To the Editor:
Where is the national conversation on what should be taught in the secondary English class and how? How was one person, David Coleman—known as the chief architect of the common-core standards—able to turn the entire school curriculum upside down, with nothing to support his bizarre ideas on doing “cold,” i.e., noncontextual, readings of historical documents and reducing literary study to less than 50 percent of reading instructional time, all in the name of leveling the playing field?
I recently came across the following “assessment prompt” imposed on 8th grade English teachers in a high-achieving school system by a common-core “consultant":
“After researching the people and events surrounding the Russian Revolution and reading Animal Farm by George Orwell, write an informational essay that defines allegory and explains how three events and/or characters in the novel are parallel to events and/or people in Russia during its revolution and the reign of Joseph Stalin. Support your explanation with text-based evidence from Animal Farm and your research. Be sure to include why this is relevant in today’s world in your conclusion.”
Raters are to look for “accurate use of content-specific vocabulary,” such as “Communism, Socialism, corruption, Marxism, Bolshevik, propaganda.”
This is a ludicrous assignment at any educational level. Did no one in the central office check this consultant’s application of Mr. Coleman’s educational views to the curriculum? Didn’t English teachers complain? Did no 8th grade student complain to a parent? This is hardly the first such example to reach the media.
Why haven’t the media asked literary scholars for their views on what incoming high school freshmen should have read? Surely they must want more than 7th grade reading skills.
Earlier this year, Renaissance Learning Inc. came out with its latest report on what American students read, based on a survey conducted in fall 2012 about the preceding academic year. The average level of what kids in grades 9-12 read in school year 2011-12 reached a new low on the reading-level scale developed by Renaissance, dropping further below a 6th grade reading level than had been the case in 2010.
How far must we decline before naive governors and state legislators realize they must construct an alternative public school system?
Professor Emerita of Education Reform
University of Arkansas
A version of this article appeared in the May 22, 2013 edition of Education Week as ‘Cold’ Reading, Common Core Limit Students’ Literacy Gains