Costly, ineffective and eternal

Reading Recovery, a tutorial program for first graders, costs the Madison, Wisconsin school district $1.5 million a year or about $8,400 per successful participant. The program “does not achieve statistically significant achievement gains,” according to a report commissioned by the superintendent, Art Rainwater. Here’s the headline from The Isthmus:

Reading program not worth the cost, says new study
Remedial effort for struggling first-graders is faulted; Rainwater pledges that it will continue

School Information System reports on a Madison school with a successful reading program called Direct Instruction, which provides a script for teachers and uses phonics. It’s cheaper than Reading Recovery and reaches all students.

Here’s a link to a presentation on Direct Instruction.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. >Supt. Rainwater urges people to keep a balanced view. He says the study results were what he expected, and the program will continue: “Would we walk away from a program that is enabling 50% of our children who are not successful in reading to be successful? No, we wouldn’t. That would be crazy.”>Supt. Rainwater urges people to keep a balanced view. He says the study results were what he expected, and the program will continue: “Would we walk away from a program that is enabling 50% of our children who are not successful in reading to be successful? No, we wouldn’t. That would be crazy.”

  2. Actually, it looks like the $8400 per successful participant is exactly that (i.e. it’s about half that per participant) — or, if you go at it another way, the 15 million over the 14 years works out to a bit more than $9000 for each of the 1600 or so successful readers, or, if you prefer, a bit under $4000 for each of the 3782 students referred to the the program. You get similar numbers if you use the figures for just the last year, so I assume the $8400 figure per student — while computed in a more precise way to reflect the current costs — is still per “successful” student, as stated originally.

    Not that this is a good price, but there’s no need to double it.

  3. TMA – I was so pissed off about that quote that I misread what Joanne had written. Even still, if the program can only help half the students who participate, it’s a failure.

    I mean, honestly, it’s crazy to abandon something that works only half the time?! What is this guy thinking?! $8400 per successful reader and *still* failing to help half the students who enter the program, that’s an outrage. What happens to those kids who are failed by Reading Recovery? Are they just abandoned by the school district as failures who will never read?

  4. mike from oregon says:

    Come on guys, you know the drill by now. The program is failing? Solution – THROW MORE MONEY AT IT!!! Time to raise your taxes, quit your whining, open your wallets and wave good bye to more of your money. Sheesh, when are you folks going to figure this out?

  5. I am going to post two long honking things because it is the lame failure of Whole language at the teachers’ colleges that leads to reading failure.

    Here is an essay from a Fort Wayne, Indiana teacher about her experiences:

    http://www.fortwayne.com/mld/newssentinel/news/editorial/10108682.htm

    I’m calling dyslexia a hidden learning disease because little seems to be known about it, and at least 10 to 15 percent of our students are suffering from its effects. Actually, I have read research that indicates that as many as 20 percent of students have this affliction. Very little is done about it in our schools, and many children suffering from its effects never learn to read. If you can’t read, you can’t do a lot with your life. Reading is the foundation of all learning, and without the skills children can become depressed, easily give up and in many cases never become the people that they could become.

    Dyslexia is classified as a specific learning disability, and children having it are usually referred to special education classes. The big problem with this is that many school districts do not test for it. The tests are complicated and rather expensive, so many districts refuse to even acknowledge the problem. Also, every child having dyslexia is different from every other child with the problem. In other words, each dyslexic student needs a different and specific learning approach unique to him.

    Dyslexia is a language difficulty that causes problems in reading, writing, spelling and math. Children and adults having this learning problem suffer every day of their lives, because processing the information coming to them does not proceed along the same channels as someone without dyslexia.

    Thinking back to the 35 years I spent teaching mostly fourth- and fifth-graders, I wonder how many of their learning problems had anything to do with being dyslexic. I taught more than 1,000 students; if even 10 percent suffered from this learning problem, 100 of my students struggled with little or no help. Many times I thought students were lazy and didn’t want to even try. How wrong I was!

    I began tutoring a delightful 7-year-old girl last fall. Nothing that had been done in the past had helped her to learn to read and, needless to say, the student, her parents and the classroom teacher were completely at a loss as to what to do to help her. She was finally diagnosed with a learning disability in second grade, but despite going to special education classes every day, reading is still a real struggle for her. Every year, reading will become even more difficult. I searched the Internet and looked for ways to help her read. During my search, I found some lessons to help, and with a lot of repeat, repeat, repeat lessons in phonemes and phonics we have begun to see some improvement. The first time she read a Dr. Seuss book by herself, I was in tears! Unfortunately, a child with dyslexia might be able to read a book one day but struggle to read it the next.

