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NCLB Outrages

Should the National Council of Teachers of English win its own Doublespeak award?

Ohanian Comment: NCTE Executive Director Kent Williamson begins his reply to this column by sayng, "Name-calling is easy. It's time for serious, thoughtful work on literacy education." I don't think even our fiercest antagonists would accuse either Stephen Krashen or me of taking the "easy" path. Or failing to do "serious, thoughtful work in literacy education." Gee, Ken, I've written 20 books about literacy education. Is that serious enough?

Call me what you will, but don't call me "easy." Or lacking serious purpose. Hmmm, do you suppose being a two-time winner of English Journal writing awards was easy? I assure you writing last spring's Language Arts article, On Assessment, Accountability, and Other Things That Go Bump in the Night was not easy.

I have been a member of NCTE for decades, contributing for committees and panels and journals whenever called upon.

I, for one, don't call Stephen's vast research on literacy "easy." Or his indefatigable zeal for sharing this information with the public. Take a look at his letters. They look pretty serious to me.

And speaking of mail, I answer my mail.

Of Note: Neither the NCTE Executive Committee nor the Executive Director has seen fit to respond to our concerns about their support of the LEARN (sic) Act, but it seems the Washington Post is able to get a response.

One Executive Committee member told a list that they're supporting the LEARN (sic) Act to get a seat at the table. Read Malcolm X on this topic:

I'm not going to sit at your table and watch you eat, with nothing on my plate, and call myself a diner. Sitting at the table doesn't make you a diner, unless you eat some of what's on that plate.

--Malcolm X Speech at Cory Methodist Church, Cleveland, Ohio, April 3, 1964
I wonder whom NCTE has hired as food taster.

Valerie Strauss is inviting response to her column. See the url below.

Valerie Strauss

Yesterday I wrote about "why the National Council of Teachers of English gave its 2009 "Doublespeak Award" to Glenn Beck for exceptional achievement in using language that is "deceptive, evasive, euphemistic, confusing and self-centered."

Today I will explain why some educators and researchers are calling for the teachers council to give the award to itself.

Why does this matter to you? Because it involves the way kids in public school will be taught how to read during the Obama administration.

At the heart of the issue is the teachers council's support for Obama administration legislation called "Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation," or the LEARN Act, which would devote $2.35 billion to literacy programs from birth to grade 12.

The surprise here is that the council, known as NCTE, has in the past condemned some of the very methods of instruction that are being promoted in the LEARN Act, which is essentially the successor to the Bush administration's $6 billion "Reading First" initiative.

Reading First "supported specific approaches to literacy instruction that have been deemed ineffective by many researchers." In fact, a 2008 report by the Education Department's own research arm concluded that students in schools with the program did no better on tests than those in schools without the program.

So much for being what former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings called one of the "most effective" education programs she had encountered.

Critics complained that Reading First relied too heavily on explicit phonics instruction that did not help youngsters learn how to comprehend what they were reading--and was too focused on testing. Federal investigators also found that some of the people in the administration who oversaw Reading First had financial ties to publishers of the program's materials.

Now Democrats in Congress are pushing a bill that reading researcher Stephen Krashen and education critic Susan Ohanian are calling "Reading First on steroids."

Supporters say that it will not repeat the mistakes of Reading First, and note that it includes a provision that prevents financial conflicts of interest.

But critics argue that LEARN promotes the very same ineffective methods of reading instruction as Reading First, and they say it endorses a regimen of "diagnostic, formative and summative" testing.

"This is an astonishing recommendation at a time when children are already overwhelmed with tests, when schools are being turned into test-prep academies, and when education is facing severe budget cuts," Krashen wrote. "It also presumes that we do not trust our teachers to evaluate their students."

Krashen is professor emeritus at the University of Southern California. He is a linguist, educational researcher and activist who has contributed to the fields of reading, second language acquisition and bilingual education.

I spoke with a number of other experts on reading acquisition and they said they shared Krashen's concerns about the legislation.

Check out Ohanian's website and Krashen's blog, and tell me what you think about all of this.

— Valerie Strauss
Washington Post


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