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NCLB Outrages

The Silence of Yams

Susan Ohanian finds that Michael Pollan's insight on the nutritionist view of food offers many parallels in scientificators' view of reading.


Nutritionism had become the official ideology of the Food and Drug Administration; for all practical purposes the government had redefined foods as nothing more than the sum their recognized nutrients. Adulteration had been repositioned as food science.
--Michael Pollan
In Defense of Food

So, too, has the U. S. Department of Education repositioned reading as nothing more than the sum of its recognized phonemes. Skill drill has been repositioned as reading science, with DIBELS as the measuring tool.

Putting Reading First declares Phonemic awareness as "the ability to notice, think about, and work with the individual sounds in spoken words. Before children learn to read print, they need to become aware of how the sounds in words work. They must understand that words are made up of speech sounds, or phonemes."

According to the Federal government, "The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, calls for the use of 'scientifically based research' as the foundation for many education programs and for classroom instruction. The term 'scientifically based reading research' means research that:

  • applies rigorous, systematic, and objective procedures to obtain valid knowledge relevant to reading development, reading instruction, and reading difficulties; and includes research that:

  • employs systematic, empirical methods that draw on observation or experiment;


  • involves rigorous data analyses that are adequate to test the state hypotheses and justify the general conclusions drawn;


  • relies on measurements or observational methods that provide valid data across evaluators and observers and across multiple measurements and observations; and


  • has been accepted by a peer-reviewed journal or approved by a panel of independent experts through a comparably rigorous, objective, and scientific review."

  • --Public Law 107-110, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001


    Like so many ideologies, nutritionism at bottom hinges on a form of dualism, so that at all times there must be an evil nutrient for adherents to excoriate and a savior nutrient for them to sanctify. At the moment, trans fats are performing admirably in the former role, omega-3 fatty acides in the latter. It goes without saying that such a Manichaean view of nutrition is bound to promote food fads and phobias and large abrupt swings of the nutritional pendulum.
    --Michael Pollan
    In Defense of Food


    The U. S. Department of Education fosters a Manichaean battle between sustained silent reading and fluency:

    Research evidence is unclear that instructional time spent on silent, independent reading with minimal guidance and feedback improves reading fluency or overall reading achievement.
    --National Reading Panel, 2000

    Putting Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read
    No research evidence is available currently to confirm that instructional time spent on silent, independent reading with minimal guidance and feedback improves reading fluency and overall reading achievement.
    --This publication was developed by the Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement (CIERA) and was funded by the National Institute for Literacy (NIFL) through the Educational Research and Development Centers Program, PR/Award Number R305R70004, as administered by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), U.S. Department of Education.

    Another potentially serious weakness of nutritionist ideology is that, focused so relentlessly as it is on the nutrients it can measure, it has trouble discerning qualitative distinctions among foods. So fish, beef, and chicken through the nutritionist's lens become mere delivery systems for varying quantities of different fats and proteins and whatever other nutrients happen to be on their scope. . . .

    When the emphasis is on quantifying the nutrients contained in foods (or, to be precise, the recognized nutrients in foods, any qualitative distinction between whole foods and processed foods is apt to disappear. "[If] foods are understood only in terms of the various quantities of nutrients they contain," Gyorgy Scrinis wrote, then "even processed foods may be considered to be 'healthier' for you than whole foods if they contain the appropriate quantities of some nutrients."
    --Michael Pollan
    In Defense of Food


    Here we get the reading scientificator version of nutritionism:
    Big Ideas in Beginning Reading from the University of Oregon

    Why use DIBELS?
    Teaching with the odds in your favor.

    Because the DIBELS measures have been used so extensively in schools and with real children, we have data indicating the relation between the measures. As stepping stones to literacy development, it means that performance on one DIBELS measure is predictive of performance on the next appropriate DIBELS measure. To demonstrate the predictive nature of the measures, let's look at two different scatterplots demonstrating: 1) the relation of kindergarten phonological awareness and 2) first grade alphabetic principle on end-of-first-grade reading proficiency.

    How convenient. . .


