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Reading First: Ed. Dept. Meddling?


An Education Week review of e-mail exchanges by officials involved in the Reading First program has revealed a pattern of federal interference in the program that skirted legal prohibitions. In the midst of carrying out the $1 billion-a-year program, which is part of the No Child Left Behind Act, federal officials worked to undermine the literacy plan of the nation's largest school system, pressured several states to reject certain reading programs and assessments that were initially approved under their Reading First plans, and rallied influential politicians, political advisers, and appointees to ensure that state schools chiefs stayed on track with program mandates.

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"New York state was awarded it’s Reading"

Just remember:
his, hers, its.

He's, she's, it's

In a letter to the Attorney General, the International Reading Association has asked for a more thorough investigation. We believe that there may have serious conflict of interest violations and that individuals reponsible for those violations should be held accountable.

We believe that the despite a seriously flawed implementation, Reading First has been well implemented in many states by courageous educators who made sure that the federal money was used to help children learn to read.

We want the investigation to be thorough and to correct any actions that are detrimental to children's learning. Only if we hold people responsible for their actions can we hope to continue Reading First in a climate that allows for success.

I think the best way to understand what went on at the Reading First office at USDE is to realize that powerful political insiders had been working long and hard to reinstall phonics programs as the dominant instructional approach in American schools.

When the report from the National Research Council, "Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children", argued that the research indicated strong evidence supporting a balanced approach to reading instruction those insiders went to work getting legislation establishing the NRP passed and the panelists named.

The NRP provided, sort of, what the insiders were looking for: evidence of a small but positive effect for systematic phonics instruction. However, that small effects was mislabeled a "moderate" sized effect in the NRP report and then exaggerated by phonics proponents and a gullible media.

Anyone who questioned the findings, evidence or methodolgy were labeled "whole language" proponents suffering from an ideological aversion to both evidence and truth. And, just such a campaign continues today (See Martin Davis' diatribe about me at the Fordham Institute website).

The phonics insiders and entrepreneurs have no interest what the research says. They have ideological, political, and/or financial interests that have to be served.

So, did the federal RF office overreach? Yes, on two counts. First, even the NRP analysis provided no evidence that systematicm phonics provided any practical benefit in terms of improved reading achievement. Who says so? Two acclaimed special education scholars, Lee Swanson and Don Hammill, neither the model of a whole language guru.

Second, even had the evidence indicated that phonics produced some practical benefit, the NCLB Prohibitions" clause disallows the USDE from recommending any particluar approach, curriculum, or method of instruction, regardless of what phonics insider Bob Sweet may suggest.

The whole point to the NRP was to provide cover for ideological insiders to promote phonics as the dominant reading instructional method. It worked and the RF officials milked the strategy but then got caught up in their power and stepped over the legal line. Everything went just as planned as all the state education agencies eventually caved into federal pressures to order the right programs and tests.

But those federal RF officials were just doing what the insiders had been aiming for. Thus, I don't expect that there will be any real effort to correct either the wrongs already committed or to hang the real culprits out to dangle in the wind.

What this analysis of the email shows and what the new audit of the OIG shows is that the label scientific is being applied selectively to unproven programs which themselves can provide no evidence that they are beneficial for learners. Not only were programs directly promoted by the authors of their programs placed in positions of power, but competing programs and methods - even competing phonics programs- were blacklisted.

Two things are needed. First there needs to prosecution of all involved up to and including Secretaries Paige and Spelling who were clearly involved They violated the law and should pay.
Second, real open hearings on Reading First should be held by the House and Senate committes at which the full range of expert testimony should be heard.

So far the Aspen report and the staged Senate hearings have continued to reflect a narrow view which distorts the damage being done and avoids the real issues.

It's also time for the professional organizations including IRA, NRC, NCTE and AERA to show some backbone and take responsibility for opposing the damage being done to kids and teachers by NCLB and Reading First.

When this investigation is complete, I predict there will be findings of lying and cheating for financial gain. I hope the people reponsible for this fiasco are given prison sentences. Many children and teachers have been hurt by the misrepresentation of Reading First.

Oh my, the whole language cultists are out in force and demonstrating for the world that their argument abilities are about as good as their research abilities. Keep it up guys.

RF put in place reading programs that would work with kids based on evidence to that effect. What could be more reasonable. What could be more benificial for kids. Finally, they would be treated well. Results of RF demonstrate that this was beginning to occur. However, the large publishers who had been selling ineffective programs and ideologies to schools for a long time were losing lots of money. So they began to call in poliltical favors. And the kids lost again.

