There is trouble brewing in America today. The issue stems from a topic in education regarding the effects of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) as they pertain to ESL students. In other words, how do the Common Core State Standards effect ESL students? First, an understanding of the CCSS protocol and implementations must be understood. According to the official TESOL International Association, several acknowledgments must be taken into account. The organization communicates an overview of CCSS intentions and practices, as well as a framework for its structure and implementations. Therefore, the first step and task of this research paper is to investigate precisely what the CCSS standards and protocol involves. Next, the task herein this investigation, shall embrace an effort to discuss several aspects of how the Common Core State Standards effect ESL students.
What are the Common Core State Standards, anyway? Many would ask. In dealing with educational reform in the area of teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) students, the policy would advance a mission which would “raise the bar for U.S. graduates, making them competitive not only in the domestic workforce but also on an international level” (“Tesol – Overview of the Common Core State Standards,” 2014). The same report by TESOL states that the expectation of the standardized reform, in terms of outcome, is to ensure all students meet acceptable levels of achievement. The main philosophy behind implementation of the CCSS standard applies the concept that colleges and universities in the U.S. must maintain their quality levels. If they do not maintain their levels of quality, then U.S. colleges will slip – in terms of global competition with other nations’ universities – therefore CCSS is desirous of setting a new framework promoting excellence in academics among ESL students. Other concerns pertaining to the CCSS codes of educational protocols development involve next-generation science standards.
According to TESOL, the National Research Council is very concerned about developing uniform standards which pertain to engineering, life sciences, and physical sciences. The idea revolves around the unveiling of a document entitled, ‘A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas.’ In other words, a bunch of scientific experts got together and identified certain chief ideas that are important for high-school level students to know. The first draft of the scientific standards, which aimed to be integrated into the CCSS protocol, recommended that each U.S. State would voluntarily adopt the final science standards for ESL students. Also, in conducting an examination of ELL (English Language Learners) demographics, a TESOL report stated that “ELLs are the fastest growing population in U.S. public schools,” with “close to 6 million ELLs enrolled in public schools” (“Tesol – Overview of the Common Core State Standards,” 2014). A concept is one thing. But implementation is quite another.
The TESOL document addressing the implementation of CCSS standards articulates its title as ‘Implementing the Common Core State Standards for English Learners: The Changing Role of the ESL Teacher.’ The document hails from the results of an April, 2013 conference in discussing the situation. The theory driving the framework of implementation of CCSS in each state, on a voluntary basis, encourages “consistent and rigorous expectations of what students should learn in key academic content areas” (“Tesol – Implementing the Common Core Standards for English Learners: The Changing Role of the ESL Teacher”). A myriad of ‘promises-promises’ often characterize policy theories and goals without any guarantees that they will work. Accomplishing the maintenance a high level of U.S. educational standards is not a bad thing. However, the critical question hovers around three basic notions: (1) How will ESL teachers adapt, (2) If enough states will voluntarily accept the higher standards of CCSS, and (3) How the ESL students be affected. Ultimately, this research report catalogues the ideas and concepts of the effects of Common Core State Standards on ESL students. For this reason an overview of the situation balances the discussion set before the readers.
Therefore, before moving into a territorial discourse which examines how ESL students may be affected by the CCSS protocol policy, it is very important to understand the three significant anchors that declare its purposes in the first place. There are three critical components of the proposed CCSS system. These three main components clarify the roles and expectations of all stakeholders involved. The first key component concerns the ESL teachers themselves. In other words, under the rubric of the CCSS format ESL teachers must deliver the goods. ESL teachers are on the frontlines, so to speak, and are expected to employ the learning material content in a way that improves English-language proficiency and develops better results in their students. The second core component in the CCSS program involves the content-area standards specifically. This means a focus upon the actual content of what is learned (and taught) channels CCSS goals to their gainful fruition. The third leg in the stool of the CCSS rubric represents assessments. In other words, obviously the ESL students must have a way to test their knowledge by giving evidence of improvements. This last aspect serves to strengthen the CCSS program, making outcomes more real and deliberate. Moving further, one way to look at the effects of Common Core State Standards on ESL students is to evaluate a real-life case study.