    [A]s a general rule it's a whole lot easier to slap a health claim on a box of sugary cereal than on a raw potato or a carrot, with the perverse result that the most healthful foods in the supermarket sit there quietly in the produce section, silent as stroke victims, while a few aisles over in Cereal the Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms are screaming their newfound "whole-grain goodness" to the rafters.

    Watch out for those health claims.

    As I write, the FDA has just signed off on a new health claim for Frito-Lay chips on the grounds that eating chips friend in polyunsaturated fats can help you reduce your consumption of saturated fats, thereby conferring blessings on your cardiovascular system. So can a notorious junk food pass through the needle eye of nutritionist logic and come out the other side looking like a health food.. . .

    When corn oil and chips and sugary breakfast cereals can all boast being good for your heart, health claims have become hopelessly corrupt. The American Heart Association currently bestows (for a fee) its heart-healthy seal of approval on Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs, and Trix cereals, Yoo-hoo lite chocolate drink, and Healthy Choice's Premium Caramel Swirl Ice Cream Sandwich--this at a time when scientists are coming to recognize that dietary sugar probably plays a more important role in heart disease than dietary fat. Meanwhile, the genuinely heart-healthy whole foods in the produce section, lacking the financial and political clout of the packaged goods a few aisles over, are mute. But don't take the silence of the yams as a sign that they have nothing valuable to say about health.
    --Michael Pollan
    In Defense of Food


    Here are just a few (of hundreds) Cocoa Puffs of the reading industry. They have nothing valuable to say about nurturing a child's love of books. They probably play an important role in turning kids off reading and certainly take away time that could be devoted to reading for pleasure and information.

    Books stay silent while kids are buried in skills.

    Watch out for those reading claims.

  • DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills)

    The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) are a set of standardized, individually administered measures of early literacy development. They are designed to be short (one minute) fluency measures used to regularly monitor the development of pre-reading and early reading skills.

    The measures were developed upon the essential early literacy domains discussed in both the National Reading Panel (2000) and National Research Council (1998) reports to assess student development of phonological awareness, alphabetic understanding, and automaticity and fluency with the code. Each measure has been thoroughly researched and demonstrated to be reliable and valid indicators of early literacy development and predictive of later reading proficiency to aid in the early identification of students who are not progressing as expected. When used as recommended, the results can be used to evaluate individual student development as well as provide grade-level feedback toward validated instructional objectives.

  • Dr. Larman's Scientific Reading Method (S.R.M.) is the culmination of over four decades of hands on teaching in the classrooms of America. Dr. Larman’s research, which can be found in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., proves that his methods of instruction raise children’s levels and scores on standardized tests.


  • Colleague in the Classroom: Interventions for Dibels Users
    Using today's most effective strategies, the “world's best teachers” model 25 sequential reading lessons that address initial sound, phoneme segmentation, nonsense word, and oral reading fluencies. Presented on five DVDs, the 10- to 20-minute lessons can be used as a teacher training tool or watched with students for “real-time” instruction. The structured, systematic, and cumulative sequence helps struggling students with sounds, symbols, and reading.

  • Scoring High on the SAT/10
    Scoring High - Stanford achievement Test (SAT/10) offers more practice students need in essential reading, language arts, mathematics, and study skills. The program includes a new complete practice test, separate Student and Teacher Editions, updated questions, and helpful tips to give students the confidence they need to excel in testing preparation.
    --The McGraw-Hill Companies


  • Core Skills: Test Preparation, Grade 1
    These all-inclusive skills resources provide the focused practice students need to apply, reinforce, and review skills in reading, math, and test-taking. Answer key included. 128-176 pages.-
    --Harcourt School Supply


  • As Georgia schools administer the annual Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT), thousands of students are approaching the challenge having benefited from a computer-based test practice program. In the days leading up to the CRCT administration, more than 88,000 students used the online practice system each day, totaling more than two million online tests taken since the program was first made available in January.
    --Houghton Mifflin Co. News Release - 04/28/04


  • — Susan Ohanian

    2008-02-03


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