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It’s official: US schools are teaching less fiction

Children read books in the library of a school in Vincennes
Reuters/Charles Platiau
So long to story time.
  • Jenny Anderson
By Jenny Anderson

Senior reporter, Editor of How to be Human

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Kids love stories. Teachers love reading and teaching stories to students. But tough new curriculum standards in the US mean fiction, the primary way teachers teach reading, is falling out of favor in the classroom.

Tom Loveless, a researcher with the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center for Education Policy, dug into recent national education data, which included teacher surveys about what kinds of texts they use in the classroom. They are using less fiction, he found.

Here’s how the data broke down in 4th grade:

and in 8th grade:

“Fiction has long dominated reading instruction,” he wrote on the Brown Center Chalkboard. “That dominance appears to be waning.”

“I am more persuaded that Common Core influenced the recent shift towards nonfiction than I am that Common Core has significantly affected student achievement—for either good or ill,” Loveless wrote.

Stories are a critical way for children to learn, says Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia who studies the application of cognitive psychology to kindergarten to secondary education. Kids learn most when things have meaning; good stories touch on universal themes like love, war, and death to create meaning. He writes:

Research from the last 30 years shows that stories are indeed special. Stories are easy to comprehend and easy to remember, and that’s true not just because people pay close attention to stories; there is something inherent in the story format that makes them easy to understand and remember.

Mark Bauerlein, a professor at Emory College, and Sandra Stotsky a professor at the University of Arkansas wrote a white paper (pdf) about how the ELA standards were putting college readiness at risk. “We are not aware of any research showing that college readiness depends on any percentage of informational reading in the English class, 50 percent of any other proportions. To the contrary, the relevant information  we can locate  prompts us to look elsewhere for reasons why large numbers of high school students in this country fail to  respond successfully to the challenges of higher education.” 

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