    I spoke with Kurt Walborn, director of the Fort Wayne Masonic Learning Center for dyslexic children, and he gave me ideas for working with my student. These techniques [Orton Gillingham instruction have helped, but I do not have any formal training in this area. The reading classes I took in college did not address dyslexia, and, I know from speaking to current education students, very little about how to work with a dyslexic student is taught today. Dyslexics do develop their own unique ways of getting and retaining information, but it’s such a continuing struggle for them.

    There is no magic age to overcome this problem. If you have this learning problem now, you will have it all your life. It doesn’t go away when you become an adult. Many scientists feel it has its own gene and is probably inherited. In the case of my student, this is true. Her mother has the problem and also suffered in school, with even less help than students receive today. It has held her back from getting jobs she desired and given her low self-esteem. It is a constant daily struggle to do all the things we take for granted. There are still many words she can’t remember; directions such as right, left, up and down are confusing. I recently spoke to a retired educator who has suffered from this malady all her life and she still has difficulties because of this.

    Dyslexics just don’t see the world the same as the rest of us. Concentration is very difficult, and, for children taking the ISTEP test, it’s a total nightmare. They can’t read the test, so it’s either guess or just simply give up and not complete it. This equates to failing the test; and it just doesn’t happen one year, but year after year unless they receive help.

    Getting into Walborn’s program takes at least two years. There is a waiting list, and it’s growing longer every year.

    I truly hope FWCS really looks into this problem as soon as possible and finds the needed funds to begin supporting this learning problem. The lives of so many children need to be saved before they become adults and have to struggle with dyslexia forever. It is truly a hidden learning disease.

  6. Second long honking post:

    The results of this survey indicate that teachers who are literate and experienced generally have an insufficient grasp of spoken and written language structure and would be unable to teach it explicitly to either beginning readers or those with reading/spelling disabilities Teachers commonly are misinformed about the differences between speech and print and about how print represents speech.

    State certification practices, preservice teacher training, and the social contexts of schools do not adequately prepare reading and writing teachers for the demands of classroom practice. More specifically, neither undergraduate nor graduate training of teachers typically requires the command of languge structure necessary to teach reading and spelling well.

    From an article
    http://www.greenwoodinstitute.org/resources/resmiss.html

    published 9 years ago by Louisa Cook Moats, who is director of teacher training at The Greenwood Institute in Putney, Vermont, and adjunct assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Dartmouth Medical School. She has written numerous articles and book chapters on topics related to learning disabilities. This article appeared in the 1995 summer issue of American Educator, the professional journal of the American Federation of Teachers. As such, it was a reprint, with minor revisions, of an article from Annals of Dyslexia, Volume 44, 1994, with permssions of the Orton Dyslexia Society, Inc.

    This isn’t teacher-bashing. It is an indictment of the curriculum–the matter to be mastered–in the schools of education. Teachers are doing a heroic job, but, like our soldiers who were sent to Iraq without body armor or hardened vehicles, they were sent without the tools to do the job.

  7. Elizabeth, to take your metaphor a bit farther, sending teachers out with Whole Language as a reading curriculum is like sending a soldier out with only a squirt gun. Bad things will happen.

    The thing that really gets me here is that there are schools that teach almost all their students to read well *the first time.* Yet the educational establishment won’t look at what works in these schools because it conflicts with their precious theory. The reasonable thing to do is to change the theory to fit the facts. Instead of doing that, ed schools select the facts which fit their theory.

    Touted: Reading Recovery helps fifty percent of students who use it.
    Ignored: Reading Recovery can actually cause students to fall farther behind.
    Ignored: There are direct instruction programs which can help almost all students, not just fifty percent.
    Ignored: Reading Recovery lacks phonics, which the vast majority of reading research says is a fundamental building block of reading. (Not to mention that teaching phonics when teaching a phonetic alphabet is generally a good idea.)

    They play this game and doom huge numbers of students to a life of illiteracy. Too bad they can’t be held responsible for it.

