A stress on informational reading in the English class will not develop “critical” thinking (by Sandra Stotsky)

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One of the sales pitches for Common Core’s English language arts standards is that a heavy diet of informational reading in the English class will increase “critical” or analytical thinking. But how are teachers and parents to know that black is white and freedom is slavery?   Reading researchers know there is absolutely no research to support the idea that increased study of “literary non-fiction” or “informational” texts in the English class will increase students’ level of analytical thinking.  No one tells us how reading “informational” texts could necessarily stimulate “critical” thinking better than literary reading–or stimulate it at all.  In fact, the opposite outcome is likelier: reducing the study of complex literature in the secondary English class to make way for texts with a mission will decrease opportunities for students to learn to read between the lines of whatever they read.

How much analytical thinking is apt to appear in the letters my grandson’s class was asked to write to a state official opining on whether Christopher Columbus should continue to be honored by a state holiday? Following the advice of a professional development provider, the teacher had given them selections on the fate of the Tainu Indians and from the supposed diary Columbus’s cabin boy kept.  Not surprisingly, every letter said Columbus shouldn’t be honored; not one dissident voice in the class. If that’s the kind of assignment that educators think will increase analytical thinking, we need fewer persuasive writing assignments, not more.

Some ostrich-like supporters of Common Core claim that there will be no reduction in the amount of literature assigned and studied.  Tell that to English teachers who have been told to divide their reading instructional time as Common Core does: 10 reading standards for informational texts, 9 for literary texts.  And in grade 12, make it 70% informational, even though Common Core explicitly says English teachers shouldn’t be responsible for 70%.  How much they should be responsible for, Common Core’s “chief” architect David Coleman doesn’t say.

How many test items or “performance tasks” the two testing consortia are developing will require high school students to analyze a complex literary text?  Not clear.  And how many parents will ever see those test items or tasks to find out how their children did on them?  Until there is a guarantee that these test items will be released after one year’s use so the public can examine them, why should anyone believe the score their children get means anything other than what the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain wants them to mean?