Parsing the ins and outs of Common Core State Standards with Katherine Scheidler

Author Kay Schiedler will discuss her new book on Common Core Standards at Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Vineyard Haven on Wednesday, June 17. — Photo courtesy Kay Schiedler

Katherine Scheidler, Standards Matter: The Why and What of Common Core State Standards in Reading and Writing, NewSouth Books, 2015, $12.95, 79 pp. Available on

Vineyard Haven summer resident Katherine (Kay) Scheidler takes on critics of the nation’s new Common Core State Standards in Reading and Writing in her new book, Standards Matter. The book comes out just as Massachusetts completes its first academic year under the new state standards; this slender volume is well timed to defend what is in fact a radical new approach — not just in Massachusetts, but nationwide. Vineyard parents with children in the school system, and teachers, many of whom have found themselves struggling to adjust to the new standards, are well advised to read this helpful and important book whether or not they currently support the Common Core State Standards.
With a Ph.D. in education from Boston University and graduate education degrees from Harvard and Brown, Ms. Scheidler is well qualified to write about the controversial new national education standards that went into effect in Massachusetts in this latest academic year. She served as curriculum director and assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction, and assessment in Massachusetts, where she helped guide adoption of the new standards and tests under the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. She continues to aid public school teachers in working with the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program and the new standards.
In 10 brief chapters, she lays out the background and justification for the new standards and — most important — succinctly explains how the reading and writing ones work. She has left the explication and defense of the new math standards to others.
Her central thesis argues that public schools have long neglected the needs of students of color, ESL students, underprivileged children, and special needs students, relegating them to a tracking system that does not work. Instead of focusing exclusively on the best students, public schools need to aid the student populations who are more apt to be struggling. The issue is not to neglect or limit the best students, but rather to most efficiently address the needs of the entire student body.
When the National Commission on Excellence in Education released its 1983 report, A Nation at Risk, it concluded that a “rising tide of mediocrity” had left American public schools trailing those of other nations. The implication was that too many American students were not receiving the training they needed to find jobs and compete in the global economy. (As a professor of mass communication at Westfield State University for 21 years, I saw firsthand how poorly prepared many students entering the higher education system were in reading and writing.)
The first year of teaching and learning with the new standards has not proven easy. Parents, students, and teachers alike have reacted by attacking the standards, even calling for their abolition. Parents and students have found themselves struggling to understand the language of Common Core’s higher standards, and teachers have found they must adjust long-used