Sandra Stotsky, an illustrious professor of education reform whose specialty is K-12 curricular standards, is the principal author of an important recent survey addressing why the reading skills of American high-school students have ignominously stagnated in recent decades, despite infusions of ever more munificent public funding.
The survey, “Literary Study in Grades 9, 10, and 11: A National Survey,” concludes that the essential problem is
a fragmented literature curriculum coupled with high school English teachers’ approach to the study of both imaginative literature and nonfiction. [Note: The pedagogical approaches English teachers prefer -- not a close, analytical reading of assigned works but rather non-analytical approaches such as a personal response or a focus on a work’s historical or biographical context -- impede development of the knowledge and skills a large percentage of students need for authentic college coursework.] Additionally, the study found that there is no substitute for a coherent curriculum that addresses culturally and historically significant authors, literary periods, and movements in our own or other civic cultures, or careful analysis of assigned texts.
The verdict is forbidding:
little is left of a coherent and progressive literature curriculum with respect to two of its primary purposes: to acquaint students with the literary and civic heritage of English-speaking people, and to develop an understanding and use of the language needed for college coursework across a broad range of disciplines.