No time for stories?

Under the new Common Core Standards, students would spend half their reading time on “informational” texts in K-5 and 70 percent in middle and high school. This will weaken the public school curriculum, writes Sandra Stotsky, who directed the development of Massachusetts’ English Language Arts standards.

Standards writer David Coleman overstates the percentage of the elementary school day spent on literary stories and misunderstands why teachers use stories, Stotsky writes. It’s easier for poor readers to understand narratives.

If anything, elementary teachers reduced reading instructional time after the 1960s to make more time for writing and revising experience-based stories. Over the years, sales of history, science, grammar, and spelling textbooks declined for a variety of reasons. Education schools stressed hands-on science (which most elementary teachers were not trained to teach) and “more engaging” history materials, much of which came to be written in story form for the sake of struggling readers. Reading instructional series (A.K.A. basal readers) then integrated spelling, grammar, vocabulary, and composition study as part of their programs to make the language arts cohere with what students were reading.

Schools didn’t eliminate science, history, and geography; they just eliminated the means by which these subjects could be taught systematically and accurately by teachers who knew little about these subjects. In addition, struggling readers couldn’t read (or didn’t want to read) history and science textbooks, no matter how much publishers lowered the reading levels of these textbooks.

As tracking fell out of favor in middle schools, English teachers “began teaching more literature written at an elementary school reading level and fewer challenging or even grade-appropriate literary texts,” Stotsky writes.

An elementary teacher can make time to teach students to read literary stories and understand informational texts, she writes. A secondary-school “English teacher has only 45-60 minutes a day . . . to teach everything assigned to the English curriculum.”