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Pedagogy Or Politics -- What Makes A "Real" Education Story?

A week after the fact, Richard Lee Colvin finally posts something about Reading First (here). Really getting into the blogging spirit, he mocks my (admitted) over-enthusiasm for the RF story and (mysteriously) my Beltway credentials, and then lectures us about whole language, the National Reading Panel, etc.

He cites the pros and cons of whole language, debunks the notion that RF is as prescriptive as some see it to be, and yet is delightfully polite in refusing to name Diana Jean Schemo, the NYT reporter who wrote the story he's criticizing (below right). diana jean schemo.jpgClearly, Colvin could have written this story much better than anyone.

Where I have real issue with Colvin, though, is this notion that Schemo's story needed to be more about classroom instruction, to appeal to narrow reader interests (specifically to "parents of children learning to read"), and to be less about the politics of the situation.

Ideally, the story could have been about all these things, of course, and to be sure Schemo seems to have gotten some things wrong, but people read stories that don't involve them directly all the time, and in this case the scandal and the politics are the story. Nobody would be reading it -- or assigning it -- without them. And that's OK.

In my mind, at least, education reporters need to understand the non-instructional issues (power, politics, money, ideology) in order to have any chance of understanding what they're observing in schools and classrooms and finding real avenues to change.

Previous posts: Colvin Joins The Blogosphere: A Hearty Welcome & Some Unsolicited Advice, Journalism Guru Richard Lee Colvin On The HotSeat, Education Writers: Who's Who -- And Where Are They Now?


Alexander, I guess I wasn't clear. The Reading First story is about politics and policy and conflict of interest. That's fine and, as I said, it's a story. What it is not about is some alleged battle between phonics and whole language. (by the way, whole language is a way of teaching, phonics is a characteristic of the language. there are many techniques for effectively teaching the necessary letter and sound knowledge) So, what I worry about is that unhelpful reporting and a lack of understanding will cause an abandonment of teaching that is based on a broad consensus of scholars and scientists and teachers in favor of methods based on beliefs and assertions. If the RF story is really about some alleged "reading war," then why is Robert Slavin, whose Success for All program is one of the most phonics intensive programs now used in the U.S., the person most unhappy with RF? He's objecting because of how RF was handled, not because it promotes phonics.

thanks for the clarification, richard -- the RF story does tend to re-raise the reading wars issues in ways that may be confusing or misleading.

I disagree slightly with RC's characterization with the RF scandal.

There are two levels of scandal:
First, there is Slavin's battle. Slavin's argument boils down to SfA (and DI) ae the only reading programs with validated SBRR. DoE should not have allowed other phonics programs (and non-phonics programs) to get RF funding. This argument is weak since the statute allows reading programs to get funding as long asthey are "based on" SBRR. Arguably, the basla phonics programs meet this standard and the OIG reports provide no analysis on this point, let alone evidentiary support.

However, there is another battle raging and that is the battle of the programs that claim to be doing phonics when in actuality they are not. The law doesn't just mandate phonics, it mandates systematic and explicit instruction in phonics. So while there are many ways to teach phonics, there is only one way that the statute permits funding for. Of course, all reading programs claimed to be doing phonics the right way and it was the panelists' job to determine who was telling the truth. The OIG reports appear to second guess the panels but fails to provide the needed analysis. And their judgment as to conflicts borders on the ridiculous. THe OiG found that DOE did not need to check for conflicts at all in the first place, that OIG did proprly check for finacnial conflicts, but then determines that the "right" standard should have been a standard that was so broad that every expert would be caught by the standard (which reading research doesn't have professsional ties to some reading pedagogy?), then cherry picked "conflicted panelists," and wove a story that doesn't make sense.

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