Many teachers are afraid classic works of fiction are about to lose ground to nonfiction in English classes, replaced by historical documents, newspaper articles, and even instruction manuals. That fear is a result of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a new set of recommendations for teaching math and English adopted by almost every state in the country. Proponents of the new standards say they will demand more from students and better develop their analytical skills.
Teachers, prominent educators, and journalists (in Time, the New York Times, and the Chicago Tribune, among others) have questioned the English recommendations that call for increased use of nonfiction. Much of the frustration has been directed at David Coleman, who helped write the standards and is now president of the College Board, which oversees standardized testing.
Coleman maintains that the backlash is a misunderstanding of the numbers – particularly the standard that 70% of reading by high school seniors, across all classes, should be nonfiction. "The standards are absolutely clear on the central role that fiction plays and continues to play in the English language arts classroom," he tells Kurt Andersen.
According to Coleman, the majority of time in English classes will still be spent on fiction – drama, literature, narrative fiction, and poems. "The only thing that changes is that there's some portion of time spent on high-quality literary nonfiction," he tells Kurt. The standards cite Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" as an example. Coleman emphasizes that the reading should be of "high quality" – not abridgements of classics, or sixth-grade novels used in high school.
American students are often reading four grade levels behind what they need to be ready for colleges or careers, Coleman explains, and the standards aim to reverse the trend. "Delivering a generation of kids who can really read at that level is the hope and promise of this work."
â?? Has the high school curriculum become less rigorous in the last few decades? Tell us in a comment below.
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