Don’t cry over spilled chocolate milk … clean it up

To the Editor:

Parents have been told that the Common Core Standards were developed to “include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills.” As a parent of eighth grade students in the Fairfield Public School, I query the choice of educational content and implementation methods being used in the English classrooms.

My eighth grade children have been watching videos in English class, taking notes on topics and then comparing their notes with peers. Is this how our administrators are aligning with the Common Core Standards? Just recently, they watched three videos on chocolate milk. Yes, eighth grade, chocolate milk.

Then, on the subsequent day, they were instructed to write an argumentative essay in class on chocolate milk, using only the notes taken from the previous day. They were not given the opportunity to read articles nor to independently research the topic — all skills critical to entering high school in preparation for “career and college readiness.”

Instead of providing students with the freedom to formulate, research and define their own positions on whether or not to ban chocolate milk from schools, each student was assigned a position to defend. My children stated that the assignment required “no in-depth thinking involved,” but rather relied on the regurgitation of limited and mostly meaningless content.

The assignments devolved to even less educational topics as the week progressed. Should Beyonce endorse Pepsi? Should “trash talk” be banned from schools? And should parents of students who bully be fined? More concerning, these articles are based on Junior Scholastic publications. Is our district actually purchasing this material?

Students cannot learn skills in the abstract; rather, skills should be tied to content if they are to be learned effectively. For non-fiction, students should be reading primary documents that are historical in nature to introduce students to civics, complex readings and sophisticated vocabulary, instead of perfunctory topics that sound like they came from People magazine or The National Enquirer.

Although writing an argumentative essay is clearly important, it would have been beneficial to assign a writing task on rigorous academic content for homework and utilize the limited instructional time for teacher-led discussion.  But then again, middle school students do most of their writing or typing of short essays during English class and have little, if any, homework. Overall, students seem to be given exemplary grades, so parents don’t question what is being taught in school. Recently, one parent commented to me, “My children are learning so much this year… they got all As.”

The 6-12 English Language Arts Curriculum will be approved in May 2014 by the board members, but no specific texts or information on the amount of informational versus fictional texts have been provided in the draft documents.

Our board members should be voting on a comprehensive curriculum document that identifies whether our children will be learning about Beyonce and chocolate milk or more challenging content, like Greek mythology and historical non-fiction documents.  We all need to ask the questions, and then demand the answers otherwise, why waste the time and money on new standards that have promised to bolster intellectualism for the 21st Century without knowing the curricular content.


Dawn Llewellyn


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