I am not John Birch. I do not oppose the Common Core State Standards out of fear of data-mining and liberal indoctrination.
I do, however, oppose the Common Core State Standards as a tremendous waste of educators' time and effort. Common Core codifies for bureaucratic and capitalistic (read: sell new textbooks) purposes objectives that every good teacher already knows and practices in the classroom.
Common Core may also kill the requirement that South Dakota kids take speech in high school.
A couple months ago, I heard rumblings that the state Board of Education (here they are: write to them, give them heck) may eliminate the speech requirement from South Dakota's high school graduation standards. I asked the Department of Education whether the state is "considering removing the 1/2-credit speech requirement from our high school graduation requirements." I received this reply:
I would like to thank you for your concern for South Dakota students. Secondly, I would like to reassure you that the discussions we have been having would not eliminate the requirement to teach the standards addressed in a speech class.
The informal discussions taking place have stemmed from districts questioning the English Language Arts graduation requirements, since South Dakota has adopted the Common Core State Standards and will be assessing them beginning in spring of 2015. The Common Core English Language Arts standards in high school outline standards in two-year grade bands, 9-10 and 11-12, allowing for flexibility in high school course design. The standards delineate specific expectations in reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language, but do not need to be a separate focus for instruction and assessment. Standards from each strand can be taught and assessed by a single rich task. Students advancing through the grades are expected to meet each year's grade specific standards.
The current graduation requirements state that students must have 4 units of Language Arts which include: 1. 5 units of literature in which .5 units must be American Literature; 1.5 units of writing; .5 units of speech or debate; and .5 units of Language Arts elective. Whereas the current graduation requirements specify set units for each area within English Language Arts, the proposal being discussed would allow districts the flexibility to determine if speech is embedded into each English Language Arts class or if the speaking and listening standards are pulled out into a separate course.
The Department of Education will be gathering information from districts to determine if a proposal should be taken before the South Dakota Board of Education. To date, this has simply been an informal discussion. I encourage you to watch the Department of Education's website at doe.sd.gov. The Board of Education meetings are posted here. Look for the Board of Education link which will give you more information [Becky Nelson, Team Leader, Office of Learning and Instruction, e-mail, 2013.02.27].
In other words, yes, we are eliminating the requirement that every South Dakota student pass a semester course dedicated to learning how to make a speech.
The Department is cloaking this bad decision in talk of local control (sound familiar?) and Common Core. They say that Common Core is so good that if your school follows the standards, kids will automatically learn speech in their regular English classes and multidisciplinary activities. We won't need to have speech communication experts focusing on public speaking skills in a separate class.
This argument is mostly rubbish. Common Core says a lot, but it does not say that every child has to stand up in front of an audience and make a speech. The Common Core standards for English and literacy say that students will "Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners." Those words could mean almost anything... which means, like most text related to education reform, it means almost nothing.
Under current practice, our high school speech requirement means students spend a solid semester practicing speech communication. In my Montrose classroom, that meant students did five big speech activities: an informative speech, a visual aid speech, a persuasive speech, parliamentary speaking (five small speeches plus motions!), and a job interview. Like other speech teachers, I evaluated what kids said, but I also evaluated how they said it. I trained them in the physical, intellectual, and emotional aspects of effective speaking. That solid semester of attention to those issues gives students potent practice in communication skills that they will not receive if we dissolve the speech requirement into Common Core's vague commitment to "a range of conversations and collaborations" in the soup of other content standards.
A national survey released this month finds 74% of employers recommend that students get a liberal arts education. Employers want students who can "think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems." Our speech requirement gives students a leg up on satisfying that job-world demand for good communication skills. Replacing that speech requirement with Common Core's fluff will take that advantage away from our kids.
The next meeting of the state Board of Education is May 20 from 8 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Western Dakota Technical Institute in Rapid City. If you want South Dakota to keep pushing kids to be better speakers, you should contact those board members and tell them not to let Common Core weaken South Dakota's commitment to solid speech education.