By: Timothy Shanahan
The Common Core State Standards represent the most audacious and far-reaching curriculum change that I’ve witnessed across my long career (I’ve been banging at this for more than 40 years). The standards are asking that we give kids texts that, in the past, we would have said were too hard for them. We’re also being discouraged from doing as much out-of-grade-level reading placements. These changes will require that teachers teach reading in very different ways than they’ve been taught.
Further, under the Common Core standards, kids are being asked to write about the ideas in texts—rather than just reading the texts for comprehension. There’s much more attention on argument and debate; in their writing and oral presentations, students will have to refine their ability to make reasoned arguments on the basis of evidence. In grades 6–12, students are expected to spend considerable time reading and writing across the curriculum, and they need to learn to read like historians and write like scientists. And then there’s close reading. . . . Don’t get me started.
But of all the changes in English language arts that are prompted by the Common Core standards, guess which one has been most controversial? Believe it or not, what has aroused the most heated arguments and vociferous criticism, both inside and outside of education, is the idea that students need to read more informational text in school.
Informational texts are texts that present arguments or factual information about our natural and social worlds. If a principal is going to get challenged by his or her community about any language or literacy issue linked to the Common Core, it’s likely to be because the kids are now being asked to read the Gettysburg Address, a book on Harriet Tubman, or one on porpoises. Go figure. Even some ill-informed educators have gotten into the act, making claims that it’s developmentally inappropriate to allow elementary students to read such materials. Go figure again. As the kids say, “LOL.”
What’s a busy administrator to do when some factions are militating against having kids read about science, history, current affairs, and the arts? What’s so strange is that some of these critics see themselves as patriots, and yet they’re angry that your teachers may have kids read the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, Lincoln’s second inaugural address, or Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech.
I’m sure you’ve been told that when you’re up to your neck in alligators, it’s hard to remember that your purpose was to drain the swamp. My article in the November 2013 issue of EL should provide you with information that may help you remember why you wanted to be a school leader in the first place, allow you to protect your school curriculum from these outlandish criticisms, and maintain your poise and sense of humor. Be there or be square.