comparable standards may be new to a former teacher like Ms. VonVillas, but that does not mean they aren’t working. In fact, the results show the opposite.