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[Susan notes: Let the phrase "compliant teachers did exactly what Reading First required. . . " ring in your ears.]

Published in Education Week
01/07/2009

To the editor

Irony of ironies: After $6 billion of federal investment in the

Reading First program, America's children have improved at sounding

out scrambled-up nonsense words and identifying words on word lists,

but they are no better at comprehending the stories they read. Reading

experts are now trying to figure out why.



The reason should be crystal clear. The requirements of Reading First

reflect the singularly focused beliefs of G. Reid Lyon, once called

George W. Bush's "reading czar." By his own account, Mr. Lyon failed

to teach children to read when he was a 3rd grade teacher (so stated

in an April 2001 U.S. Department of Education community newsletter),

and blamed an apparent lack of phonics and decoding instruction in the

early grades.



Subsequently, from his position as the chief of the child-development

and -behavior branch of the National Institute of Child Health and

Human Development, he supported neuroimaging research by Yale

pediatrician Sally E. Shaywitz that focused solely on identifying

words on word lists, not reading comprehension. Dr. Shaywitz's

"phonological processing" research later was used to trump other

well-defined studies that pointed to the value of balanced reading

instruction.



Mr. Lyon's carefully orchestrated efforts to focus early reading

instruction on phonics and decoding did not create competent readers.

His efforts yielded competent decoders. Any person who can read the

following must admit that "decoding" and "reading" cannot be the same:

Exllnt raeedrs cnstrct maennig form lteter clues anywhr tehy appr in

txet. Tehy aks thmeslvse, "Waht deos the txet say?" not "Waht is ech

lteter and how is ech wrod spleled?"



Compliant teachers did exactly what Reading First required, and

children consequently became efficient decoders, not effective

comprehenders.



Rhonda Stone


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