Salon had an article New education standards elbow out literature bemoaning the requirements of the new Common Core Standards for K-12, adopted by more than 40 states, “that 50 percent of elementary school reading be nonfiction, climbing to 70 percent by 12th grade.” The article goes on to quote an eighth grade English teacher in Arkansas who said she had to drop 6 weeks of poetry and a unit on the legends of King Arthur in order to accommodate essays by Malcolm Gladwell and other nonfiction works.
I think the article gives a rather misleading impression of the Common Core Standards. If one looks at the official Standards for Literacy, it is clear that the 70% nonfiction for 12th grade (55% for 8th grade) is to be spread across the entire curriculum – not confined to English class. Students should be reading the Federalist Papers and Martin Luther King’s “Letters from a Birmingham Jail,” in Social Studies, articles from Nature magazine in Science, etc. This would be a big change from the standard textbook approach (vs original texts) in high school. No telling how school boards & administrators will implement these standards, but the English teacher quoted in the article should NOT have to delete her poetry unit. Her students should be reading the nonfiction social studies essays in their social studies class.
Apparently there is reason to question whether the intent of the Common Core Standards is actually being implemented, according to examples cited in a Washington Post article:
In practice, the burden of teaching the nonfiction texts is falling to English teachers, said Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University: “You have chemistry teachers, history teachers saying, ‘We’re not going to teach reading and writing, we have to teach our subject matter. That’s what you English teachers do.’ ”
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.
While the Common Core Standards have the potential, in my opinion, to improve critical thinking skills and not just emphasize rote learning (a too common result of No Child Left Behind), I guess we need to examine closely how our local public schools are actually implementing these new Standards.