Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Skills Gap

In The Hill newspaper today here, Senator Rubio calls for action to reduce what he calls the "skills gap" of American students.  I pretty much agree with him, but he left out a crucial issue:

Mr. Rubio, there is one reform that, across the board in every subject and in every classroom, would drastically improve the skill level of U.S. students.  It’s not tricky, every teacher could do it, and it doesn’t cost much.

Here it is:  Throw out the all of the Language Arts exercises mandated by the new Common Core standards, and flood the classrooms with high interest mysteries, fantasy novels, suspense thrillers, romances—and any other reading that kids can easily love.

You don’t believe me?  Here is one of the standards for 8-year-olds:  CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.2  "Recount stories, including fables, folktales, and myths from diverse cultures; determine the central message, lesson, or moral and explain how it is conveyed through key details in the text.”

Could third graders do that?  Well, maybe, with a LOT of coaching.  But why bother?  Third graders need to be hunched over fascinating reading material.  Making them find lessons and morals in multi-cultural myths will simply turn them off to reading. 

Stephen Krashen, in his book The Power of Reading:  Insights from the Research, explains that teaching skills is just testing skills.  Kids acquire skills through wide, avid reading.

To increase the skill level of our students, we need to make developing avid readers our first priority. This means schools must be told to stop doing all of these useless skill exercises that discourage that development. Once students have excellent reading skills, they can easily acuire the other skills that the job market requires. Kids who are poor readers have trouble in all academic areas. 

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