  8. Mike in Texas says:

    It’s ironic that when state mandated tests, at least here in Texas, are pushing to assess comprehension the reading programs like Direct Instruction and Open Court, which are currently being crammed down teachers’ throats, do a better job of teaching fluency or the ability to read the words and teach little about understanding. If you ever have a chance to read some of the reading selections packaged with Open Court don’t do it. The material is totally devoid of interest and has been selected to promote certain phonological sound/letter relationships.

    I find it funny how Whole Language has been labeled “feel good” reading instruction, as if it were a result of the 60s hippy movement. Whole Language has been around for a long time. A little research will find you articles dating back to the early 1900’s regarding its use.

    The problem with Direct Instruction and Open Court is not only do they not teach comprehension but they forcibly require schools not to use anything else but their program (leading to the term “Open Court Police”, the administrators who walk around checking for the right posters and words on the wall). In the meantime a generation of kids are being raised who haven’t been exposed to quality literature and develop a hatred of reading b/c of it.

    Of course, the problem with Whole Language is it doesn’t do much for teaching fluency and if a kid can’t read the words he isn’t going to want to read.

    The best approach uses elements of both methods, but since McGraw-Hill won’t make money off teachers selecting quality, high-interest books for their students to read, the Bush educrats are fighting for their phonics programs tooth and nail.

    By the way, studies have shown the biggest problem facing students struggling to read are vision and hearing related. I’ve seen research to indicate 95% of 1st graders who are struggling to read have an undiagnosed vision problem. Of the remaining 5%, 80% have an undiagnosed hearing problem. You won’t hear the big phonics program publishers pushing for increased funding for vision and hearing screening though.

  9. Mike in Texas says:

    Here’s a nice little quote from the Direct Instruction website:

    “The popular valuing of teacher creativity and autonomy as high priorities must give way to a willingness to follow certain carefully prescribed instructional practices.”

    and my favorite quote from one of the developers, Siegfried Engelmann , in the July 26 issue of The New Yorker
    “We don’t give a damn what the teacher thinks, what the teacher feels. On the teachers’ own time they can hate it. We don’t care, as long as they do it.

    Anyone who knows anything about teaching knows one program will not fit all but Engelmann doesn’t care as long as the bucks roll in.

  10. How exactly does whole language teach comprehension better than phonics? This is a claim I hear thrown out there very often by the defenders of WL. “Yeah, uhhh… well, our kids can read the words, but they know what the story means.” I really don’t think so. Students know HOW to read before they can figure out WHAT they’re reading. Kids can follow simple stories when they listen to them, right? “Suzie wanted some candy. Suzy asked mommy if she could go to the store…” You get the idea. So if you teach the kids how to turn the words back into sound, that aural comprehension skill will be used to get what is being read. How many people here “hear” in their heads what they read? I do.

    To teach in a way which shuns phonics in favor of guessing and context cues, which is what WL does, is to overlook the very nature of how English is written. *It is SOUNDS encoded into letters.* If that is the nature of the written language, is it not simple logic to teach kids to decode the letters back into sounds? If not, WHY not?

  11. Mike in Texas says:

    To teach in a way which shuns phonics in favor of guessing and context cues, which is what WL does, is to overlook the very nature of how English is written. *It is SOUNDS encoded into letters.

    Ur rite adrian i shuduv thawt it throo bfor i postt.

    Hokt on fonix workt for me.

    Also, that should be context clues, not cues. Luckily, I was able to derive the meaning by examining the rest of your sentence.

  12. Would it’s make sense to use in the remedial course whatever system is *not* in use in the general curriculum? I’m of the impression that, as in everything else, one size definitely doesn’t fit all. I’ve two sons, one for whom phonics was the way (word recognition following…), one for whom whole language was the only way to learn to read (phonics are now slowly coming later…).

    If phonics isn’t working in the general curriculum for a student, it’s likely to be that the approach isn’t the natural one for the students. If WL is the approach, then phonics is *definitely* called for.

    Of course, if the general curriculum is sensible, and uses a combination that is blended by the teacher in whatever ratio seems to work best with *this* set of students (otherwise known locally as WW (whatever works)), then this suggestion isn’t much help :-).

    Aside: I have to admit, if there’s any side that appears to have fanatics who espouse the “If the child doesn’t learn the one true way, they don’t *deserve* to read”, it seems to be the phonics movement. I’m certain it’s in the WL movement, but their nutbars don’t seem to get as much play (perhaps outside the journals).

