The specifics are spelled out in a footnote on page 5 of the 66-page standards.
In practice, the burden of teaching the nonfiction texts is falling to English teachers, said Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University: “You have chemistry teachers, history teachers saying, ‘We’re not going to teach reading and writing, we have to teach our subject matter. That’s what you English teachers do.’ ”
Sheridan Blau, a professor at Teachers College at Columbia University, said teachers across the country have told him their principals are insisting that English teachers make 70 percent of their readings nonfiction. “The effect of the new standards is to drive literature out of the English classroom,” he said.
Timothy Shanahan, who chairs the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said school administrators apparently have flunked reading comprehension when it comes to the standards.
“Schools are doing some goofy things — principals or superintendents are not reading,” Shanahan, who was among the experts who advised Coleman on the standards, said.
Sandra Stotsky, who wrote the outgoing Massachusetts’ pre-K-to-12 standards, which are regarded as among the best in the nation, said the Common Core’s emphasis on nonfiction is misguided.
Tackling rich literature is the best way to prepare students for careers and college, said Stotsky, who blames mediocre national reading scores on weak young adult literature popular since the 1960s.
“There is no research base for the claim that informational reading will lead to college preparedness better than complex literary study,” said Stotsky, a professor at the University of Arkansas.
At a convention of English teachers in November, Stotsky got an earful. “They hate the Common Core, they hate the idea they have to teach nonfiction,” she said.
Stotsky and others have accused Coleman, who studied English literature at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, of trying to elevate fact-based reading and writing at the expense of literature and creative writing.
In a speech last year at the New York State Education Building, Coleman derided the personal essays that characterize most writing in primary and secondary schools.
“Forgive me for saying this so bluntly, the only problem with . . . [that] writing is as you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a [expletive] about what you feel or what you think,” Coleman said, according to a recording. “What they instead care about is, can you make an argument with evidence, is there something verifiable behind what you’re saying or what you think or feel that you can demonstrate to me? It is rare in a working environment that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday, but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.’ ”