An Exploration of Pathways to the Core

March 29, 2018 Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

Andy Blackledge photo



JD DeHart



Pathways to the Common Core (2012) portrays the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) as a reasonable and overdue overhaul of educational philosophy.  On page one of the book, the authors declare that the CCSS is “the most sweeping reform of the K-12 curriculum that has ever occurred in this country.”  The term that supports this statement is curriculum; otherwise, this author might mention desegregation as an obvious example of a sweeping reform with substantial impact.


Calkins, Ehrenworth, and Lehman attempt to anticipate the counter-claims that suggest Common Core will not provide the solutions needed for greater quality in education.  One of the major features of the CCSS that acts as a rationale is the inclusion of higher-order thinking skills; indeed, the previous set of standards acted as a low-level checklist of facts, ideas, and skills that had to be covered.  The CCSS approach is more broadly constructed, and the emphasis of different types of writing help undergird this notion of more high-level comprehension.  Even the features of effective essays, according to this text, should not necessarily be included in each and every writing opportunity.  These writings also develop over time, with counter-argument and inclusion of data being two aspects of argument writing that arrive later on in the standards.


New Criticism is posed as the theoretical background for the Common Core, with the transactional theory of Rosenblatt being underemphasized.  This author feels that underemphasizing personal experience can be accomplished in the classroom, but prior knowledge and experience will never be totally removed.  Activation of prior knowledge and the extent to which prior knowledge informs a reading should depend on the type of text being considered; that being said, approaching the text itself is a necessary component of critical response.  Pathways to the Common Core points out that text complexity is a topic for close consideration, and uses The Grapes of Wrath as an example of a mismatch in text complexity and Lexile.  Wise teachers should have long ago taken note that addressing the “just right” level of a text involves more than a quantitative analysis of word frequency and sentence length.  The teacher’s ability to subjectively determine a text’s appropriateness is central here, and rightly so.  This book also included practical examples, including use of audio tapes, for addressing fluency needs with difficult texts.


Comparisons among media, potential for cross-curricular study, student choice in reading, and emphasis on author craft were also part of the argument for the efficacy of CCSS.  The inclusion of high-interest nonfiction books can offer students a wider variety of choices in reading.  Again, practical suggestions were offered, including using text sets and implementing letter writing.  This use of reading paired with writing, along with emphasis on media, was one more example of how Common Core encourages integration of literacy practices.


This book made the case for paired and individual readings, as students are too often given the opportunity to “hide” in whole class readings (p. 68).  This individual approach to text also encourages the use of look backs to actually engage with the text, rather than developing rote and unreasonable memorization of lengthy passages.


What seems implicit in Pathways to the Common Core is that educators should be more concerned with developing high levels of conversation and comprehension based on actual text interaction in their classrooms, rather than focusing on “covering” a list of standards.  This author believes that some teachers are still making this philosophical transition.






JD DeHart

JD DeHart is a writer and teacher. His chapbook,The Truth About Snails, is available from RedDashboard.

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