Last night in my YA Materials class we were reading books about the Civil Rights movement: They Call Themselves the KKK; Claudette Colvin; Freedom Riders; Marching for Freedom. Some of the students knew Sue’s Hitler Youth, but otherwise the authors, the books, and even the subjects of some of the books were new to my 20-40Xyear old students. The books sparked some debate in that some of the students who are familiar with YA novels found the wide formats with many illustrations more middle grade than YA, and wondered if teenagers would resist the books for that reason. I am usually so grateful for the real estate in which to show images that I had not thought of that objection. But overall the students loved the books, especially in contrast to the textbook treatments of the same subjects they knew. One, who already works in a small school library, said she was working closely with a history teacher and she would love to bring these books to his students — and chuck the textbook entirely. But, how?
How is the key question. Does the class break up into, say, three reading groups, each gets a few copies of one book to share, and then they report back? Does the library house a single copy or a couple and students all use it there? Interlibrary loan? The books themselves meet a need. The hardcover format and price make it impossible for them perform that function. So we have a log jam in the schools, which publishers must face if they want to take advantage of the Common Core opportunity.
Which brings up another log jam. The CC mandates that students read works of increasing text complexity. Schools are scrambling to meet this challenge, and publishers have noticed. But, at the same time, publishers are mandated to Lexile their books if they want to sell into schools — using an extremely limited metric to match text and grade.
Whether it is trade books that are perfect for students but unavailable to them as classroom reads, or books that would challenge students and expand their thinking and reading, but are artifically categorized as too old for them due to their Lexile numbers, in opening up schools CC is also running into barbed wire. We all need to think about how to cut through.