Saying that reading should not be phonics-based is like saying that math should not be counting-based. Wait a minute. Some popular math programs say that, and some ed schools teach that! Oh well, kids lose again. Shame on education in this country.

As a parent, I pretty disappointed in Edweek's reporting. It is pretty obviously lopsided against traditional/phonics approach.

If Mr. Doherty's emails were not recovered this would not even be an issue. Even with Mr. Doherty's emails, I question what is wrong with an administrator who puts children first, before politics, bad science, and teachers. I'm shocked, shocked I tell you that an online rag would side against children. Direct Instruction works and you know it. It works marvelously with my son who I have to home school AFTER school. It would probably work with the 47% of the other children in his Title I school not reading at grade level (K-5). Unfortunately, Direct Instruction is not even an option for the state of Oregon.

Edweek should be ashamed.

I've taught DI for 14 years now and it does work. I'm appalled at the problem we have in this country with politicians making education decisions. The government paid for the research and yet for 30 years made recommendations of curriculum proven to be ineffective and even harmful to kids...while at the same time rejecting the very programs proven to work.

I notice that certain persons are calling for prosecution.

This is ironic.

For these same persons foisted a fantasy of reading as a "psycholonguistic guessing game" (aka whole language) onto the public schools for thirty years.

And they did so without a shred of evidence that the theory had any connection to reality, and that teaching students to guess what words say was anything other than criminal.

"Efficient reading does not result from precise perception and identification of all the elements, but from skill in selecting the fewest, most productive cues necessary to produce guesses which are right the first time..." (Goodman, K. (1967). Reading: A psycholinguistic guess game. Journal of the Reading Specialist, May, 126-135. pp. 127-8).

Right. That's just how skilled readers read!

How many children are illiterate because of the fraud called whole language?

Who needs to serve some time?

But don't expect data and logic from Allington and Goodman.

I resent the statements by Lance de Boyle!

Whole language theory is not a bizarre fantasy!

Whole language gurus were NOT stoned on peyote when they decided that reading is a guessing game.

And whole language methods are not a fraud.

Who says you should test your methods BEFORE you shove them onto the public? How could you make a name for yourself if research showed that your methods were junk?

Besides, revolutionaries (such as whole language gurus) are not OBLIGED to be socially responsible. They are not "the little people." They are "the elite." They are to be FOLLOWED, not criticized.

Here, for example, are some quotations that reveal clearly for all to see, that whole language advocates are not imbeciles...

No, not imbeciles....

....but are some of the smartest and most rigorous thinkers on this or any planet or mental hospital.

"Learning is continuous, spontaneous, and effortless, requiring no particular attention, conscious motivation, or specific reinforcement." (p. 432) Smith, F. (1992). Learning to read: The never-ending debate. Phi
Delta Kappan, 74, 432-441. [Anyone who has studied physics knows that Mr. Smith is right.]

"Saying that we are determined to teach every child to read does not mean that we will teach every child to read....The best we can do ... is ... to ensure that, if not every child lives up to our hopes, there is a minimum of guilt and anguish on the part of teachers, students, and parents." (p.441) Smith, F. (1992)
[See, whole languagists never claim they can teach your kids to read. And if your kids don't learn to read with whole language, remember, they told you so.]

"Children can develop and use an intuitive knowledge of letter-sound correspondences [without] any phonics instruction [or] without deliberate instruction from adults." (p. 86) Weaver, C. (1980). Psycholinguistics and reading. Cambridge, MA: Winthrop. [And Weaver has ALLLL kinds of data to support this "idea."]

"Phonics is incompatible with a whole language perspective on reading and therefore is rejected." Watson, D. (1989). Defining & describing whole language. Elementary School Journal, 90, 129-142.
[See, whole languagists don't NEED research to support what they do and what they don't. They reject stuff just because they FEEL like it. Remember, WE are just the little people. THEY are the elite.]

"Reading without guessing is not reading at all." Smith, F. (1973). Psychology and reading. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. [Yes, but would you call it reading if a person is GUESSING? See, that's how whole language "thinkers" think. They just define words any way that fits their "theories"-- kind of like Humpty Dumpty. Words mean whatever he wanted them to mean.]

