Our guest author today is Kathleen Porter-Magee, Bernard Lee Schwartz policy fellow and editor of the Common Core Watch blog at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Previously, Ms. Porter-Magee served as both a middle and high school teacher, as well as the curriculum and professional development director for a network of public charter schools.
Up until now, the Common Core ELA standards were considered path-breaking mostly because of their reach. This isn’t the first time a group attempted to write “common” standards, but it is the first time they’ve gained such widespread traction.
Yet the Common Core standards are revolutionary for another, less talked about, reason: they define rigor in reading and literature classrooms more clearly and explicitly than nearly any of the state ELA standards they’ve replaced. Now, as the full impact of these expectations is starting to take hold, the decision to define rigor—and the way the CCSS define it—is fanning the flames of a debate that threatens to open up a whole new front in America’s long running “Reading Wars.”
The first and most divisive front in the reading wars was the debate over the importance of phonics to early reading instruction. Thanks to the 2000 recommendations of the National Reading Panel and the 2001 “Reading First” portion of No Child Left Behind, the phonics camp has largely won the day in this battle. Now, while there remain curricula that may marginalize the importance of phonics and phonemic awareness, there are none that ignore it completely. Read More »
It is well established that a student’s reading proficiency level in elementary school is a good predictor of high school graduation success. The lower the reading level, the more likely it is that the student will not graduate on time. Against this background, it is sobering that many U.S. students reach high school without the reading and comprehension skills they need. According to NAEP data, in 2011, more than a third (33 percent) of 4th-graders were reading at a below basic level; among 8th-grade and 12th grade students, the percentage of students who were stuck at the below basic reading level had dropped, but only to about 25 percent. Many of these students drop out; many go on to earn a diploma, but enter the work world singularly unprepared to earn a living.
What is to be done? Certainly, intensive remediation is part of the answer, but so are practice and motivation and interest. The challenge for struggling readers at the high school level is hard to overstate; by the time they enter high school, they often display a negative and despairing attitude toward school that has been hardened by years of failure. Furthermore, most high school teachers are not trained in literacy instruction, a specialized skill which is theoretically the purview of early elementary school. Indeed, for many urban teachers, motivating kids just to come to school is the major challenge.
How do we motivate these kids, who sometimes exhibit stubborn resistance to reading or to any other kind of schoolwork? One effective strategy is to make the purpose of reading as interesting and obvious as possible. For many youngsters, that means access to high-quality Career and Technical Education (CTE). Read More »