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Put the read into Readiness

Ohanian Comment: Here's how the Bay State Reading Institute, of which Moscovitch is co-founder and chair, describes itself:

Bay State Reading Institute works intensively with schools on whole school literacy-based turn around efforts so that all students are reading at or above grade level and teachers, reading specialists and principals are knowledgeable in the practice of scientifically based reading instruction.

Massachusetts taxpayers shelled out over to the Bay State Reading Institute--so they could enforce the rules of Reading First.

They claim that This organization is an independent organization or an independent auxiliary (i.e., not affiliated with a National, Regional, or Geographic grouping of organizations).

It's just a coincidence that their reading agenda sounds so much like the backers of Reading First: The Business Roundtable, Education Trust, et al.

Moscovitch asks that teachers should use a medical model. Hmmmm. There's plenty wrong with such a model, but let's accept it for the moment. The first step in following a medical model would be to let teachers make decisions--instead of reading scripts shipped in from corporate America.

By Edward Moscovitch

Physicists do not ignore relativity, nor do biologists ignore genetics. But, Reid Lyon suggests, all too many schools get along by sheer guesswork and the crudest sort of empiricism.

He has been named the fourth most influential person in American education. For 11 years Reid Lyon has directed research at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development on how best to teach kids to read.

Some 300 teachers and principals from 75 school districts came to hear Lyon talk at the Reading Institute last week on how that research could help them make their schools more effective. Unfortunately, no one from the top leadership of Gov. Deval Patrick̢۪s Readiness Project was there.

Lyon̢۪s specific topic was reading, but the implications apply to all education - specifically, that raising the performance of low-income youngsters requires the systematic use of data and educational research to guide instruction. Some key points:

Schools need to assess the progress of all students at least three times each year - once a week for those who are struggling - and to identify the particular difficulties holding students back. Why so often? Well, how long do you want to keep using a strategy that isn̢۪t working?

Scientific research provides reliable information about what works - and why and how it works - and is, therefore, essential for designing new, effective teaching methods.

Education should be like medicine. Consider a woman whose breast cancer was caught early and all malignant tissue removed. Should she have radiation and chemo? Should her doctor decide based on anecdotal evidence? Or should he consult objective studies on the comparative survival odds of women just like her who̢۪ve had or not had this additional treatment?

Just so with education. If young readers don̢۪t recognize a word, should they guess the meaning from the context? This can be tested empirically; students who guess get the meaning wrong 75 percent of the time! Sadly, this research has not prevented thousands of teachers from continuing to teach in this way.

What to do about a student who doesn̢۪t like to read? You can̢۪t find the remedy until you identify the problem! Can she accurately translate letters to sounds and group sounds into words? If not, she̢۪ll need systematic and explicit instruction in letter-sound relationships and blending sounds into words.

Education is unique among professions, Lyon said, in that practice in the field is so often unaffected by research. Physicists do not ignore relativity, nor do biologists ignore genetics. But, Lyon suggests, all too many schools get along by sheer guesswork and the crudest sort of empiricism.

Why don̢۪t the teaching colleges prepare new teachers who understand the research-based approach? Lyon doesn̢۪t expect change in his lifetime (presumably he was talking about colleges in general and not necessarily those in the Bay State).

Lyon̢۪s studies leave no doubt that children from low-income homes can achieve at high levels if schools apply the research. Helping faculties use this data-driven, research-based approach to teaching is the single most important step Massachusetts can take to improve our schools.

Yet the governor̢۪s Readiness Project programs announced so far involve primarily pre-school and extended day programs as if what happens from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., from kindergarten through high school is of secondary importance. Regional assistance centers are apparently to be run by state colleges without reference to Lyon̢۪s implicit warning that the participating colleges should be willing and able to offer instruction in research-based methods.

The Readiness Project is not complete; Patrick has made two strong appointments in his secretary of education and commissioner of the Department of Education. Here̢۪s hoping that as they finalize the Patrick education proposals they take Lyon̢۪s recommendations to heart.

Edward Moscovitch is president of Cape Ann Economics and chairman of the Bay State Reading Institute, which helps schools implement research-based literacy instruction.

Cape Ann Economics Client List

* Bank of Boston
* Blue-Cross Blue-Shield of Massachusetts
* Massachusetts Taxpayers¹ Foundation
* Massachusetts Bankers¹ Association
* Life Insurance Association of Massachusetts
* New England Electric
* Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education
* Massachusetts Institute of Technology
* Ikea Stores
* The Energy Foundation
* The Pioneer Institute
* The New England Council
* The Massachusetts Division of Medical Assistance
* Complex Architectures, Incorporated
* Fidelity Investments
* Malden Mills
* Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation
* Delaware Department of Finance
* Connecticut Department of Economic Development
* Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama
* The University of Alabama at Birmingham
* Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents
* Massachusetts Federation of Teachers
* Massachusetts Teachers Association
* Town of Rockport, Massachusetts

Superintendents of Schools in

* Chelsea
* Everett
* Gloucester
* Douglas
* Dedham
* Bridgewater-Raynham
* Hamilton-Wenham
* Nauset
* Blue Hills Vocational
* East Bridgewater
* Sandwich
* North Andover
* Hudson
* Lawrence
* Lowell
* Worcester
* Ayer

— Edward Moscovitch
Boston Herald





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