This op ed and series of letters has drama, deceit, and discovery.
Big money, Big Business Drive Reading Research
By Derek Boucher
Run, don't walk, to get a copy of Resisting Reading Mandates (Heinemann, 2002) by Dr. Elaine Garan of CSU Fresno if you are:
1) A parent concerned about your child's reading instruction in school
2) An administrator responsible for your school's reading program
3) A taxpayer
Dr. Garan's book is a troubling expose of the politics and money behind current federal and state reading mandates that now permeate our schools.
In 1997 the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), a powerful government agency, appointed a National Reading Panel (NRP) to review the "most scientific
literature and research available" related to reading instruction. In 2000, with the report complete, the NRP suggested strategies for changing our classrooms based on their "scientific" findings.
The findings were issued in three parts: A fifteen minute publicity video, a thirty-two page Summary Report of the NRP findings, and a 500 page report of the sub-groups (alphabetics, fluency, etc.). Dr. Garan did what few others have. She read the 500 page report and found significant disparities between the shorter
summary and the lengthier report.
The Summary Booklet of the 500 page report makes some very bold claims.
1) Systematic phonics instruction produces significant benefits for K-6th grade students
and for children having difficulty learning to read (p. 9).
2) Phonics instruction for young children who are good readers helps their spelling (p. 10)
However, Dr. Garan found that the data from the actual studies frequently suggested just the opposite. The findings in the longer report state that there were "insufficient data to draw any conclusions about the effects of phonics instruction with normally developing readers" (Sect. 2, p. 117). Dr. Garan highlights how
the report data did not find phonics to be helpful in spelling growth (Sec. 2, p. 116).
One highly touted phonics reading program based on the "scientific research" cited by the NRP and used throughout California is Open Court. The publishers of Open Court (McGraw-Hill) promise that their program will make every child a
competent reader. The NRP looked at the data relating to Open Court and, once again, Dr. Garan looked at the actual research in the NRP's own document.
In Appendix G, Study 11 of the 500 page report we learn that at the end of the school year under Open Court, the ability of first graders to decode phonetically regular stand-alone words
(as opposed to words in real text) was high. Their spelling ability increased, but only moderately. BUT BY second grade, the
CHILDREN'S PERFORMANCE DROPPED IN EVERY SKILL. EVEN THEIR ability to decode stand-alone words was low.
The second graders' spelling ability under Open Court showed negative results. In the area of comprehension (what most of us define as real reading of real texts), students under Open
Court also showed negative results compared to students who WERE TAUGHT BY LITERATURE BASED METHODS. Dr. Garan suggests that when students have to apply Open Court phonics to real texts, they can't do it.
Large sums of time and tax dollars are being poured into a program that may help very young children to read single words out of context, but provides no SIGNIFICANT HELP when kids have to
make sense of real text!
The plot thickens. Dr. Garan discovered that despite obvious conflicts of interest, two contributors to the NRP report are co-authors of A commercial PHONEMIC AWARENSS program. One of THOSE individuals is ACTUALLY AN author of
Open Court. Obviously, these two are in a position to make a lot of money BASED ON THE "scientific" findings of the report TO WHICH THEY CONTRIBUTED.
So what? Aren't we simply talking about an honest scholarly debate? Hardly. Specific reading instructional practices now have the full force and weight of the federal government behind them. Schools are denied funding if they don't adopt programs based on "scientific research." Teachers can be sanctioned if they resist these reading mandates.
Dr. Garan says it best. "The obscene push for high-stakes testing, the glut of standards that have us in a stranglehold, and the so called "scientific research" being used to
justify imposing such formidable restraints on our
professional autonomy are couched in high-sounding language, such as "accountability" and "science-based research."
It is all about big money for big, big business, particularly for McGraw-Hill Publishing. I believe that these forces are so powerful and insidious that we can no longer do as we have in the past--just shut our doors, maintain a passive
aggressive stance, and wait for it all to go away."
June 20, 2003
Subject: Request for Follow-up Action
On behalf of SRA/McGraw-Hill, I would like to call to your attention serious factual errors that were published in the June 14 edition of the
Fresno Bee and ask for an appropriate response.
Derek Boucher wrote an OpEd entitled, "Big money, big business drive reading research." His statement against the National Reading Panel and
McGraw-Hill Education was inaccurate and should concern you as editor of the editorial page.
For instance, Boucher writes that "...two contributors to the NRP are co-authors of commericial phonics-based programs. One of the individuals is the co-author of Open Court and the sole reviewer of the NRP phonics section of the report." The fact is, not one author from Open Court Reading participated in the review. He then concludes that "It is all about big money for big, big businesses, particularly McGraw-Hill Publishing."
This column portrayed both the National Reading Panel and Open Court Reading in an extremely negative light, using inaccuracies and innuendo.