"Sounding out a word is a cumbersome, time-consuming, and unnecessary activity. By using context, we can identify words with only minimal attention to grapho/phonemic cues. The message then seems clear: we should help children learn to use context first." Weaver, C. (1988). Reading process & practice: From socio-psycholinguistics to whole language. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

[Yes, and Weaver has research on 10s of thousands of children to support the idea that it's best for kids NOT to use the letters to figure out what words say.]

"To the fluent reader the alphabetic principle is completely irrelevant. He identifies every word (if he identifies words at all) as an ideogram." (p.124) Smith, F. (1973). Psycholinguistics and reading. New York:
Holt, Rhinehart, & Winston. [See, whole languagists as so smart that they know that English is really NOT an alphbetic writing system but is more like hieroglyphics. You are supposed to memorize the whole word.]

"Early in our miscue research, we concluded…That a story is easier to read than a page, a page easier to read than a paragraph, a paragraph easier than a sentence, a sentence easier than a word, and a word easier than a letter. Our research continues to support this conclusion and we believe it to be true…" Goodman, K. & Goodman, Y. (1981). Twenty questions about teaching language. Educational Leadership, 38, 437-442.

[See how smart!! Told you so. It's easier to read a whole story than it is to read one word. I would never have thought of that myself.]

"Good spelling is merely a convenience. … There are some people like secretaries, who need to be accurate, but usually even they can use a word processor with a good spelling check." Gentry, J.R. (1987). Spel . . . is a four-letter word. Portsmouth: Heinemann. [An hez ryt.]

I am relieved that Mr. G. Reid Lyon's tactics are finally being exposed--but they did not begin with the National Reading Panel or Reading First. They began in the early 1990s, when Mr. Lyon began working with a handful of "scientists" who erroneously believed that they could "document" what the brain does when it "reads" by using fMRI imaging involving the identification of words from word lists. This dysfunctional research (fraught with flaws) created what has become evidence unchallenged in the U.S. that intensive phonics instruction works to prevent reading problems.

Such instruction DOES NOT prevent reading problems--and what the associated scientists have done to promote this idea is shameful.

The most significant flaw in the research is this: the imaging the researchers did ONLY involved the identification of individual words presented on word lists. Subsequent neuroimaging with SENTENCE READING rather than word lists shows significantly different brain activity required for successful reading than that which focuses on the identification of words from word lists.

In 1998, the Committee for the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children, affiliated with the National Institutes of Health or NIH, was the first influential panel to state that intensive phonics instruction is the path to effective reading ability and the prevention of reading problems. As a representative of the NIH, Mr. Lyon was associated with this panel. The Committee's findings provided the framework for the National Reading Panel, whose findings became the foundation for Reading First's requirements for reading instruction. Someone made sure that the National Reading Panel included someone who could preserve the interests of the 1990s fMRI word-list scientists. Examine the membership lists of the two committees: It is not by accident that Sally Shaywitz, M.D., one of the AUTHORS of the early fMRI word-list research, served on both committees, nor was it by accident that no one was placed on either panel who would/could challenge the type and quality of Dr. Shaywitz's research, as well as its underlying assumption: identifying individual words on a list--which depends solely upon the phonics information provided--is basically the same cognitive act as "reading" sentences. Sentences by their nature provide far more information for the brain to process: phonics information INTEGRATED WITH information about language and its related structure, nuances related to vocabulary, and pre-existing knowledge related to the subject matter.

BILLIONS of dollars have been spent in the U.S. on Mr. Lyon & company's personal viewpoint (the idea that intensive phonics instruction prevents reading problems). Tragically, kids who never experiment with other, more efficient reading strategies cannot possibly make the leap from early literacy skills (grounded in phonics and decoding) to higher level literacy (grounded in the integration of multiple forms of knowledge to actively construct meaning.) It is the reason that millions of pre-adolescent and adolescent kids struggle with reading even though they DID RECEIVE intensive phonics instruction in the early grades.

Shame on you, Mr. Lyon, and every "scientist" who didn't examine the research carefully before jumping into the biased political activity that was intended from the early 1990s to promote a national intensive phonics agenda. Of course kids need to know the alphabet and the sounds letters make in order to read--the question yet unanswered by scientists is how much and in what relationship with other reading strategies (ultimately, neural functions) the brain MUST perform to efficiently construct meaning.

Real science needs to guide what schools are ASKED (not forced) to do with reading instruction--not a single individual's 17-year-old personal agenda. Responsible educators know that the work of Mr. Lyon & company is a sham and it is the reason they have resisted. Mr. Lyon & company's activities have been shameful. This mother of two is wagging her pointer finger at Mr. Lyon as she says: "Shame, shame, shame!!!"

