How Much Literature Will Kids Actually Read?

SchoolBook recently interviewed David Coleman who is now President of the College Board before his tenure there he was one of the chief authors of the Common Core State Standards.  He defended against the charge that 70% of the reading that will be done under the ELA standards are informational texts saying literature remains critical.

They write:

Teachers, prominent educators, and journalists have questioned the English recommendations that call for increased use of nonfiction. Sara Mosle raised these issues in a piece on the New York Times website. 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.

In an interview on Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen, Coleman maintained that the backlash is a misunderstanding of the numbers – particularly the standard that 70 percent 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 told 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 said. The standards cite Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham” as an example. Coleman emphasized that the reading should be of “high quality,” not abridgements of classics, or sixth-grade novels used in high school.”

Sandra Stotsky, professor of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, said that Coleman still isn’t being clear about the new expectation.

He’s still refusing to clarify what is in the Common Core document.  For ELA Reading, the standards are divided into 10 for informational text and 9 for literary text.  That is about 50/50.   And that is exactly how superintendents and others are interpreting this division.  And, here in Fayetteville, English teachers are being told, authoritatively, that they have time only for literary excerpts in high school classes since 50% of their time must be spent on informational/nonfiction reading.   Why is this happening?  Why such misunderstandings?

As for his remark that a portion of time will be spent on “high-quality literary nonfiction”, it always has–about 20-25% of the time.   He needs to explain the division of reading standards into the 50/50 groups.  He also needs to say what percentage literary study is to be in the English class in grade 12 if the 70% is across all subjects.   He is not dense.

Gretchen Logue who writes at Missouri Education Watchdog pointed out that his explanation doesn’t really matter when they shouldn’t have written the standards in the first place.

Why should schools have their standards dictated to them by David Coleman?

Can we just get people to somehow understand that Coleman isn’t an elected official in charge of setting educational standards? Can we somehow get people upset that these folks are using our children and tax dollars and are unaccountable to those same taxpayers?

NYC Public School Parents yesterday pointed out some problems with Coleman’s defense.

As an example, he proposes that “math students could read Euclid’s “Elements” from 300 B.C.” I haven’t read much Euclid lately, but even if appropriate, this text would likely be very dense.  Only one or at most two pages of geometry can be absorbed per night, along with proofs, problem sets, etc. 

Coleman’s comments lead me to suspect that he and other supporters of the Common Core have not thought their prescription out carefully. Traditionally, in high school English classes, two novels, at least one play and several poems are regularly assigned; that works out to 700 pages of text or more. In order to achieve the 70% ratio without sacrificing huge chunks of literature that would mean that more than 1500 pages of non-fiction would have to be parceled out across all subjects.

And what about K-5 grades? Clearly, the 50% quota in these grades means that half of all assigned reading must be non-fiction in every classroom.  Starting in about third grade, for their independent reading, my son and his friends used to read at least four novels per year, each of them at least 350 pages. They would then have to be assigned 2000 pages of non-fiction in homework to “balance” this out – or else sacrifice the novels which absorbed them and drew them away from video games for at least 40 minutes a night.

David Coleman, who never taught a day in his life, yet was given the power to make these irrational and arbitrary prescriptions for the nation’s schoolchildren.  Who appointed him Czar: Bill Gates?

So how much literature will kids actually read?  It’s still uncertain, but if schools are to comply with the Common Core ELA standards certainly less than they have before.  Which is another reason to scrap them.