Far and away the best book on the National Reading curriculum. . .
Publication Date: 2003-04-20
Jim Trelease reviews Dick Allington's Big Brother and the National Reading Curriculum: How Ideology Trumped Evidence
Dick Allington's been a top reading researcher
for 35 years and he thought he'd seen it all
A 'Hall of Famer' finds many flaws in Big Brother's reading curriculum
Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: A Critique of the National Reading Panel Report on Phonics
Typical of the book's strength is the chapter "The Politics of Phonics" by Frances R. A. Paterson. With a precise but nonpartisan eye, Paterson traces the growth of phonics from classroom practice to religious doctrine to political agenda, even noting the growth in the number of legislative bills that involved phonics mandates. She includes, without judgment, the religious tracts that supposedly support, if not require, the use of phonics instruction and prohibit the use of anything smacking of "whole language." It's a chapter that sometimes shakes one's faith in many ways.
Many of those state legislative bills noted by Paterson in her chapter eventually included language like: "Research strongly asserts that from the beginning of first grade and in tandem with basic phonics instruction, the inappropriate materials for independent reading are decodable texts; and most new words in these texts should be wholly decodable on the basis of the phonics that students have been taught."
Thus the politicians issued a call for classroom texts in which the majority ("most") of words be "decodable," that is, follow the basic phonics rules ("Nan can fan Dan."). Texas legislators went so far as to declare that "80 percent" of the text for primary grades by decodable. Such mandates were based on the "research" that shows such texts are the most successful with beginning readers.
So Allington and Haley Woodside-Jiron went to the original "research" citations that were most often cited in these bills and state standards:
Beck and Black (1979)
Beck and Juel, 1992;
Adams (1990) and Adams, Treiman, and Pressley (1998)
And what did they find? Plenty of support for the importance of phonics instruction but no identification of the number or percentage of text pages that must be decodable. Indeed, some of the cited material warned of having too many such pages or words. The Allington-Jiron chapter clearly demonstrates the shallowness of much (though not all) of the national reading curriculum's "research" and the grave danger in allowing amateur educators (legislators) and their political/religious agenda to direct the instruction and curriculum of schools.
If you read only one book on the subject, make it Big Brother and the National Reading Curriculum: How Ideology Trumped Evidence.
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