Your child must read 50% informational text, and enjoy it!

Over the weekend, NYS Education Commissioner King sent around a new parent guide about the Common Core standards, called "Shifts for Students and Parents."  Here is one of the slides:

Also over the weekend, Robert Pondiscio of Core Knowledge critiqued Sandra Stotsky, who had questioned the 50% split for non-fiction on our Parents Across America blog.  Stotsky, the main author of the highly-regarded Massachusetts standards, had written "It is amazing that one badly informed person [David Coleman] could single-handedly alter and weaken the entire public school curriculum in this country, without any public discussion."

In contrast, Pondiscio called the Common Core standards "common sense."

As a parent, I do not agree that mandating 50% informational text in grades K-5 and 70% thereafter is common sense.  Instead, it seems arbitrary and wrong-headed, and  if enforced, may kill the love of reading among many children.

In recent years, it is nearly miraculous to many how many children have been caught up in reading long, imaginative novels like Harry Potter, and series by authors like Rick Riordan and Suzanne Collins in their independent reading, instead of spending even more hours playing video games.

My 8th grade son reads as many as twenty or more novels a year as part of his assigned reading for school, along with other “texts”. In fact he reads  many thousands of pages a year. Should he be forced to read thousands of pages of non-fiction to match this? or should he instead be discouraged from reading novels, so that his “informational text” quota can be more easily reached?

David Coleman, the author of the Common Core standards, often natters on about the need for students to cite “evidence” in their writing, but where is the evidence that replacing fiction with equal amounts of informational text will help kids in terms of literacy or otherwise? All that he and others cite is that students have to read more non-fiction in college and that this is primarily what is tested on the NAEPs.

But this is not evidence that a 50/50 split in the early grades is called for; or 70% thereafter. This is like saying because a student may be assigned Heidegger in college, it should be assigned in elementary schools. Where are the controlled studies, random experiments or pilot projects anywhere in the country, or indeed the world, to show show that this sort of rigid mandate has helped kids learn better? Doesn’t common sense also means testing out your personal preferences somewhere, before foisting them on the entire nation?

In addition, Coleman’s version of “close reading” tells teachers they cannot assign texts ahead of time, and in teaching the Gettysberg address, for example, they should not refer to the Civil War battle that preceded it. The Common core scripted lessons command that teachers must “avoid giving any background context” because the close reading strategy “forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all.”  Again, this is not common sense, at least to me, it is nonsense.  (For more on this, see post by a HS English teacher who had formerly supported the CC before he saw the scripted lessons.)

Just as in the corporate reformers who seem intent on killing creativity by prescribing  end-of-course multiple-choice tests in the arts, the Common Core's rigid mandates represent a stifling straitjacket, implemented with no thought on how they may undermine the joy of reading for our children.

For more on the Common Core, see our blog here and here, and the PAA blog here and here.  Meanwhile the Pioneer Institute (who opposes them) estimates that implementing the CC will cost states $15.8 Billion; the Fordham Institute (who supports them) as much as $8.3 billion.

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