  13. Mike in Texas wrote:

    Also, that should be context clues, not cues. Luckily, I was able to derive the meaning by examining the rest of your sentence.

    And with that clever response you’d almost think this debate wasn’t settled a long time ago. It was and for anyone who wants to know what happens to kids consigned to the tender mercies of the Whole Language mythology you only have to look at California’s experience.

    Here’s a little tidbit on California’s experience with WL: http://www.pbs.org/merrow/tv/ftw/language.html

    Yeah, PBS, that hotbed of radical, right-wing idealogy. There’s lots of stuff on California’s reading disaster if you go and look for it.

    And Tom, since WL doesn’t work, the only reason to shove WL down kid’s throats is to satisfy the educational idealogues.

    That sort of political expedient is morally reprehensible and professionally bankrupt. If you actually gave a damn about the kids you’re supposed to be educating you’d fight tooth and nail to put an end to a corrosive anachronism like Whole Language.

  14. Ummm… uh… Mike in Texas, I’ve heard both CUES and CLUES, with cues occuring more often in my experience.

    “Ur rite adrian i shuduv thawt it throo bfor i postt.

    Hokt on fonix workt for me.”

    Haha, funny. You know, just because the representation of phonemes is not uniform, i.e. there are exceptions, does not cease to change the fact that written English is encoding sounds.

    Further, how do defend a program, RR, which is based on whole language, with an astonishingly high 50% success rate? And, odds are that these kids were taught with WL in the first place, so why do so many of them nationwide need RR?

    I don’t advocate that there’s one right way to teach reading, but there ARE wrong ways, and WL and RR, based on their effectiveness, fall into that category in my book.

  15. And Tom, since WL doesn’t work, the only reason to shove WL down kid’s throats is to satisfy the educational idealogues.

    I’ll take it you’re in the “if the child can’t learn to read with phonics, they don’t deserve to read” camp…

    Look, I’ve two children. For the second, I beat him over the head (as did his teachers) with phonics. In the end, since it wasn’t working, I gave it a rest and allowed reading via word recognition. Pretty much instantly he became an average reader. Now, I’m still trying phonics, because obviously it’s a necessary skill, but in terms of getting children reading, personal experience has shown me that WL does work for best some subset of students. (I doubt my child is unique in world history…)

  16. Mike in Texas says:

    Further, how do defend a program, RR, which is based on whole language, with an astonishingly high 50% success rate?

    I never did.

    Tom West wrote:
    I beat him over the head (as did his teachers) with phonics. In the end, since it wasn’t working, I gave it a rest and allowed reading via word recognition. Pretty much instantly he became an average reader.

    This is what’s wrong with programs like Direct Instruction and Open Court which state you must use their program and only their program; it doesn’t work for everyone.

  17. Mike in Texas says:

    Allen wrote:

    you’d fight tooth and nail to put an end to a corrosive anachronism like Whole Language.

    I find this very amusing in light of the fact that with the push for high stakes testing and accountability subjects like Science and Social Studies are being pushed to the back burner. In order to teach the kids something in these areas teachers often integrate Science and Social Studies into their Reading programs (unless of course they use Open Court or Direct Instruction which don’t allow the use of other reading materials). In other words they use one of the principles of Whole Language, integration of subject matter, into their lessons . I guess teachers do give a damn about kids.

    And with that clever response you’d almost think this debate wasn’t settled a long time ago.

    It was pretty clever wasn’t it?

  18. Tom West wrote:

    I’ll take it you’re in the “if the child can’t learn to read with phonics, they don’t deserve to read” camp…

    Close. I’m in the the “if it doesn’t work, don’t use it” camp.

    WL doesn’t work. By it’s nature it doesn’t work. What masquarades as success using WL is kids figuring out that there is an underlying code, a pattern, and then figuring out what that code is.

    What’s so infuriating about WL proponents is that they’ve decided that the concept of an alphabet is inconsequential to learning to read. How stupid is that? The symbolic basis of the language is ignored in favor of treating words as if they were indivisible icons.

    For the second, I beat him over the head (as did his teachers) with phonics.

    At least you were using a tool that works as opposed to a tool that can’t.

    Having spent my own time working with illiterates, I can say with certainty that your son didn’t learn to read with WL. No one learns to read using WL. You learn to recognize pictures that have the shape of words.

    That’s not reading and much worse then the requirement that you memorize lots of unique pictures (words) is that there’s no extensibility inherent in WL. Learning one word doesn’t help you at all with another, related word.

