Should students read more non-fiction?

An interesting education debate is occurring in the USA at the moment.

The new Common Core State Standards require the teaching of more non-fiction texts, ostensibly aimed at improving standards.

Apparently reading scores for 17 year-olds have not improved significantly since 1980, and it is the opinion of some experts that an increased emphasis on the teaching of non-fiction texts in subject English is the key to changing this situation. According to the Standards, in fourth grade there should be a 50/50 mix of fiction and non-fiction, while by Year 12 it is recommended that 70% of the texts studied should be non-fiction.

Other experts argue that there is no evidence that the study of fiction, rather than non-fiction, is linked to lower reading scores. Likewise, they say there is no evidence that significant improvement will result from an increased emphasis on the study of non-fiction.

They argue that literature – of the ‘great and good’ variety, rather than the dumbed-down kind that sometimes prevails in schools these days – is a perfect vehicle for developing students’ critical skills.

In addition there are some claims that English teachers lack the necessary training to teach non-fiction texts anyway, and further professional learning will be necessary.

I wonder what we think about this debate here in Australia? Would we like to see an increased emphasis on the teaching of non-fiction texts?