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Triumph Learning Isider

When the authors of Common Core published Appendix B, a list of possible titles to use in K-12 classrooms which met the litmus test laid out by their Triangle of Text Complexity, it was a “darned if you do, darned if you don’t” decision. As expected, there’s been a lot of pushback about this list. And even though it’s been out for a few years now, the criticisms are still flaring up and impacting the way schools, districts, and even states embrace their adoption of Common Core.

Why “darned if you don’t”? Well, considering the great premium the Common Core State Standards place on reading “grade-level-appropriate complex text,” educators were going to clamor for actual examples, weren’t they? After all, making references to vague hypothetical titles without specificity left the door open for too much interpretation (or misinterpretation) about what might be and what might not be appropriate reading material in the eyes of the Common Core authors.

In other words, the request of, “Can ya be a little precise about what you mean?” would have been uttered about 20 million times. Thus, foresight told the authors that they better have some samples at the ready so educators could have a reference appendix to which they could turn for literal works that would meet the CCSS threshold of suitability.

However, to publish such a list creates a genuine conundrum: it’s impossible to make a list of every piece of writing that would be apt—the amount of works ever published that actually are appropriate is EXTENSIVE! One could literally cite 1,000 different books for grade 6 and still not have even scratched the surface.

Thus, the authors were “darned if they do” because by publishing a list, they immediately gave birth to a problem of inevitably leaving a host of books off the list that are credible and deserving enough to be cited as exemplars in Appendix B.

A lot of scholarly articles have been written about this. For example, this piece:

“I really hope the new standards and the exemplars don’t mean we’re going to give up all the progress we’ve made towards building a modern, relevant reading list in exchange for an outdated compilation of classics,” librarian Lindsay Cesari wrote in her blog (2011).

A key criticism is the dearth of titles that address contemporary issues and were written specifically for middle school readers. Some young adult books have attained contemporary classic status but are not well represented in Appendix B. Connie Zitlow (2009), for example, identified 20 classic young adult novels. They include Hatchet (Paulsen, 1987), The Giver (Lowry, 1993), Holes (Sachar, 1998), The House on Mango Street (Cisneros, 1983), The Outsiders (Hinton, 1967), and Out of the Dust (Hesse, 1997). Each title clearly meets the criteria for quality literature, and many address contemporary issues that engage today’s readers. The only title on Zitlow’s list to make the text exemplar list was Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (Taylor, 1976), which was published more than 30 years ago. Furthermore, recent Newbery Medal books, which represent the most important contribution to children’s literature in a given year, are noticeably absent.

The real problem here is not that Common Core is consciously trying to devalue the merit of any of the aforementioned titles (though they did place a value-judgment on their selections, meaning that bias has played a role in “who makes it and who doesn’t” final cut—and who the heck vested these people with the power to determine what kids in America should and should not be reading?) but Common Core made this bed for itself and now it must sleep in it. Though clearly, it wants out. The anti-Common Core constituency (yes, there are—shockingly—groups who are still opposed to the adoption of Common Core) has been armed with sharpened arrows in their quiver.

Furthermore, Common Core chose texts with content that some people might find objectionable. The brouhaha over Toni Morrison’s book The Bluest Eye epitomizes this point exceptionally well. To leave it off the list would be yet another black eye on the “Appendix B has excluded too many great writers” scoreboard (i.e. no Toni Morrison) but to put it on the list opened up the door for some folks to say that “content which is too spicy for our own personal tastes is being lionized in a way that we—the parents, teachers, community, and so on—are not comfortable with.”

Darned if ya do, darned if ya don’t.

There are arguments that some of the texts on the list malign certain racial groups. In fact, there are arguments, arguments, arguments everywhere about the list.

Yet if they never published the Appendix B list, there’d be a lot of arguing as well. And the thing is, in education, as in life, it’s not always black and white. Which means—wait for it—yes, both sides can be right.

And wrong.

At the same time, too.

Welcome to public education.

The Appendix B conundrum—an inevitable controversy from the start.