by Robert Pondiscio
November 2nd, 2011
The Common Core is one of the biggest stories in American education right now, and has been woefully undercovered in the press,” writes Dana Goldstein. To her mind (and I agree) the “potentially most controversial recommendation” embedded in CCSS is its insistence on balancing the amount of fiction and nonfiction studied in U.S. schools. ”Currently, according to [CCSS author David] Coleman, American students are reading about 80 percent fiction and 20 percent ‘informational texts.’” CCSS shifts the balance to 50/50, in order to “better approximate the kinds of reading and writing students will be expected to do in college and eventually in their careers.”
Goldstein applauds the shift noting, “I have written in the past about the problem of American teens not reading and writing serious non-fiction.”
“If I’m skeptical of any part of this effort, it’s probably the strong belief, voiced by advocates like Coleman and [Laura] Solver, that high-quality assessments will drive states, schools, and teachers to faithfully implement these new standards. There’s a long history in American education reform of believing that better tests will lead to better schools and deeper learning; as authors like Nick Lemann and Herbert Kliebard have demonstrated, that isn’t usually the case.”
I’m slightly less skeptical than Goldstein. High-stakes assessments certainly do change practices, even if those changes don’t always impact outcomes. That said, I’ve long felt that if you really want to see a change –and create a boom in close reading and academic writing–the single best strategy would be to get colleges to stop asking for personal essays and demand instead at least two pieces of teacher-graded academic writing as part of the application process. If getting into a competitive college did not turn an applicant’s ability to churn out 800 words on “how you’ve grown as a person” or “the most difficult challenge in your life”–if instead you had to demonstrate your ability to engage in close reading and textual analysis–the change would occur overnight.
It has often been observed that the best way to change public education would be to make private schools illegal. This might be the second best way.