[Susan notes: Here is a good letter, which many people could use in many situations.]
Published in Rutland Herald
March 9, 2005
It is not surprising that Rutland City school administrators chose the vacuous, unproductive skills-heavy beginning reading program Alis Headlam criticizes in "Killing the joy of reading" (Feb. 17).
Since the late 1990s, educators now in or closely associated with the Bush administration have been touting this kind of instruction as scientifically based and, therefore, necessary for the nation's schools. For the last four years, schools seeking money through the Reading First part of No Child Left Behind no longer have a choice: Use mandated, research-supported skills-heavy instruction or you don't get funded.
Given the prominence of these assertions, it is no wonder that only slowly, as in Rutland City, educators and parents are beginning to discover for themselves what I and other critics have long concluded from our independent research: All such assertions are false.
# Skills-heavy instruction produces no benefit in reading comprehension.
# It is not superior instruction for at-risk, reading disabled or poor children.
# It is not superior to literature-based instruction.
These results hold for all kinds of one-size-fits-all reading programs, such as Open Court, touted by Bush educators as the premier program of its kind. Consider a Los Angeles Times editorial, published last August. Although the paper had long been a strong advocate of the program, it acknowledged: "This year's (state reading test) results show that students generally are not moving up. The easy solutions are used up. Open Court, the highly scripted phonics program that was going to teach all students to read, helped some, but didn't come close to creating a literate crop of students."
Rutland City educators and parents would be wise to forget one-size-fits-all and consider instead the literature-based, child-based instruction Ms. Headlam and her colleagues advocate.
(The writer is the author of Reading the Naked Truth: Literacy, Legislation & Lies, Heinemann, 2003.)