    With phonics, since you’re building the words out of smaller component parts, a related word is immediately recognizable and pronounceable.

    Mike in Texas wrote:

    I find this very amusing…

    No. What you find is a need to quickly move the discussion off a subject which is one of the more nakedly obvious examples of the utter contempt of much of the education establishment for learning when it conflicts with their pet conceits.

    Why don’t you tell us why anyone, anywhere should ever use anything related to Whole Language in view of California’s experience with Whole Language?

    It was pretty clever wasn’t it?

    By the standards you set for yourself, yes.

  19. Mike in Texas says:

    Allen wrote:

    Why don’t you tell us why anyone, anywhere should ever use anything related to Whole Language in view of California’s experience with Whole Language?

    If you had read my earlier posts I said:

    The best approach uses elements of both methods

    Only you Allen would try to misrepresent that into endorsing CA’s exclusive use of whole language.

    Here’s a nice little quote form the article you cited:

    Schools that chose not to use whole language methods and materials were denied state funding earmarked for reading programs.

    In other words the govt. of CA insisted upon it. And let’s see, the govt. is controlled by politicians. I believe I’ve stated to you many times politicians should never be allowed to set education standards. Fifteen years from now we’ll all be reading about what a disaster the phonics only reading programs were.

    BTW, isn’t the denial of funding one of the tactics the federal govt is using to force local districts to buckle under NCLB? Holy Rich Publisher of a Phonics based reading program with ties to the Bush family it is!!

  20. Mike in Texas says:

    Here’s some more good tidbits from your article

    Other experts in First to Worst point out that the state control of school funding resulting from Proposition 13 is in fact what permitted whole language to have such a devastating effect on the California school system. When Proposition 13 shifted control of school funding to the state, the state also gained a large measure of control over what would be taught in the classroom. This control derived from the fact that the state made certain funds available to schools only if they adopted specific programs, such as whole language or class size reduction. This system of “categorical funding” provided a strong incentive for schools to do whatever the state told them to do – even if the program was ineffectual or misguided. This is exactly what happened with whole language reading instruction.

    Geez, this sounds exactly like what the federal govt is trying to do to public schools right now!

    Looks like the only thing they were doing right is trying to reduce class size but I have a sneaking suspicion the funds for that were never allocated or were given in such small amounts as to have little or no impact on class sizes.

  21. Mike in Texas says:

    Allen I followed a link in your article to an interview with an education writer named PETER SCHRAG. He provides more insight into why you should never let politicians set your educational standards.

    JOHN MERROW
    So you’re saying California’s spending less even as the burdens on the school have gone up?
    PETER SCHRAG
    Yes. The burdens being kids coming with weaker home support, less command of English, more poverty, more single parent families – none of which is always individually disability, but collectively it has obviously made an impact. The other thing is that as our overall pupil spending has gone down, teacher salaries almost necessarily have stayed up. So that’s had an enormous impact on everything else in the schools.

    JOHN MERROW
    Like what?
    PETER SCHRAG
    Counselors. Nurses. Arts programs. Music programs, the crowding We did class size reduction in California two years ago. But we still have one of the largest class sizes in the country, maybe second or third from the bottom.

  22. Touched a nerve, did I?

    Since you’re so reticent with the facts, let’s just tell everyone about California’s trip down Whole Language lane – don’t worry, it’s a short trip:

    Back in ’87 the Califormia legislature mandated Whole Language under the urging of the state department of education – politicians.

    The state department of education was under the control of Whole Language proponents and they were tired of trying to convince school districts of the wonders of Whole Language. They had the juice so they rammed Whole Language down the throats of a reluctant California public education system.

    Four years later, in 1992, California’s fourth-graders had, according to the NEAP, dropped to 49th in state rankings, ahead of only Louisiana.

    In 1995, over the strenuous objections of the department of education, the legislature reversed itself but the damage had been done. California’s reading scores have never recovered to their pre-Whole Language levels although they are slowly going up.

    Mike from Texas wrote:

    If you had read my earlier posts I said:

    The best approach uses elements of both methods

    I did read that Mike. I just didn’t comment on it because it contains one glaring falacy: there is no “both”. There’s one method that works and one method that can’t.

    Combining them sounds oh so open-minded but it isn’t. It’s the fallback position when you can no longer convince parents that their illiterate children are their own, damned fault.

