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The Reading Wars Never Die

In the wake of a recent controversial report that ranked teacher-preparation programs, combatants of the Reading Wars that dominated the 1990s have taken up arms again.

The spark was a June report by the National Council on Teacher Quality that rated colleges of education. That report drew lots of flak for its methodology and conclusions. But it's also drawing another kind of response: attacks for overlooking best practice in preparing teachers to teach literacy.

Responses from the International Reading Association's literacy-research panel and from some members of the Reading Hall of Fame outline their criticisms of the NCTQ report.

The paper from the IRA's literacy-research panel contends that NCTQ "needs to learn more about the factors that shape effective teaching practices and, therefore, effective teacher education."

It blasts the group for downplaying or overlooking key things in its standards for judging good teacher-preparation programs, such as writing, speaking, and listening skills; cross-disciplinary literacy skills; and a commitment to diversity. The report also erred, the IRA panel says, by focusing exclusively on the five areas singled out by the National Reading Panel in 2000 (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary) in preparing elementary-level teachers, to the exclusion of all other skills.

In a statement published in The Washington Post's Answer Sheet column, some members of the Reading Hall of Fame—which includes some of the most revered names in reading instruction—take aim at the report, in part for its emphasis on alternative ways of preparing teachers and casting current preparation programs as anti-reform.

The Hall of Famers blast the NCTQ for representing direct-instruction phonics as the only "scientific" way to train teachers to teach reading, and for arguing that reading can be taught "out of context without regard for who the learners are and what they are asked to read."

In an attempt to defuse a vested-interest criticism of their argument, the Hall of Famers argue that they don't oppose the NCTQ report just because it found many of their own texts unacceptable for training teachers. The issue, the group says, "is that anyone or any group can impose their judgment and become arbiters of books or methods."

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