The ethics of what has happened with Reading First pale in comparison with the ethics of what has happened with the "science of reading" for the past 17 years. It was wrong to stack "scientific committees" in order to succeed at personal agendas. This, too, needs to be investigated--and, in the interest of millions of kids, SOON!!!

Rhonda Stone
[email protected]

Ms. Stone's critique of Reid Lyon is a nice example of staw man.

As if Reading First hinged on brain imaging.

No, Ms. Stone, RF rests on evaluation research of curricula and instructional methods. And it turns out that curriclum materials that are more likely to teach kids to read include comprehensive, systematic, and direct instruction on phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

Perhaps you'd like to peruse that research so that you have some idea what you are talking about and can avoid the embarrassment of casting about inane insults and lame conspiracy theories.

And please try to use a bit more logic.

Tell me how you can comprehend a sentence if you don't know what the individual words say?

I was so delighted when I read in 'READING FIRST'A CLOSSER LOOK.

ITo teach the sounds first middle and last place. Teach spelling by sounds. And promply proceeds to teach c/k/ with many words they have not studied.
This was written by committe not research.

I find it strange that so many people seem to be confused about how children learn to read. Don't most of us have ample opportunities to watch a young child become literate? I've viewed this process many times and it almost always goes like this: The baby mimics sounds and learns language. Soon he begins to handle books and make up the content. If someone reads to him frequently, he might begin to memorize a book like Green Eggs and Ham. At about this time, he might also recognize his name and some words from his environment. At the age of five or six, the young child will start to recognize sound/symbol relationships and will begin to blend sounds into words. Yes, many youngsters need direct, explicit instruction at this stage, although children from print-rich homes often appear to learn effortlessly. All good readers read for meaning from the very beginning.

As a primary teacher with forty-two years of experience, I can assure bloggers that almost all teachers use a balanced approach to teaching reading. During my entire career, I never knew even one first-grade teacher who did not teach phonics. After all, English is a phonetic language, so why wouldn't we teach this? The whole system is based on the alphabetic principle. Whole language was an unfortunate term used to describe the way most children learn to read: from the whole (Green Eggs and Ham) to the parts (letters and sounds). We can argue about terms, but anyone who has actually watched a child learn to read knows that this is what occurs.

I have three children one in 6th grade, one in 4th grade and one in 1st grade. I am also a special education teacher. I have read to my children since they were in utero. My husband and I fall into that high income high education category that means our children "should" have learned how to read in that effortless way. Well let me tell you, as children in a balanced literacy school district, they have not learned how to read, write, or spell. The oldest two have IEP's because the lack of scientific validated curriculum has caused them to be significantly behind their peers in writing, and spelling.
My oldest hates to read. My youngest is learning how to read by memorizing words and reading pictures. I am having to battle the schools approach with the the support we give him at home. I don't let him read pictures, he decodes words. My two oldest are receiving Direct Instruction in special education and they are gaining skills faster than they have ever gained skills before. My oldest has made two years growth in six months receiving research validated instruction. My middle has just started in a DI program and has made substantial gains as reported by the regular educaiton teacher and the special education teacher. My kids don't have learning disabilities they have curriculum disabilities.
Balanced literacy is a lie, and a disservice to our children. Curriculum makes a difference. The best teachers know that. Children are the priority. Why is that so difficult to accept?

Perhaps we are talking about two different things. Why would "balanced literacy" be a "lie" when it is research-based? Children learn to decode in a direct, systematic way. They get a heavy, daily dose of phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, and fluency. The textbooks they use are approved by Reading First. The word "balance" refers to the fact that children are given opportunities for reading and writing in authentic ways. Children who are already fluent have the opportunity to read books of their choice. I can't imagine why anyone would object to this.

My own son did not become fluent until third grade. I knew from my experience as a reading specialist that once a child sees himself as a reading failure, he is truly at risk. So I just kept reading to him and praising his progress. Sure enough he caught up and is actually working as a scientist with a Ph.D. from Stanford. In my opinion many disabled readers are produced by anxious parents who panic when their child does not learn to read by the end of first-grade. When my boys were young, I noticed that many children from affluent homes were in tutoring programs at the ages of six or seven because of a slight delay in reading achievement. These students burned out early while my son started slowly (like many boys) and then advanced rapidly. My other son was one who learned effortlessly. He went to Harvard. Children have different needs and experienced teachers never forget that.