  23. Mike in Texas says:

    there is no “both”. There’s one method that works and one method that can’t.

    You know, Socrates said true knowledge comes from know that you know nothing.

  24. Allen, somehow a billion or so people with pictographic languages *do* learn to read.

    Your dogged insinstence that WL doesn’t in any work pretty much classifies you in the same camp as those who would deny funds to someone “caught” with an illegal phonic in their classroom. In other words, a fanatic more interested in method and “defeating the enemy” than in outcome, and thus to be ignored.

    I certainly concur that phonics is a necessary skill *at some point*. My sister (taught WL alone) still has trouble recognizing unknown words. On the other hand, she’s also the English lit afficianado in the family with better spelling than me (because she has to memorize words rather than depend on English’s insane spelling).

    I’ll even say that an exclusive phonics approach will doom fewer students to illeteracy than an exclusively WL approach. However, I will also unequivocally state that not using *any* WL in most classrooms is to needlessly condemn some students to unneeded illiteracy.

    And that, my friend, is a tragedy.

  25. Tom, it seems like you’ve got the right handle on this. If phonics doesn’t work well for a student, use WL. The problem comes in adopting primary curricula, in which case the one that serves more students, phonics, should be adopted, though not to the exclusion of a curriculum at teacher thinks will work for his class.

    Also, your idea of using the other curriculum as a remedial one makes a great deal of sense. If approach A doesn’t work, use approach B, don’t just keep beating approach A to death. In fact, now that I’ve thought of it, what would really make sense is having two reading tracks, one phonics, one WL, and placing students in them according to how they would learn to read best. That would allow students to recieve instruction only in a way which serves them.

  26. Mike in Texas wrote:

    You know, Socrates said true knowledge comes from know that you know nothing.

    Can’t beat the classics, can you?

    Right back atcha.

    A slip of the lip can sink a ship.

    Tom West wrote:

    Allen, somehow a billion or so people with pictographic languages *do* learn to read.

    And it takes them years to become marginally literate and so what? Billions of people still use animals as their prime movers. Are you going to start rhapsodizing about the smell of manure?

    Pictographic languages are a more primitive method of capturing information graphically. They’re clumsy, inflexible, unresponsive to the needs of society and difficult to master.

    If that’s all you’ve got then you labor on, burdened by the inherent inefficiency and unburdened by any awareness that there’s a better solution.

    But we have a better solution.

    A language based on an alphabet requires the memorization of fraction of the number of “pictographs” that Whole Language proponents insist students have to memorize to be considered literate.

    Twenty-seven letters and around forty rules and you’ve got 95% of the language mastered. That’s a couple of orders of magnitude better then any Whole Language advocate would dream of promising. Provided they’d promise anything, of course.

    Here’s an experiment for you Tom.

    Find a kid who’s one of your mythical Whole Language success stories and give him something to read that’s outside his experience.

    If he’s a real Whole Language student then he’ll be stopped cold. After all, Whole Language requires memorizing words as indivisible units and if you haven’t seen the word before you certainly couldn’t have memorized it.

    If, on the other hand, your Whole Language success story manages to puzzle out the words that he’s never seen before then he’s really a phonics-taught reader whether he knows it or not. He’s sounding out the words because there’s no way to infer a word if words are pictographs. You have no rules to guide you to the pronunciation of the word and because of that you’re prevented from using your spoken vocabulary.

    The only shortcoming of phonics – and this isn’t a shortcoming of the methodology – is the unthinking application of technique. Phonics, like all skills-aquisitions, is a matter of practice. Once you’ve passed the learning phase you get on to practicing the skill, not continuing to learn what you’ve already mastered.

    Once you can read, that’s what you should do. Not continue to learn to read. But in most places phonics is taught it’s taught on an unbending timetable. Whether the a student is days past completing the aquisition of the skill or months past, the timetable is adhered too.

    The kids will still learn to read but precious time’s been wasted and some of the joy of learning has been eroded.

    Hey Adrian!

    Before you buy into the “half a shit sandwich has to taste better then a Whole shit sandwich” school of thought on the utility of Whole Language instruction do yourself a favor and go to where only one method is used and it always works.

    Try a stint as a literacy volunteer. It’s a real eye-opener. As an “oh wow” teaching moment there’s hardly anything that compares with an illiterate adult suddenly seeing the gates of the future opening up on the pages of a previously undecipherable book.

