The Twilight Generation Can't Read

10.19.10 – Sandra Stotsky – A new ALSCW study suggests that fragmented English curricula and neglect of close reading impair reading scores and college readiness despite major increases in funding for elementary and secondary education.

This press release comes from the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers (ALSCW), an organization in whose founding many NAS members were involved, and in which they continue to participate. It was created in many ways to be an alternative to the Modern Language Association. The ALSCW has completed an interesting report on the state of the American high school English curriculum. One observation it makes is that the top books read by high school students are young adult fantasies. The ALSCW identifies this as a potential source of the decline in reading achievement among young Americans. Below are ALSCW’s other findings and recommendations. 

Boston, Mass., October, 2010. A newly released study by the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers (ALSCW) strongly suggests that two factors—a fragmented English curriculum and a neglect of close reading—may explain why the reading skills of American high school students have shown little or no improvement in several decades despite substantial increases in funds for elementary and secondary education by federal and state governments.  

The ALSCW report, entitled Literary Study in Grades 9, 10, And 11: A National Survey, analyzes the responses of more than four hundred representative public school teachers who were asked what works of literature they assign in standard and honors courses, and what approaches they use for teaching students how to understand imaginative literature and literary non-fiction.
Among the study’s major findings:
(1) The content of the literature and reading curriculum for students in standard or honors courses is no longer traditional or uniform in any consistent way. The most frequently mentioned titles are assigned in only a small percentage of courses, and the low frequencies for almost all the other titles English teachers assign point to an idiosyncratic literature curriculum for most students.
(2) The works teachers assign generally do not increase in difficulty from grade 9 to grade 11.
(3) Teachers do not favor close, analytical readings of assigned works. They prefer such non-analytical approaches as a personal response or a focus on a work’s historical or biographical context (for instance, class discussions of To Kill a Mockingbird that emphasize the Scottsboro Trials or Jim Crow laws in the South, rather than the novel’s plot, characters, style, and moral meaning).


  1. Betty Peters

    I always find Professor Stotsky's comments helpful. This short, easy to read article is right on target. I highly recommend it and will definitely share it widely.

    Betty Peters, State School Board Member

  2. Rachel

    Stop trashing teachers for the results of lazing parenting and a technologically driven society.

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October 19th, 2010

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