Here'a another thing I learned from parents of high achieving children: Never "battle the school" in front of your child. It ALWAYS has a negative effect on school performance.

What a mess. The whole language folks are going for the juglar--or is it the pocketbook?

It is good to see that the "Reading Wars" are alive and well.

I believe it was Madeline Hunter who once said "Expecting all children the same age to learn from the same materials is like expecting all children the same age to wear the same size clothing."

The best teachers have always known this and use a variety (yes, balance) of methods to help children become readers. As noted earlier decoding words is not the same as reading for understanding. It is but one of a variety of skills that children need to become skilled readers. Different children need to develop different skills at different times.

As a parent I also know that how my children learned to read can not be used to determine how all children should learn to read.

Dear "NOT Rhonda Stone":

I have read the entire National Reading Panel report (not the summary; the actual very lenghthy report) and have examined a significant amount of the original research. I started my own examination shortly after the report was released--when my own children had already developed significant reading problems as a result of MY well-intentioned efforts to follow the recommendations of the Committee for the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children (predecessor to the National Reading Panel). I followed the recommendations favoring phonics and decoding closely to make sure that my children did not develop reading problems. Guess what happened? Both of my kids developed significant reading problems. Was "phonemic awareness" or lack of language to blame? Hardly. My son could identify and correctly pronounce the names of a dozen dinosaurs by the time he was 2.

Becky, Parent of Three, my heart aches for you and the present situation your children are in. You are right--they do suffer from curriculum dysfunction. But, before that, they suffer from dysfunction in the science of reading. The National Reading Panel report itself states that children over the age of 9 show little if any benefit from additional phonics instruction (including decoding)--yet, the core of what is done for struggling readers regardless of age is more of the same (phonics, decoding, and individual word identification).

The assumption that individual word identification MUST precede reading development is challenged by three scientifically verifiable facts:

1) "Percocious" or "hyperlexic" preschool-aged readers have been documented to figure out the reading process all by themselves, without any direct instruction in decoding or word identification. These children have been documented to become excellent readers and remain excellent readers for life. They become readers by simply knowing most of the alphabet and working relentlessly with stories that are familiar to them. Somehow, they use their knowledge of the alphabet and familiarity with a story to figure out the complex process of reading. How do "direct instruction" fanatics explain this??

2) Arranged as a sentence, it is easy to accurately read grossly misspelled text and text that includes absolutely no vowels. If reading sentences was reliant upon accurate "word replicas" and extensive phonics knowledge (particularly, the myriad of rules associated with the effect of vowels on the pronunciation of words), how do "direct instruction" fanatics explain this??

3) The lost language of the Egyptians was not understood through the individual symbols that survived. The language was reclaimed when the Rosetta Stone was discovered--a stone that included the same message in three different languages. Two of the languages were known, enabling linguists to finally figure out essential structural components of the lost Egyptian language. If "individual words" were at the heart of reading, why couldn't surviving individual Egyptian symbols be "read" in order to figure out the lost language?

Anyone who believes that reading depends on individual word identification is ignoring significant scientific realities of language: language is much, much more than individual words. Teaching children that reading is about individual word identification sets them up for reading failure. It works for simple, short text because there isn't much to process (short-term memory is not taxed). But it does not work for more complex reading material (encountered around the 4th grade). Please LOOK at National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores for 7th and 8th graders. Direct instruction advocates--if you aren't following up to see what happens to readers taught through direct instruction by 7th and 8th grades, then you have committed scientific negligence.

This is not an issue of "direct instruction" vs. "whole-language." This is an issue of 20 million children and teens in our country who STILL struggle with reading.

The REAL Rhonda Stone

Reading First has been built on at least 4 incorrect assumptions: kids don't learn to read because their teachers are unskilled or are not working hard enough, "literacy" can be taught in isolation for 2 1/2 hours per day, calling words quickly is reading, and comprehension is something we worry about after we teach them to call words quickly. All of these are laughable, if it were not so frightening that a billion dollars has been riding on them.

Then, let's talk about the claims of "research based". Let's perform the research with REAL classes of REAL students. And let's not overlook subgroups, such as ELL kids. Don't tell me it is research based but there is no research available to address the efficacy of a method on special populations.

Finally, let's talk about the politics and great financial rewards, as well as the blatant unethical behavior this program has shown us.