In response, we ask that you consider one of three actions:
-a retraction, clarifying the inaccuracies that misled your readers
-a follow-up story written by one of the education reporters about Open Court Reading -an OpEd to be written by a National Reading Panel member or SRA/McGraw-Hill, publisher of Open Court Reading
Based on the timeliness of this issue, we hope to resolve this issue early next week. I would be happy to discuss this via phone or to arrange a
conference call with a representative from McGraw-Hill.
In the future, I encourage you to contact me about the accuracy of statements about Open Court Reading.
I look forward to hearing from you,
Nancy E. Newton
Sr. Account Executive
Paul Werth Associates
Published in the Fresno Bee, July 9, 2003
By Sarah Streib
Lemoore Union Elementary
As an elementary school teacher, I found the June 14 opinion piece by high school teacher Derek Boucher, "Big money, big business drive reading
research," very disturbing because he painted a negative picture of an elementary reading program, Open Court Reading, and the National Reading Panel (NRP).
For instance, he concludes, "It is all about big money for big, big businesses, particularly McGraw-Hill Publishing." However, from my
experience I know that the true benefactors of Open Court Reading have been the students in our school district, where our scores have continued to rise since implementing Open Court in 1997.
This brings up an issue I see time and again. People who don't like Open Court Reading's educational philosophy seem to indicate that educators did not write the program. But I know that the authors of Open Court Reading have listened to teachers, and it is evident in our new 2002 edition.
There will always be differing educational philosophies, and I respect opposing views. In fact, I think open dialogue and factual analyses are important. However, people should not attack the character of educators who disagree with them.
There are many success stories, not only in our district, but across California and the nation, that have shown tremendous student gains due to
Open Court Reading, and I expect these excellent results to continue because the program works. I encourage Mr. Boucher to do a little research himself before drawing conclusions based on one book.
Sent to the Fresno Bee July 9, 2003
Open Court: Just the Facts
I'm puzzled by Ms Sarah Streib's defense of the Open Court Reading program.
In response to Derek Boucher's June 14 letter "Big money, big business drive reading research" Ms Streib claims, "There are many success stories, not only in our district, but across California and the nation." State law
requires a choice of five reading series for school districts to choose from. The law notwithstanding, California teachers could choose from only two "scientifically proven" programs, one of which was Open Court. Yet, in spite of this saturation, the gains Ms Streib claims for Open Court were certainly NOT reflected in the latest NAEP reading scores. Those results were dismal by anyone's standards.
I'm puzzled too by Ms Streib's objection to the questions Mr. Boucher raised about financial links between Open Court authors and the Report of the National Reading Panel. Mr. Boucher simply reports the facts, all of which are on the record:
* Fact: Two National Reading Panel contributors are Open Court authors.
* Fact: The Summary of the NRP findings contradict the actual findings of the studies.
* Fact: McGraw-Hill's public relations firm, Widmeyer- Baker wrote part of that inaccurate Summary.
* Fact: The "scientific research" of the National Reading Panel shows negative findings and a huge drop by second grade in comprehension and in
spelling for students taught by Open Court.
The "single book" Mr. Boucher cites uses the exact words and the actual data of the NRP itself. If that evidence makes McGraw-Hill and the National Reading Panel look bad, then it is the truth that is offensive to Ms Streib- not Mr. Boucher. She is shooting the messenger.
Dr. Elaine M. Garan
California State University Fresno
Sent to the Fresno Bee July 10, 2003
As a retired teacher, I have the time to research.
Sarah Streib quotes herself as an 'elementary
school teacher'. I located Sarah Streib's position on line at Lemoore Union School District. I was curious as to her phrase 'our book'. Teachers don't usually refer to a reading program as 'ours'--reading programs come and
go too much. I learned she works at a Middle
School, which is 7th and 8th grade level. She did not reveal that she is an 'Academic Coach' at Liberty Middle School who has been specifically trained by Open Court to teach teachers how to use the program correctly, from 4th through 8th T
There was no hint of that in her letter.
Then she told Mr. Boucher to read more than one
book before reaching conclusions. But I know of
at least 4 books out there that say what Mr. Boucher is saying: BIG BROTHER AND THE NATIONAL READING CURRICULUM by Richard Allington; RESISTING READING MANDATES by Elaine Garan; EDUCATION, INC. TURNING LEARNING INTO A BUSINESS edited by Alphie Kohn and Patrick Shannon; and READING THE NAKED TRUTH: Literacy, Legislation and Lies by Gerald Coles. Each book
reaffirms what Mr. Boucher said.
I find her representation of herself to be
somewhat misleading. The impression she gives in her letter is that of a classroom teacher, daily teaching this program, OC, to her own children. But, that is not accurate. She is a teacher of teachers, working for the District, trained by Open Court as to 'how to teach it'. She is 'once removed', as I would put it, from the classroom.
My information comes from the District Office of
Lemoore Union School District.
Oh. One more thing: I come from the days of a
lifetime teaching credential in California at
Middle School Level. Therefore, I speak as a California certified teacher.