The far-left Center for American Progress (CAP) has issued a report noting that as little as five percent of the English curriculum for 12th grade consists of university-level texts. Seniors are much more likely to read young-adult novels such as Divergent than they are Shakespeare. The report’s author bemoans the “stark gap” between the complexity of what they’re reading and that of what they’ll confront in college, or even “in the military or the workplace.”
Dr. Sandra Stotsky could be forgiven a touch of Schadenfreude if she were inclined to that. For years now Stotsky, the nation’s preeminent English language arts (ELA) standards expert, has warned that this downward trend in reading level would not be reversed — and probably would accelerate — under the Common Core national standards. In dozens of speeches, papers, and articles (particularly a Pioneer Institute report co-authored by Dr. Mark Bauerlein), Dr. Stotsky explained a century’s worth of research establishing that the more students read classic literature, the better their reading and comprehension skills. But the Common Core ELA standards move in exactly the opposite direction — mandating that 50 percent of the ELA curriculum be devoted to non-fiction “informational text,” which is almost by definition less complex and less challenging than the classics.
The Common Core structure not only diminishes the amount of literary study in ELA classrooms, its recommendations for what types of fiction should be read are weighted against the classics. The Common Core list of recommended texts for ELA classrooms eliminates (except for minimal Shakespeare) British literature. No Austen, no Dickens, no Stevenson. In place of great British novels it suggests soft-core pornography such as The Bluest Eye.
Stotsky has pointed out that the ELA curriculum in American public schools has been deteriorating for at least half a century (a phenomenon roughly coinciding with the federal government’s plunge into education policy, not that there could possibly be any connection). What was needed to reverse the problem was a return to a rigorous, liberal-arts curriculum such as that spawned by the excellent pre-Common Core standards in Massachusetts. But what happened instead was the adoption of Common Core — which shifted the problem into overdrive.
Jane Robbins is an attorney and a senior fellow with the American Principles Project.