Mourning the Loss of Poetry

On Sunday The Washington Post had a great story that highlighted some of the criticism of the Common Core ELA standards.  One teacher pointed out what she had to remove from her curriculum as a result.

Jamie Highfill is mourning the six weeks’ worth of poetry she removed from her eighth-grade English class at Woodland Junior High School in Fayetteville, Ark. She also dropped some short stories and a favorite unit on the legends of King Arthur to make room for essays by Malcolm Gladwell and a chapter from “The Tipping Point,” Gladwell’s book about social behavior.

“I’m struggling with this, and my students are struggling,” said Highfill, who was named 2011 middle school teacher of the year in her state. “With informational text, there isn’t that human connection that you get with literature. And the kids are shutting down. They’re getting bored. I’m seeing more behavior problems in my classroom than I’ve ever seen.”

One professor of education pointed out what he’s hearing from teachers:

Sheridan Blau, a professor at Teachers College at Columbia University, said teachers across the country have told him their principals are insisting that English teachers make 70 percent of their readings nonfiction. “The effect of the new standards is to drive literature out of the English classroom,” he said.

Our friend Sandra Stotsky, professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas weighed in:

Sandra Stotsky, who wrote the outgoing Massachusetts’ pre-K-to-12 standards, which are regarded as among the best in the nation, said the Common Core’s emphasis on nonfiction is misguided.

Tackling rich literature is the best way to prepare students for careers and college, said Stotsky, who blames mediocre national reading scores on weak young adult literature popular since the 1960s.

“There is no research base for the claim that informational reading will lead to college preparedness better than complex literary study,” said Stotsky, a professor at the University of Arkansas.

At a convention of English teachers in November, Stotsky got an earful. “They hate the Common Core, they hate the idea they have to teach nonfiction,” she said.