We Need to Stop Retreating to the Education Policy Status Quo

The Washington Post reports that certain teachers are in a tizzy because the Common Core standards call for less fiction and more non-fiction. The tantrum isn’t due to the fact that they’re opposed to the Common Core in principal or practicality, they merely think the status quo is pretty great.

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.

I understand that Stotsky feels the status quo is fine, but you can’t argue that the status quo is fine because the entire reason something like the Common Core exists is that most people agree the status quo is not fine. It’s fair to argue that the Common Core is not the right change, but almost nobody agrees that, in general, the curriculum should remain the same. If there’s anything people can agree on it’s that the the current way of doing things is not good enough. So if you happen to be angry about more non-fiction you need to propose something innovative. You’re two years late to the argument about whether the status quo should change.

These debates with the past happen all the time in education policy. For example, long after it became clear we needed new hiring and firing practices teachers still retreated to the status quo. Fortunately, in the last few years things have changed and now teacher advocacy groups are working on new solutions. These solutions may still be wholly unacceptable to many, but at least there’s an acknowledgement that the status quo is untenable and innovation is necessary. This is an important first step, and the non-fiction haters should do their best to take it.


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