One administrator took on the challenge of reviewing a real-life situation of one student. Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, as the managing Director of the ‘Uncommon Schools’ in Newark, New Jersey, the author set out to relate his story concerning an ESL student named Bianca. When Paul first met Bianca she was in kindergarten and could not read. Paul states, “When I think about Common Core State Standards for literacy, I think of Bianca” (p. 70). Paul advocates that when teachers rigorously apply the Common Core State Standards to their teaching methods, its implementation works very well for the better. In Bianca’s case, she has excelled very well and reached the status of achieving a high level within the 90th upper percentile – both in state and national standard assessments. Paul enjoys relating the story about Bianca. He tells about one day when the child is sitting at a small green table, in the second grade with her classmates, when the teacher administers ‘story-time.’
Bianca did accomplish great strides in her learning. However, Paul Bambrick-Santoyo insists that she consolidated such great strides because her teachers correctly directed her learning progress. While sitting at the little green table Bambrick-Santoyo notes “At each student’s plastic chair is a copy of the same book, The Bully, turned to the same page. Their teacher, Juliana Worrell, places her hands on the table to indicate that the students should stop reading” (p. 70). The point of telling the students to stop reading engages the kids to talk about what they had just learned about the story. Bianca eagerly raised her hand first! The teacher, Ms. Worrell gladly encourages her. So Bianca explains that a boy name ‘Jack’ was “waiting to get his snack, and he saw the bully” (p. 70). Bianca continued to explain the scene in the story by telling the class that the ‘bully’ wanted Jack to move out of the waiting line. The entire point and purpose of relaying this anecdote from Bambrick-Santoyo is to foster the idea that CCSS can work to improve English proficiency in students, whose teachers apply the protocols and dedication to employ its elements in the classroom.
While it is true that the case of Bianca only represents a single ESL student, in the early stages of life before bad habits can set in, the journey does not end there. Bianca faces constant challenges in learning at higher levels of English-reading proficiency. For example, the author notes that Bianca must “master the art of tracking the meaning of stories,” implying that she must continue moving forward or else be left behind in reaching the best progress that she can (p. 70). The amazing thing about Bianca’s situation pertains to her progress in two short weeks. Bambrick-Santoyo relates that this child actually became a better reader in this short time frame. In dissecting the children’s story ‘The Bully’ Bianca had been expected to discern what happened in various segments of the story. In other words, the task she needed to learn involved how to sequentially order events. This type of task represents a higher level of applied language arts skill. In continuing through this exercise, and guided under the auspices of her teacher, Bianca was able to help one of her peers (a classmate) to find the correct page describing a certain section in the story. Not everyone agrees. There are opponents to the Common Core State Standards who claim the protocol adversely and negatively affects ESL students.
One such case and example involved two mothers in the State of Indiana regarding an eight-year old child. The ruckus began in September of the year 2011. The article by Maggie Gallagher reports the situation in an article entitled, ‘Two Moms vs. Common Core,’ in which Indiana is claimed to be the first state in the U.S. to reject the Common Core State Standards protocol using support from their governor. Governor Mike Pence of the State of Indiana officially “signed a bill suspending their implementation” (“Two Moms vs. Common Core,” 2013). Before outlining the story surrounding the eight-year old child raising concerns over CCSS, it is important to state the following information regarding CCSS in the United States. Gallagher informs that “A great deal has been written and spoken about Common Core, but it is worth rehearsing the outlines again. Common Core is a set of math and English standards developed largely with Gates Foundation money and pushed by the Obama administration and the National Governors Association” (“Two Moms vs. Common Core,” 2013). So it is unclear if the objections against the implementation of Common Core State Standards are the results of a political backlash, or true concern that the program does more harm than good to ESL students. Some would argue that Bill Gates has too much influence in governmental policies, as regards the educational standards in America. Others hate the Obama Administration’s decisions on any kinds of forthcoming policies or recommendations. Who is to say? However, in either case ESL students must be fairly served and fairly treated while helping them to achieve the highest level of performance in English language proficiency.
