Reading

Let’s see what’s new on the education reform front:

The new standards, which are slowly rolling out now and will be in place by 2014, require that nonfiction texts represent 50 percent of reading assignments in elementary schools, and the requirement grows to 70 percent by grade 12.

“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.”

But the chief architect of the Common Core Standards said educators are overreacting as the standards move from concept to classroom.

“There’s a disproportionate amount of anxiety,” said David Coleman, who led the effort to write the standards with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Coleman said educators are misinterpreting the directives.

Yes, the standards do require increasing amounts of nonfiction from kindergarten through grade 12, Coleman said. But that refers to reading across all subjects, not just in English class, he said. Teachers in social studies, science and math should require more reading, which would allow English teachers to continue to assign literature, he said.

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.

Timothy Shanahan, who chairs the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said school administrators apparently have flunked reading comprehension when it comes to the standards.

“Schools are doing some goofy things — principals or superintendents are not reading,” Shanahan, who was among the experts who advised Coleman on the standards, said.

There’s this common perception that people in higher education don’t know how things work in the real world. I don’t believe that in most cases, but it’s true here. Do the people who wrote these new standards really believe that teachers in other subjects would increase the amount of reading in their class? In theory they can and perhaps even should, but given the increasing role of standardized testing in all the subjects it would mean time away from material being tested. And since schools, and increasingly teachers, are judged on these standardized tests, it wouldn’t make sense to shift time away from material on the tests. Mr Shanahan who thinks administrators have flunked reading comprehension doesn’t seem to know how the real world works–you could say he has flunked the real world.

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