A new white paper, “How Common Core’s ELA Standards Place College Readiness at Risk,” by Emory University English Professor Mark Bauerlein and University of Arkansas Professor Sandra Stotsky, was released this month by Pioneer Institute. http://pioneerinstitute.org/pdf/120917_CommonCoreELAStandards.pdf
What are the highlights of this 44-page white paper?
Diminishing of Literature:
College readiness will decrease under Common Core, say the paper’s authors, because secondary English curriculum in Common Core prioritizes informational reading and reduces the study of literary traditions.
“A literature-heavy English curriculum, properly constructed, yields college-readiness in reading better than an information-heavy English curriculum. And we know of no research showing otherwise.”
The authors explain that Common Core provides no evidence to support its promise that more informational reading in the English class will make students ready for college-level coursework.
“We know of no research… to support that faith. Rather, the history of college readiness in the 20th century suggests that problems in college readiness stem from an incoherent, less-challenging literature curriculum from the 1960s onward. Until that time, a literature-heavy English curriculum was understood as precisely the kind of pre-college training students needed.”
Do Students Need More Than Reading Lessons in High School?
The paper also says that Common Core “yokes the English curriculum to a test of general reading ability” and transforms English classrooms into reading comprehension classes, even at the high school level. Although Common Core does not specify that only English teachers will teach informational text, the authors feel that English teachers will bear the brunt of this mandate.
“It is hard to imagine that low reading scores in a school district will force grade 11 government/history and science teachers to devote more time to reading instruction. Instead, it is more likely that English teachers will be expected to diminish the number of their literary selections and align readings with test proportions.”
The authors bring up another point: the stress on more informational reading in the English class will not only lead to a decreased capacity for analytical thinking, but will also raise political red flags: “Informational texts are often assigned today not for their complexity and promotion of college readiness in reading, but for their topical and/or political nature. Clear examples can be found in a volume published in 2011 by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) to show teachers how to implement Common Core’s standards…”
Artificial college readiness a camouflage for lowering academic challenge
The authors also speculate that perhaps “the case for more informational texts and increasing complexity (but not necessarily text difficulty) is a camouflage for lowering academic challenge so that more high school students will appear college-ready upon (or perhaps before) graduation.”
The authors recommend that because Common Core’s stress on informational reading is “misplaced” –and because it reflects standards built with “the limited expertise of Common Core’s architects,” standards that were “not developed nor approved by English teachers and Humanities scholars, nor were they research-based or internationally benchmarked,” –because of this, the professors recommend that those states who have adopted Common Core should 1) emphasize the literary-historical content that already exists in the standards and 2) should add an additional literature-based standard to address Common Core’s lack of literary content. These actions, they say, are fully supported by Common Core.
“Far from contradicting Common Core, these actions follow its injunction that, apart from ‘certain critical content for all students, including…American literature and Shakespeare… the remaining crucial decisions about what should be taught are left to state and local determination.’”