I've now seen multiple authors claim that the Common Core State Standards mandate that reading and English classes can only have 50% of their texts be literature, with the other 50% a variety of non-literary readings. For example, there's this new Heritage Foundation publication, and last month there was this (now corrected) New York Times piece.
That claim is untrue, and this post offers a review just how and why it is false.
Lets start with the one place that Common Core uses the number 50%: it's in this table on page 5 of the official standards document:
The document then explains that the Standards "aim to align instruction with" the NAEP reading framework, which does mean 50% literary reading in grade 4 and then smaller shares in grade 8 and grade 12.
The thing is, that does not mean 50% of an elementary school's reading hour or 30-45% of the one period a day the upper grades devote to language arts and English. Common Core stakes a claim to the full instructional day and homework time beyond that.
Here's the key Common Core statement that appears right below that table:
In K–5, the Standards follow NAEP’s lead in balancing the reading of literature with the reading of informational texts, including texts in history/ social studies, science, and technical subjects. In accord with NAEP’s growing emphasis on informational texts in the higher grades, the Standards demand that a significant amount of reading of informational texts take place in and outside the ELA classroom. Fulfilling the Standards for 6–12 ELA requires much greater attention to a specific category of informational text—literary nonfiction—than has been traditional. Because the ELA classroom must focus on literature (stories, drama, and poetry) as well as literary nonfiction, a great deal of informational reading in grades 6–12 must take place in other classes if the NAEP assessment framework is to be matched instructionally. [emphasis added]
Why does Common Core call for literature and more, studied in English classrooms and many others?
It's because today's students will read widely as tomorrow's adults:
- In their careers and postsecondary education, they'll need to read everything from scientific research and economic analysis to manuals for advanced machinery and guidance on implementing complex legal requirements.
- As citizens and community participants, they'll need to read analysis of current events, speeches, editorials, historical explanations, and on and on.
- As members and builders of our shared culture, naturally they'll also need to engage literature and richly literary nonfiction.
For our next generation, reading will be a mix of all those kinds of texts, so Common Core calls on our schools to equip them for that full range of expectations.
In fact, the document's proper name is "Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects." The proof that Common Core aims for high levels of fluency with literature and other reading texts, learned in English and other classrooms, is right there on the cover.
One more thing: Kentucky science, history, and other teachers are doing fabulous work to build those reading skills. Even if the Times has to correct its publications and even if Heritage never bothers to check its facts, our educators are engaging Common Core fully and thoughtfully, and our students are already gaining ground as a result.