Overemphasizing Reading as a Skill

Dr. Gary Houchens is a  former teacher, principal, and school district administrator now serves as Associate Professor of Educational Administration, Leadership, & Research at Western Kentucky University. He is also a member of the Kentucky State Board of Education.

He discusses Kentucky’s upcoming review of the Common Core English/Language Arts and Math standards required by SB 1 that passed this year and signed into law by Governor Matt Bevin.

He makes an observation about reading instruction that I think is spot-on.

I’ve grown deeply concerned about a shift that has taken place in reading instruction in recent years and the impact I think that shift has had on students of poverty. Specifically, I believe that an over-emphasis on reading as a skill has caused schools to neglect social studies, science, and arts in early grades, ultimately depriving many students of the domain-specific knowledge they need for reading comprehension and academic success in later grades.

Content matters. Houchens continues citing E.D. Hirsch:

Hirsch argues there is no such thing as a generic skill for finding the main idea in a passage. Citing research summarized by Daniel Willingham, he says that such generic skills can be effectively taught in as little as ten lessons, at which point instructional time should shift toward teaching students the domain-specific content knowledge they need to actually understand complex reading passages in later grades.

It’s also just the overall approach seen in Common Core and education reformers who promote those standards. They emphasize skills over content. They don’t want to encourage “rote” memorization of facts that students can Google. Instead, they’ll argue, let’s teach critical thinking skills.

This trend was prevalent when I reviewed Iowa’s new Social Studies standards. There was little content to be found.

Exactly what are students to think critically about or, as Houchens points out, comprehend as they get into Middle School and High School?