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New school standards include ratios for fiction, nonfiction reading

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Minnesota Reading Corps tutor Maria Rios (right) works with third grader Francisco Jaramillo at Mississippi Magnet Creative Arts Magnet school in St. Paul, Minn. on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

The new Common Core State Standards in English require that nonfiction texts represent 50 percent of reading assignments in elementary schools, increasing to 70 percent by grade 12. Some educators are concerned that much will be lost in a child's education if texts like "Hamlet" are replaced with "Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy and Transportation Management." 

"Reading teachers as a group tend to love prose fiction and they want everyone else to love, too," wrote Timothy Shanahan, professor and chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the College of Education at the University of Illinois-Chicago. "Not surprisingly the international comparisons have found that U.S. kids do better with literary texts than informational ones (not the pattern among our trading partners). That's imbalance is troubling because informational text includes the reading of science, history, mathematics, business, health, finance, engineering, journalism, anthropology, political science, economics, and environmental sciences."

Others say the standards are being misinterpreted. They don't apply solely to English classes, but to students' entire school reading experience. Non-fiction, or informational texts, can also be assigned in math, social studies and science classes. 

"If the ratios apply to all courses, can't we assume that students will read "informational text" in math, science, civics, history, and other subjects, leaving teachers of English language arts to assign as much fiction or non-fiction as they want?" wrote Diane Ravitch, research professor of education at New York University. "In the interests of clarity, here's what I want: the ratios should be eliminated. They are an overreach. They have no basis in research or experience. There is no justification for imposing them."

Shanahan and Ravitch will join The Daily Circuit Wednesday, Jan. 15 to discuss the revised Common Core Standards.