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When good ELA teaching gets implemented through a corporate lens

Grouped around tables at the Center for the Advancement of Reading in Sacramento, more than a decade ago, I had no idea that I was doing a process I would read about later in an education doctorate class on public policy formation (Zancanella & Moore, 2014). Nor did I guess that there would be over four million results criticizing our efforts in a Google search of “criticism of Common Core ELA” in 2019. At least, I’m still proud of the feedback that Expository Reading and Writing (ERWC) leaders gave on early documents that would become the ELA Common Core.

I understand the ideas of tight and loose policy, but my life experience has not shown me examples of either working without long-term criticism. Tighter policies are criticized for being unnecessarily prescriptive and stakeholders rebel. Looser policies, like the ELA standards, are slammed for being too vague and not giving enough guidance.

ERWC, co-written in the early 2000s by both English professors at the California State Universities and high school teachers, assumes that teachers are professionals who use reading and writing to improve each other in a recursive way, with a relentless focus on the text, always refining curriculum for the actual students in the room. Modules are over-written, with more activities than should be done in any one classroom, because teachers are supposed to choose cafeteria-style the skills and strategies that would help their actual students. Equity, professionalism, media literacy, intrinsic motivation of learners: are all ideas built into the curriculum -- opposites to the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) precepts (Murgatroyd, & Sahlberg, 2016). ERWC was written by academics for the classroom, based upon academic research for best practices (Katz, 2013), not written for one-size all educational political policy (Rippner, 2015). And hence the problems in the implementation of the Common Core ELA standards.

Instead of teachers teaching teachers, allowing choice for both students and staff, many of the people implementing Common Core have used them to impart GERM ideas of teacher-proofing curriculum, vendor-based solutions, narrowly construed goals, and overemphasis on the idea that schools are producing employees instead of happy adults (Murgatroyd, & Sahlberg, 2016).  None of those ideas are in the Common Core ELA standards themselves, so I was surprised at those criticisms through the years. Of course, now I realize that international textbook companies convinced districts to buy all new textbooks and commit to teacher scripting, and of course, teachers (and children and parents) hate that. Teachers despise anything that hurts students. Researchers can develop useful ideas, but implementing those ideas as policy is a whole other adventure.

Research now shows that GERM, although intuitive to corporate leaders, does not activate student learning. Kids are not designed for efficient business models, so schools should be designed for actual children: neurodiverse, rich with life experience, multilingual, artistic, playful, powerful, hopeful, complicated.


Development Process | Common Core State Standards Initiative. (n.d.). Retrieved July 17, 2019, from

Katz, M.-L. (n.d.). ERWC Theoretical Foundations for Reading and Writing Rhetorically (2nd edition) (2013). CSU Expository Reading and Writing Course, 2nd Edition, Published by the California Department of Education and the California State University Chancellor’s Office. Retrieved from

Murgatroyd, S., & Sahlberg, P. (2016). The Two Solitudes of Educational Policy and the Challenge of Development. Language Learning and Development: The Official Journal of the Society for Language Development, 3(3), 9–21.

Rippner, J. A. (2015). The American education policy landscape. Routledge.

Zancanella, D., & Moore, M. (2014). The origins of the Common Core: Untold stories. Language Arts, 91(4), 273.


  1. Thank you for your perspective on how well-intentioned, well-designed curriculum can be ruined when approached from a ‘business’ angle. I share your take on how this has undermined the potential of Common Core and other student-focused pedagogy and ‘deprofessionalized’ the role of the classroom teacher in our education system.

    What has happened with the ERWC seems a perfect example of what Murgatroyd and Sahlberg (2016) describe as the neoliberal approach to education - one that seems more focused on efficiency and output rather than encouraging curiosity and deep learning (Fullan & Quinn, 2015). Efficiency in production is valued in a capitalist system, and with the growth of corporate influence in American education (Rippner, 2016) curriculum seems to be increasingly influenced by publishers of everything from math books to college entrance exams. In fact, according to Zancanella and Moore (2014) the workgroup that developed the ELA and Literacy standards was made up overwhelmingly by representatives of either Pearson, the College Board, or the ACT - publishers of either the materials used in the classroom or college entrance exams!

    I remember attending a textbook adoption ‘fair’ a few years ago, where the representative was touting the efficiency of the curriculum (science) and how the materials were so easy to ‘get through’ that teachers ‘didn’t even have to think’. This was one of the most insulting and discouraging insinuations I’ve ever heard about teachers and a subject that is best understood through the testing of hypotheses and making observations - things that are inefficient, and often messy without a predictable outcome. This all came flooding back to me as I read how the GERM approach to education has led to de-professionalizing the role of the teacher (Murgatroyd & Sahlberg, 2016). Discretion is not predictable, and therefore apparently needs to be removed.

    Applying business, dare I say capitalist, values to education does not seem to be serving our students well. It is unfortunate that corporate voices are listened to over the educators who have invested the time and expertise into providing meaningful learning experiences for students.

    Fullan, M. & Quinn, J. (2015). Coherence: The right drivers in action for schools, districts, and systems. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin.
    Murgatroyd, S. and Sahlberg, P. (2016) The two solitudes of educational policy and the challenge of development. Journal of Learning For Development. 3(3) 9-21.
    Rippner, J.A. (2016). The American Education Policy Landscape. Routledge Publication: New York, New York.
    Zancanella, D. and Moore, M. (2014) The origins of the common core: untold stories. Language Arts. 91(4) 273-279.


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