Phi Beta Cons

Why High Schoolers’ Reading Skills Are Sickly

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. 

The study does not just demonstrate the causes of reading underachievement but also specifies what needs to be done to correct the deficiencies. Do read more, for our higher-education institutions will remain fatally hobbled until this systemic pre-college institutional breakdown is forthrightly confronted.

Candace de Russy — Candace de Russy is a nationally recognized expert on education and cultural issues.

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

Update on Alfie Evans

In the few hours since I sent in the piece below, a remarkable succession of events has occurred that paint the decision of the UK authorities in ever-bleaker colors. In the hospital, Alfie was removed from the respirator in accordance with the court’s decision. For the moment, however, he has continued ... Read More

Hurray for the NBA

Last month, just before the Final Four, I did a Q&A on college basketball with our Theodore Kupfer. Teddy K. is back, by popular demand, joined by two other experts: Vivek Dave, an old friend of mine from Michigan, who has long lived in Chicago, and David French, National Review’s Kentucky Kid, now ... Read More
Economy & Business

Trade Misunderstandings

I was distracted by other policy topics last week but not enough not to notice Peter Navarro’s article in the Wall Street Journal, headlined “China’s Faux Comparative Advantage.” Considering Navarro’s position in the White House, it is unfortunate that it demonstrates some serious misunderstandings ... Read More

Monday Links

A Supercut of Epic Movie Explosions. Can You Solve These 10 Medieval Riddles? The cost to make a Margherita pizza: $1.77. How much restaurants charge on average for a pizza: $12. The actual costs of restaurant foods. Vintage animation lessons -- how to make things cute. London's "Great ... Read More

On Trade, No One Is Waiting for Washington

President Donald Trump’s flips and flops on trade are now as ubiquitous as his 5:00 a.m. tweets. Many predicted that trade-expansion efforts would come to a standstill and world commerce would suffer amidst all the uncertainty. Instead, the precise opposite has happened. In the last few months, it’s become ... Read More
National Security & Defense

Trump’s Syria Quandary

President Trump raised eyebrows recently when he ended a tweet lauding the airstrikes he’d ordered against chemical-weapons facilities in Syria with the words “mission accomplished.” The phrase, of course, became infamous in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, when President Bush used it in a speech ... Read More