Almost all 50 states had accepted the CCSS protocol and regiment for implementation. Something happened in Indiana, veering it away from its acceptance. The situation involving the eight-year old daughter of Heather sparked the whole circumstances. The two mothers in the scenario locate Heather Crossin and Erin Tuttle as the main characters starring in this true-life story. Gallagher relates its beginning when Heather’s little girl returned home from school one day in September of 2011. She noticed her daughter’s mathematics grades had dramatically fallen to an astonishing low level. Naturally her mother became quite concerned and reviewed the child’s homework papers. The school the daughter was attending, for the record, was not a public school – but rather a Catholic school. Gallagher states what happened next, stating what Heather said “Instead of many arithmetic problems, the homework would contain only three or four questions, and two of those would be ‘explain your answer,’” Heather told me. “Like, ‘One bridge is 412 feet long and the other bridge is 206 feet long. Which bridge is longer? How do you know?’” (“Two Moms vs. Common Core,” 2013). In other words, the bulk of the math problems which the child was expected to answer involved a reading of the English language, in order to arrive at a correct solution of the answers. Apparently Heather’s daughter was unable to accomplish this.
What is more, Heather found herself in the predicament in which she could not help her daughter to understand how to answer the problem any better than the child could. Becoming frustrated, Heather engaged upon a quest and discovered that the ‘right’ answer expected of her daughter derived from a quote of the Common Core State Standards suggestions. The concept and idea behind CCSS protocols relating to mathematics demanded a design that would “encourage thought,” rather than allowing students to purely participate in “rote memorization” of math (“Two Moms vs. Common Core,” 2013). You can see where this is going. Obviously higher levels of math learning do involve reading, and a greater depth of comprehension, right? For example, as ESL students (or any student) progress in learning math skills the concepts become more complex in an effort to apply a numeric analysis to other situations. Having noted this important point, math competencies in the early stages of elementary school level (of K-12) demand rote memorization skills. An ESL student therefore, should not be penalized if he or she does not understand the English language proficiently, while being judged on math skills. Does this make sense?
Continuing further, one of the mothers Heather, recalled that a Stanford University professor withheld his approval of the Common Core State Standards protocol. The reason he did not endorse the CCSS program is because, just as he conveyed to the Texas State legislature, “in large measure” it is a “political document” which is written at a “very low level and does not adequately reflect our current understanding of why the math programs in the high-achieving countries give dramatically better results” (“Two Moms vs. Common Core,” 2013). In other words the good Professor Milgram felt that the CCSS standards stipulated in math did not really help ESL students (or any other American students) to fare better competitively with nations around the globe whose math performances superseded American outcomes. The professor also believed the Common Core State Standards were not written and documented as clearly, or adequately, on as high an academic level as it should be. Other parents became concerned as a result of Heather drawing attention to the school, and a meeting was called.
Many parents began to complain to the school. But the principal felt helpless in the situation and proclaimed to the discontented parents “I know parents don’t like this type of math but we have to teach it that way, because the new state assessment tests are going to use these standards” (“Two Moms vs. Common Core,” 2013). Obviously, this case portrays the opposite sentiment of little Bianca’s case. Perhaps the age of the children has something to do with it the differing opinions about how CCSS is affecting ESL students, in terms of the English language arts requirements of the rubric. Some of the basic ways in which CCSS standards affect ESL students include the math issue of language requirements, as illustrated in the example of Heather’s child. Another way the effects of Common Core State Standards bear upon ESL students is that teachers will have a different role. What is a teacher does not understand the culture a kid comes from, or has little respect or understanding of an ESL student’s native language? See the problem?
In conclusion, other Americans are angry about the CCSS intrusion because they feel it discriminates against Latino (Spanish-speaking) and Black children. The reason they feel this way is because a case in Massachusetts reports after the Core was implemented, many Black and Latino ESL students scored much “lower” in the standards. One thing is clear. More research will produce better proof for its benefits, or demand that the Core be re-written or banned altogether. Time will tell.
American Principles Project. (2013). CBN covers nationwide movement against Common Core
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Bambrick-Santoyo, P. (2013). Bianca and the Common Core. Phi Delta Kappan, 94(8), 70-71.
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Gallagher, M. (2013, May 12). Two moms vs. Common Core. National Review. Retrieved from
TESOL. (2014). Overview of the Common Core State Standards initiatives for ELLs
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TESOL. (2014). Implementing the Common Core State Standards for English learners
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