A Closer Read: Literature Is Still Alive and Well in the Classroom

Writing for the Daily Caller, Jamie Gass of the Pioneer Institute argues that prior to adopting the Common Core, “literature was central to the Bay State’s nation-leading English standards and tests. As a result, from 2005 to 2013, Massachusetts students outperformed their counterparts from every other state.”

All that was “traded away” when the state adopted Common Core, “which cut the classic fiction Bay State students read by 60 percent,” Gass contends.

However, literature has not been pushed out of the classroom, as Gass claims. Classic works of fiction, like Gulliver’s Travels, are still primary components of English classes. While states have begun to require more nonfiction materials – as much as 70 percent of texts for high-school students – those requirements are spread across all subjects, like social studies and sciences. That ensures literature remains a primary focus of English language arts.

“There is nothing in the Common Core that says literature cannot be used,” Meaghan Freeman, a high school English teacher, wrote last year. “In fact, after three years of using them in my classroom, I’ve found that the standards acknowledge that I am an English teacher and that they trust me to do my job.”

PolitiFact previously gave a “False” rating to the idea that literature has been squeezed out of classrooms. “Depending on how a school is organized, it would be possible for an English teacher to never touch an information text,” says Timothy Shanahan, a retired professor from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Mike Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, says such claims are “total baloney,” especially in early grades. “The ‘plain language’ of [states’] standards says that the early grades should focus primarily on literary texts.”

In testimony before the Ohio House Education Committee, Petrilli added the emphasis on non-fiction reading asks “schools to bring back rigorous content in history, science, art, music and literature… They ensure students read great works of literature and solid non-fiction sources too, like the nation’s founding documents.”

A report by the Center for American Progress notes that as states now require more nonfiction materials, “students are getting regular practice with complex and grade-level appropriate texts, using more informational texts, and practicing more evidence-based writing…bThe ELA standards are also influencing the way teachers approach instruction to help students achieve the standards.”

It is important to note that educators and school boards decide what to teach in their classrooms and what materials to use. That has always been the case, but the Every Student Succeeds Act further ensures those considerations are squarely in the hands of those at the front of the classroom.

Last year, 21 State Teachers of the Year explained high, consistent education standards do not “force teachers into a rigid model for classroom instruction… In fact, under the Common Core, teachers have greater flexibility to design their classroom lessons – and can, for the first time, take advantage of the best practices from great teachers in other states.”

Far from being removed from education, literature is alive and well as states continue to implement rigorous, comparable education standards.