The text of the Gettysburg Address on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The Common Core proposes having students study the structure and content of such texts in detail, reading for comprehension before emotional connection. (Reuters)
"I have reading comprehension." She whispered it, as though it were a communicable disease. The young woman and I were chatting outside the meeting room at a prestigious university where an education symposium was taking place. She was a college sophomore, bright, talented, and confident. With a bit of pressing, I verified that what she meant was that she had poor reading comprehension skills and had struggled with reading throughout all of her school years. Having learned that I was an English professor, she wanted me to suggest books for her to read; she wanted to enjoy reading more. I readily provided, along with some slight comfort.
"Many of my college students have trouble reading," I told her. "And it's not your fault or theirs. Students just aren't being taught how to read anymore."
She nodded emphatically. "I don't feel like I've ever been taught how to read well," she said.
She is far from alone.
When I was invited recently to attend a two-day conference with David Coleman, president of the College Board and the main architect of the Common Core State Standards, I was skeptical. With seven years of experience in secondary education and over twenty years in higher education, I've seen a lot of so-called reform. The purpose of my meeting with Coleman, who'd assembled a small group of scholars, writers, and, educators, was to explore the state of reading today and the opportunities offered by the Common Core literacy standards for improving reading skills. After two days of discussion with stakeholders united by a love of language and a desire to increase the level of reading comprehension at all learning levels, I was convinced. The Common Core's "deep reading" approach to literacy and language arts is desperately needed, and will give students like the one I talked to at the symposium the tools to be prepared for college, career, and life--tools they currently lack. I know because I see these unprepared students in my college classroom.