Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Common Core Architect Says Teachers Are Overreacting To Nonfiction Requirement

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Indiana teachers will have to start teaching Common Core standards in 2014. Changes to the English language arts curriculum call for students to read more nonfiction.

We’ve written before that the coming Common Core standards put a greater emphasis on reading nonfiction and could change the kind of texts teachers use in their classrooms. According to The Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton, many English language arts teachers are dropping units on poetry or literature to make way for the new academic standards:

But the chief architect of the Common Core Standards said educators are overreacting as the standards move from concept to classroom.

“There’s a disproportionate amount of anxiety,” said David Coleman, who led the effort to write the standards with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Coleman said educators are misinterpreting the directives.

Yes, the standards do require increasing amounts of nonfiction from kindergarten through grade 12, Coleman said. But that refers to reading across all subjects, not just in English class, he said. Teachers in social studies, science and math should require more reading, which would allow English teachers to continue to assign literature, he said.

Indiana is one of 46 states on track to adopt the new standards by 2014. Layton’s article suggests English language arts teachers don’t have to chuck favorite novels or stories to incorporate more nonfiction in the curriculum, even though that’s what many have done.

Emily Richmond has a nice explanation of why the misinterpretation is worth noting. From The Educated Reporter:

This is a wrinkle I haven’t yet seen reported, and it certainly raises a lot of questions. Here’s a couple of mine: If the expectation is really that non-fiction texts will be used by teachers in all subject areas, and not just English class, why are those critical instructions buried in a footnote in a 60-plus page primer on the Common Core — as Layton pointed out? If English teachers are indeed abandoning literature in favor of non-fiction in a misguided attempt to comply with the new standards, shouldn’t somebody be calling a staff meeting?

Richmond writes that the Common Core has reached a “critical juncture” as states align to the new standards. The changes have many opponents, including Republicans who don’t like that the Obama administration has pushed for the new academic standards as part of the Race For The Top program.

In Indiana, the support of conservatives who oppose the Common Core may have helped defeat outgoing state superintendent Tony Bennett, who favors the changes. Superintendent-elect Glenda Ritz opposes the new standards.

What do you think about the requirement that schools move to more nonfiction texts as they adopt the Common Core?


  • Karynb9

    Well, Coleman should have clarified that position with all of the textbook publishers that are promoting new basal readers for elementary students that are “aligned with Common Core because they’re packed with non-fiction.”

  • Erin Tuttle

    The common core was “sold” on the basis that the common core standards were fewer, clearer and deeper than Indiana’s previous standards. If they are so much clearer, why all the confusion? Wasn’t this the type of ailment that the common core “elixir” would resolve?

    Teachers are interpreting the division of literary versus informational text in English class based on the fact that the common core ELA reading standards are divided into 10 for informational text and 9 for literary text. Looks like teachers aren’t confused, but only implementing what Coleman wrote (whether he wants to admit it or not). Teachers in some Indiana high schools are being told to teach only excerpts from literary works (not the whole book) in order to spend 50% of their time on informational text. What a shameful way to teach Huckleberry Finn, but I forgot, Huck Finn didn’t make the common core reading list.

    For more information on Indiana and the Common Core Standards please visit our website at

  • Jacques Cousteau

    Literature teaching close and critical reading of texts. For example:

    ““There’s a disproportionate amount of anxiety,” said David Coleman, who
    led the effort to write the standards with a grant from the Bill and
    Melinda Gates Foundation.”

    The guy who’s saying teachers are overreacting is the shill in the pocket of Bill and Melinda. Wow, knock me over with a feather.

    In other news, Hitler’s spokesperson said most of the Polish Jews were happy to relocate to concentration camps. I’m glad that was clarified!

  • Drea Davies

    What most people fail to understand is that this emphasis on nonfiction (70% in 12th grade for example) is across entire grade levels, not just for English. That means within 12th grade, students should read this percentage of nonfiction across all classes, not just English class. English is still responsible probably for the only fiction those students will get in school. Therefore, we need to teach literature in conjunction with nonfiction. Throwing units out is nuts! Just teach those units better. Try pairing a classic text with a nonfiction text emphasizing common themes. I’m an English teacher, and I find this new system worthwhile. Kids should be reading MORE, not less. Don’t dump-add more. Those kids aren’t reading enough-just look at the studies done about how often they use computers or watch TV.

    • ablecable

      Children are writing in cursive less often nowadays, too! Shock! Horror! And what happened to cave painting? Why, my ancestors would never put up with the like!

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