When reading experts attack

Reading War II is still raging as reading experts attack a New York Times story on Madison’s decision to reject federal Reading First funds in order to continue a reading program that the Times claims is effective. Education News prints as-yet unpublished letters to the Times from Reid Lyons, Robert Sweet, Louisa Moats, Linnea Ehri and Joanna Williams, Timothy Shanahan and Mark Seidenberg. Professor Moats, formerly co-investigator of the NICHD Early Interventions Project, a five-year, federally funded study of reading instruction in high-poverty schools, points out that the Office of Management and Budget “recently gave the Reading First program its highest (and unusual) rating of effectiveness.”

. . . there is overwhelming scientific consensus that comprehensive reading instruction, as required by Reading First, should include the components named in the legislation, including (but not limited to) phonics. Like the issue of global warming, there is no scientific debate about whether children benefit from direct instruction in how the alphabetic code of English represents speech. There is, in contrast, plenty of evidence that teaching children to guess at words through context and pictures is, indeed, malpractice, and that most poor readers fall by the wayside early because no one is teaching them how to read. Richard Allington, who was quoted in opposition to Reading First, has no credentials as a researcher or scientist. He and the “reading community” to which he refers have perpetuated myths and ineffective practices associated with Whole Language for decades – and look at what those have brought us. Contrary to the article’s data, in a search of Madison’s reading achievement scores we find that 45% of African-American children in that city are not proficient readers. After all, they were eligible for Reading First!

D-Ed Reckoning sums up the experts’ attack on the article, responds to an e-mail from reporter Diana Jean Schemo and explains just how poorly black students are doing in Madison schools.

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  1. wayne martin says:

    Isn’t it rather strange that engineers and physicists numbering in the thousands were able to get man to the moon and back, but teachers numbering in the millions can not teach kids to read.

  2. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Teachers were impressed by the Music Man’s Think System. 76 trombones, anyone?

  3. Oh heck, NASA had it easy. You get a big rocket, stick some guys on it, stick your fingers in your ears and presto! man on the moon.

    But teaching a kid to read? Now that’s tough.

  4. Actually, teaching students with whole word approaches or the current fad term, balanced literacy (they have to keep changing the name as parents catch on!) or even in phonics programs with too many sight words makes it difficult to retrain students. It takes a lot of nonsense words and a lot of patience to undo the guessing habits caused by sight word teaching. If you teach phonics from the beginning, it is very easy, anyone can do it with a simple phonics textbook. Webster’s Blue Backed Speller worked admirably as a phonics text, and Don Potter has a nicely formatted copy that is still useful today: http://www.donpotter.net/PDF/Webster%27s%20Spelling%20Book%201824.pdf

    Sight words confuse students by making their eye jump around the word instead of encouraging proper left to right movement. Thus, sight words promote dyslexia. Moreover, pictures and words are processed on different sides of the brain. Not only do sight words encourage incorrect eye movements, they also confuse the brain, which research has shown reads words sound by sound. You can learn how to properly teach sight words (all but 2 of the most commonly 220 words can be taught phonetically) here: http://www.thephonicspage.org/On%20Reading/sightwords.html and also see a link to the brain research article.

    Finally, the Reading Wars have actually been going on since 1826, you can see a timeline here with links to many of the books cited at Google Books: http://www.thephonicspage.org/On%20Phonics/historyofreading.html

  5. Elizabeth B. mentioned my Easy-to-Read edition of Webster’s 1824 American Spelling book, commonly known as The Blue-Backed Speller. I would like to mention three other FREE programs on my web site:

    1. Word Mastery: A Course in Phonics for the First Three Grades (1913) by Florence Akin: http://donpotter.net/PDF/Word%20Mastery%20-%20Typed.pdf, Although very comprehensive, it is easily taught to kindergarten students.

    2. Reading Made Easy for First Grade with Blend Phonic by Hazel Loring (1980):
    http://donpotter.net/PDF/Microsoft%20Word%20-%20Reading%20Made%20Easy%20with%20Blend%20Phonics%20justified.pdf. Perhaps the easiest method.

    3. Remedial Reading Drills (1936) by Hegge-Kirk-Kirk:http://donpotter.net/PDF/Remedial%20Reading%20Drills%20-%20Margin.pdf These are the exact drills that Flesch used to teach Johnny. This method is so good that it is not in its third editon, availalbe from Academic Therapy Publications. The new book has reproducible pages which makes it very adaptable in remedial situatins. http://www.academictherapy.com

    Don Potter
    Odessa, TX