The claim that Common Core will be the death of great literature wilts under scrutiny.
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To believe the latest criticisms of the Common Core is to believe that these rigorous new standards for English language arts, despite their focus on increasing the quality and complexity of the books read in English classes across grades K–12, signal the death of great literature in American schools. Like many arguments against the Common Core, however, this latest one wilts under scrutiny.
At the heart of this critique is a two-paragraph section found on page 5 of the introduction to the CCSS that mentions the NAEP assessment framework, shows the distribution of literary and informational texts across the grades (50/50 in 4th grade, 45 percent literary to 55 percent informational in 8th, and 30 percent literary to 70 percent informational in 12th), and suggests that teachers across content areas should “follow NAEP’s lead in balancing the reading of literature with the reading of informational texts, including texts in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects.”
Never mind that the document immediately clarifies—no fewer than three times!—the fact that “a significant amount of reading of informational texts take place in and outside the ELA classroom.” Denizens of the anti-Common Core
Research has long shown that reading comprehension and vocabulary are well correlated.
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While there are achievement gaps between low-income and affluent students across content areas, none seem more vexing to close than the reading gap. While the enormous investment of time and resources that was poured into the Reading First initiative resulted in modest gains, particularly at the elementary level, we have not made the progress we had hoped for in either improving reading achievement or closing the comprehension gap.
There are no doubt a host of factors that contribute to this gap in reading, not least of which the fact that low-income students are far less likely to be read to and talked to in the early years, or to be exposed to the kind of content-rich curriculum they need to build knowledge and expand vocabulary—both critical drivers of reading comprehension.
Research has long shown that reading comprehension and vocabulary are well-correlated. The results from the latest NAEP vocabulary assessment provide additional ammunition to those who argue that if we ever hope to address the reading gap, we must find a way to address the language and knowledge gap between our lowest- and highest-performing students. Specifically, the NAEP
Inequality for All: The Challenge of Unequal Opportunity in American Schools
This wonky but important (and exceptionally timely) book by Bill Schmidt, a Michigan State “university distinguished professor,” and Curtis McKnight, an emeritus math professor at the University of Oklahoma, is a distinctive, deeply researched, and amply documented plea for full-scale implementation of the Common Core math standards. The authors reach that destination after taking readers on a fascinating curricular journey.
They closely examine the extent to which young Americans in various states, districts, schools, and classrooms have equal opportunities to learn the same high-quality math content in grades K–8—and find grievous gaps and injustices.
One might suppose that this most hierarchical and standardized of core subjects would yield the greatest uniformity from place to place within the United States. Critics of national curricula (and the Common Core) periodically declare that NAEP, the textbook oligopoly, the NCTM, and college-entrance exams have caused math curricula to be very similar across the land.
Schmidt and McKnight, however, show conclusively that this presumption is false. And they link the variation they identified in content coverage and delivery to the country’s vexing achievement gaps, its deteriorating social mobility, and its generally weak educational performance. Here are a few excerpts from the book’s alarming—and stirring—final chapter:
The inequalities in content
Everywhere you look these days, someone is running down the Common Core. One of the most frequent critiques comes from those who argue that the CCSS “mandate” the percent of time that English teachers must spend on nonfiction and who worry that this requirement will force educators to replace Shakespeare and Twain with technical manuals and bus schedules. It’s one of those lines that’s apparently “too good to fact check” because the deeper you dig, the more it unravels. Here are the facts:
First, it’s literally wrong. Nowhere do the CCSS “mandate” the percent of time ELA teachers need to spend on nonfiction. In fact, the reference to the balance of fiction and nonfiction in the classroom specifically warns,
The percentages on the table reflect the sum of student reading, not just reading in ELA settings. Teachers of senior English classes, for example, are not required to devote 70 percent of reading to informational texts. Rather, 70 percent of student reading across the grade should be informational.
It’s hard to imagine the authors being clearer on this point. Yet commentators on all sides of the debate regularly—and mistakenly—claim that the CCSS wants to see literature in ELA classrooms go the way of the dinosaur. Even as recently as this weekend, New York Times education writer Sara Mosle wrongly claimed that the Common Core pushes for up to 70 percent of time in 12th grade English classrooms be devoted to reading nonfiction titles. (To Mosle’s
About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Kathleen Porter-Magee is a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Senior Director of the High Quality Standards Program at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where she leads the Institute’s work on state, national, and international standards evaluation and analysis.
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