  27. Allen, point taken. Phonics works for the vast majority of students since it is in line with the nature of written English. Arguing about whether pictographic languages work or not is a red herring in this case because written English is not a pictographic language. That said, there are a slim minority of people, in the 2-5% range, for whom whole language is the better way to learn reading. I’m not sure of why these people are better served by it, but they are, and they should be able to get the curriculum which teaches them best. Am I saying that WL should be the primary curriculum since it serves a small minority of students better than phonics? NO! The stance taken by WL proponents is that, since phonics doesn’t work for every single student, it shouldn’t be used to teach any of them. This is false. If the same logic were applied to WL, it too would be jettisoned, since it FAILS up to half the kids who recieve it.

    So what am I saying here? Well, it is quit with the dogma, on both sides, and make sure kids get what works for them. This means proper pre-reading diagnosis to screen for students who would have great difficulty learning to read with phonics, and making sure they what serves them best, whether it be glasses or hearing aids or whole language. This also means not denying the majority of students the curriculum which works best in the general population, which is phonics. I think the one thing that’s been lost in American schools of education is that they’re teaching kids, not defending ideology.

  28. I think Adrian’s last post summarizes just about everything I could possibly say about this topic. Onto the next topic!

  29. Mike in Texas says:

    Adrian wrote:

    This means proper pre-reading diagnosis to screen for students who would have great difficulty learning to read with phonics, and making sure they what serves them best, whether it be glasses or hearing aids or whole language.

    But with companies like Open Court and Direct Instruction you cannot do this. You are required to stick exactly to their scripts, post exactly what they say on the walls, and follow exactly their timeline. Then, schools send administrators around to check you’ve done it (the Open Court police). We had someeone from Open Court at our school throw a hissy fit b/c a teacher was reading the story about Martin Luther King, the day after Martin Luther Kind day, two weeks before it was supposed to be read according to the time lines.

  30. MiT, did you not see where I wrote that a dogmatic approach was NOT GOOD? That kind of dogmatic crap does students no more good than dogmatic insistence that WL is the true path. It’s about students, not ideology.

  31. Adrian wrote:

    That said, there are a slim minority of people, in the 2-5% range, for whom whole language is the better way to learn reading.

    First – proof? I’d put the number of people who have serious – serious enough to warrant medical intervention – problems learning to read at closer to 1%. I’m not talking about the garden variety letter-transposers or letter-flippers (people who have a tough time telling the difference between “b”, “d” and “p”) but people whose reading problems are the least of their difficulties.

    Second, where’s the proof that Whole Language even works for them? If you accept that English is not a pictographic language then what’s the rationale for teaching English as if it were a pictographic language?

    If someone’s having difficulty acquiring a skill using a teaching methodology that is appropriate to the problem, why would you even give a moments consideration to remediation using a methodology that’s entirely inappropriate to the problem?

    So what am I saying here? Well, it is quit with the dogma, on both sides, and make sure kids get what works for them.

    That’s a nice pose to strike but it’s also abdicating any responsibility to discriminate between what’s dogma, i.e. the passionately held beliefs of people who can’t prove they’re right, and what isn’t. Who do you think benefits from that position?

    This means proper pre-reading diagnosis to screen for students who would have great difficulty learning to read with phonics, and making sure they what serves them best, whether it be glasses or hearing aids or whole language.

    Beep! Beep! Beep!

    Sorry Adrain, my “society’s responsibility” alarm just went off. That’s the one that’s triggered whenever society’s about to be saddled with a responsibility that clearly belongs to some identifiable individual(s).

    Besides, why should society incur the cost of mandatory, uniform hearing, vision and preceptual testing when, using a methodology that makes sense, kids will self-identify well before serious harm is done?

    Finally, I’ll even throw Mike a bone.

    The problem with the way phonics is taught is the one outlined by Mike. With no flexibility, a teacher has to keep beating the hotshot kids over the head with lessons they can breeze through at the same time they have to ignore the kids who aren’t quite that bright. But why would anyone expect anything different in the People’s Republic of Public Education?

    You know Mike, if you don’t like administrators coming around telling you your business you’re not going to prevent that by complaining about it. You’re one, little node in a hierarchical organization chart and you’re one level up from the bottom of the chart.

    The only way you’re going to get more authority is by getting rid of most of the hierarchy. Of course, that’s a two-edged sword.

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