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Published in Education Week
03/04/2009

To the editor


We should all be grateful for the courage and wisdom of Joanne Yatvin and Stephen Krashen.

I am surprised to see how sensitive the authors of Reading First are
to criticism ("Countering 'Reading First' Critics," Letters, Feb. 4,
2009). After all, I am not the only person to observe that the emperor
has no clothes. Even members of Congress who once supported the
initiative have become disillusioned with its unfulfilled promises.

Although there is no scientific basis for the assertion that phonemic
awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension are the
five essential components of reading, G. Reid Lyon identified them as
such in his testimony before Congress in 1997. Conveniently, the
National Reading Panel echoed him a year later in deciding, before
looking at any research, that these were the areas it would
investigate. Even so, the panel never labeled those areas "The Five
Essentials" or "The Big Five" in its report. In fact, it conceded that
other promising areas had surfaced in its deliberations, but that it
had not had enough time to investigate them.

So the science Mr. Lyon, Robert W. Sweet Jr., and Joseph K. Torgesen
hail in their letters is the science of preference. What they like
should be studied and the results proclaimed. What they dislike should
be ignoredâ??just as all the studies of language, literature, and
hildren's motivation were by the National Reading Panel--or
labeled bad science, just as the Reading First Impact Study has been
by Mr. Lyon.

Although he admits there are problems with the implementation of
Reading First, he doesnâ??t identify them. The problems I see in
schools and hear about from teachers are the commercial programs
approved by the U.S. Department of Education and the pressures put on
teachers to use those programs solely and without deviation. Even if
the programs were exemplary, barring teachers from using their
judgment to supplement and modify them to fit their students is reason
enough to say Reading First has been badly implemented.

But the approved programs are not exemplary; they go beyond and
distort any scientific findings. Where is the evidence supporting
scripted lessons, one-size-fits-all instruction, phonemic-awareness
training for older students, overemphasis on phonemic awareness and
phonics in the primary grades, and dibels (or Dynamic Indicators of
Basic Early Literacy Skills)?

Contrary to Mr. Sweet's accusation that other critics and I have an
"anti-science belief system," we have demonstrated more respect for
science than those who foisted Reading First on children and defend it
now, knowing it is based on ideology, a narrow band of research, and
disrespect for the knowledge and skills of teachers.

Joanne Yatvin
The writer, a former president of the National Council of Teachers of
English, was a member of the National Reading Panel.


To the Editor:

In their Feb. 4, 2009, letters to the editor, G. Reid Lyon and Joseph
K. Torgesen maintain that the failure of Reading First as found on the
Reading First Impact Study final report was due to implementation
problems. If so, why allow a study that was flawed to begin with to be
carried out? Or why not at least say something before the results were
announced?

Mr. Torgesen claims that other reports show Reading First has worked:
In Florida, he notes, "the percentage of students meeting grade-level
standards in reading comprehension in 3rd grade increased by 12
percent over five years.â?? Not so. The increase was on a test that
measured accuracy and fluency of reading aloud. The increase in
reading comprehension was less than 3 percent (see "Reading First
State APR Data"Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader).

This is the same kind of result found for Reading First in general,
as well as in other reports of children in programs focusing on
explicit instruction and decoding: good performance on decoding, and
less success in reading comprehension.

Robert W. Sweet Jr. points out in his letter that Reading First is
not just phonics: It includes direct instruction in all five
components of reading instruction that it asserts are essential
phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, fluency).
According to the final report, however, of the five components, only
time spent in comprehension instruction was positively related to
achievement in reading comprehension in grade 2, and only
comprehension and vocabulary instruction were significant predictors
in grade 1. More time devoted to phonics was associated with lower
scores in reading comprehension.

The final report does not mention an element that many studies show
to be the most crucial: time spent actually reading for meaning.
"Silent reading" is included but buried, one of several components of
"engagement with print" (which also include writing and reading
"isolated text"), and no attempt was made to relate silent reading
time to achievement.

Stephen Krashen

Joanne Yatvin & Stephen Krashen


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