Fears about the absence of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird or JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye are merely myths that mask real facts on a new national curriculum, Common Core Standards Initiative advocates argue.
National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel said:
“Change is hard. And a healthy dose of skepticism may be in order, especially when the stakes are so high. But as a general rule, doomsday scenarios rarely materialize.”
Those doomsday scenarios have sparked misinformation about the effectiveness of the new national curriculum standards as most states prepare to implement the new federally sanctioned education initiative. Nonetheless, CCSI is thoroughly rooted in a strong liberal arts curriculum with the intent of getting America’s students prepared for the global economy.
The standards also correspond with the public and private sector’s push for STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—career fields, which analysts indicate are desperately needed in the coming years as the nation moves toward a digital technology based economy.
Though CCSI encompasses math and English and Language Arts (ELA) components, opponents are particularly worried the design of the ELA core eliminates the novels, poems and prose from celebrated authors that have encouraged successful reading and writing comprehension.
University of Arkansas Prof. Sandra Stotsky, a former senior associate commissioner who helped develop the highly successful ELA curriculum in Massachusetts, questioned the need for the 50 percent instructional time required to read informational or nonfiction texts as opposed to a concentrated study of complex literature.
“Why do Common Core’s architects believe that reading more nonfiction and ‘informational’ texts in English classes (and in other high school classes) will improve students’ college readiness,” Stotsky wrote for the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation. “Their belief seems to be based on what they see as the logical implication of the fact that college students read more informational than literary texts.”
According to CCSI, however, informational texts are introduced between grades K-5. From grades 6-12, informational texts remain, but shift toward literary nonfiction categorized three ways: ELA, History/Social Studies and Science, Mathematical and Technical Subjects.
Elementary students would see material like Robert Clyde Bulla’s A Tree is a Plant, Brian Floca’s Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 and Seymour Simon’s Volcanoes.
On the other hand, middle and high school students could read John Adams “Letter on Thomas Jefferson,” Ronald Reagan “Address to Students at Moscow State University” and Julian Bell’s Mirror of the World: A New History of Art.
Journalism, essays, important court cases and scientific documents are other forms of informational texts that educators could choose to assign their students. Additionally, there is a huge emphasis on civic education with a focus on studying historical federal documents like the Preamble and the U.S. Constitution, as well as presidential letters, speeches and other works that forge a political tone.
CCSI also expands reading beyond traditional American and European authors to include works from Latin American, African and Asian authors. There is also an increase in the study of African American literature, authors and subjects.
Interestingly, the Bible shows up several times in the CCSI outline, as a non-fiction work that could be used to understand its influence on great literary works, authors and movements. Experts also expanded ELA course materials to include digital media, film, video and other works.
CCSI developers put together a comprehensive list of several hundred titles for grades K-12 that educators, district administrators and state superintendents could choose from to fulfill the fiction, non-fiction and informational text requirements. States can also develop reading lists with works not listed, as long as they fit the standards outlined for each grade level.
Of the list of titles, the most controversial titles occur a few times and fall under the Science, Mathematical and Technical Subjects.
Documents such as the California Invasive Plant Council Invasive Plant Inventory; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency/U.S. Department of Energy Recommended Levels of Insulation; and U.S. General Services Administration Executive Order 13423 are all listed as options for 6th to 12th grade level reading.
Harper Lee is still listed, as well as John Steinbeck, Emily Dickinson, Ray Bradbury and William Shakespeare.
What may worry educators is the mere existence of informational texts that fall outside the scope of traditional fiction and non-fiction literature, and the thought that teachers would need to teach subjects beyond English and Language Arts.
Common Core proponents explain that the use of informational texts expand the types of literature that students are exposed to and break the mold of what constitutes English and Language Arts in relation to a person’s real world experiences with certain literary texts.
On the contrary, Common Core outlines several ELA-leaning criteria science and technology teachers have to follow that demonstrates reading comprehension of analytical and scientific texts.
Informational texts also provide an early introduction to the type of material certain students who are interested in STEM careers may have to read or study. An eighth or ninth grader who may be interested in biology, may appreciate reading informational texts from the EPA that fit their interest in the subject versus just William Shakespeare or Edgar Allen Poe.
Currently, 45 states and the District of Columbia have signed onto the initiative, though Indiana is thinking about pulling out due to mixed results after implementing some of the standards within the last two years. Only 5 states—Texas, Alaska, Minnesota, Virginia, Nebraska—and Puerto Rico opted out of the Common Core Standards.
There is no indication that Common Core Standards would replace No Child Left Behind or that standardized testing would be eliminated. If successful, Common Core Standards would provide comprehensive educational standards consistently applied cross state lines to raise student academic achievement in reading, writing and math comprehension.