Decoding is to reading what spelling is to writing. Perhaps if people could understand the definition of reading (Webster: "To get the meaning of something -written, printed, embossed- by using the eyes or finger tips") we wouldn't have any reading wars.

I wonder if people like Reid Lyon think that blind people can read?

I remember years ago hearing something that sounded like research (it was on NPR) indicating that perhaps children learning reading in different ways. Some learn from the specific (phonemes) to the general (words and sentences) some work from the general (language) to an understanding of the specifics. Using an approach that dictates one or the other ensures that a segment of the population will be directed to special education (where, if they are lucky, remediation will take the correct approach--or if they are not lucky, remediation will continue with the incorrect approach, only slower).

Made sense to me. I know that all kinds of things go into reading and that successful readers are not decoding phonemes at a very rapid rate, but drawing on a vast array of what we used to call "sight words." I also know that many of us who think we learned to read using phonics probably didn't. Dick and Jane and Alice and Jerry with their stilted "run, Jane, run," were systematically building sight words (I believe it was called see-say). I personally learned to read the "wrong way." I knew enough to hide my reading ability from my first grade teacher, but it began by my dad unscientifically handing the book to me one night and telling me it was my turn to read. The way it worked was something along the lines of guess/correct/remember/learn. There was also some sounding out--which I remember because I kept getting stuck on t-h-e, not a word that sounds out.

I wonder about things like--how do deaf children learn to read (in our fractured phonetic system)? How do children learn to read in non-phonetic systems (like picto-grams)?

My daughter learned reading quite well phonetically--at a Spanish immersion school. Spanish actually IS a phonetic language (the phonics actually follow the rules--as opposed to English where we have all kinds of exceptions that make no sense).

The Reading First scandal is unfortunate, because it allows people to think that all science is bunk--which it isn't, and to overlook everything that research HAS discovered about reading process.

It is unfortunate that so many people have forgotten that the intent of NCLB was to do exactly what these federal officials were attempting to do; Require Scientifically Validated Reading Programs. What Mr. Goodman and Mr. Allington fail to accept, is that their conceptions of reading have not been validated; and this is the reason that they and their favorite programs were not advocated. Unfortunately, although Mr. Goodman and Mr. Allington are not particularly skilled in teaching reading, they are skilled sheep herders.

What is unfortunate about the scandal is that uninformed politicians attended to the squeaking wheels rather than attending to the legislation that they, themselves passed. What is really too bad about the scandal is that the good name of real educators are being tarnished by incompetent pretenders. What is too bad about the scandal is that those who are persecuting the federal officials in the court of public opinion are violating the very law they are pretending to uphold. What is really too bad about the scandal is that no one is talking about the real scandal – once again, politics wins over teaching children how to read.

I have to say all this squabbling back and forth is giving me a headache. Thank goodness for a few sane voices among the bickerers who echo each other: one size does NOT fit all in learning anything, as your own observation and experience will tell you. My father read a chapter a night from "Alice in Wonderland" when I was three and my sister was one and a half. We also read fat books of nursery rhymes. Only at Grandma's house were we exposed to The Little Golden books. My mom taught me the early steps of writing before I entered Kindergarten at the age of four. Yes Margo, well I remember the Dick and Jane books. I marched home from school truly ticked off and announced, "You will not believe what I am supposed to read at school! 'See Dick. See Dick run. Run Dick run.' What kind of book is that?!?" It actually made me dread the reading classes, and I couldn't wait to get home and read something worthwhile. I learned by exactly the same methods as Margo described.

I read aloud to my son starting when he was in utero and what I read were my books until he was over one year old. Then we graduated to high quality picture books. He too learned to read by the time he entered Kindergarten. However, he did not choose to read the classics as I had hoped. Instead at the age of five, he would lay the sports page on the floor, lay on his tummy and read. His favorite thing to read were the box scores. Why? Because that's what Daddy read.

My suggestion? Give children something of quality and importance to their lives and they will read.

This argument of "one-best-way" to teach a content area dates back to the turn of the century as Goodman, et.al. pointed out in their publication "Report Card on Basal Readers" publised in 1988. The idea that reading instruction can be reduced to a simple instructional strategy of letter/sound relationships (phonics only) insults those who have studied the topic for years. We need to use the quality research that has been conducted by over the years by learned scholars to develop a balanced approach to instruction and stop searching for simple answers to complex problems. The heavy handed approach that individuals have taken in the administration and micromanaging of Reading First differs little from the approach this adminstration has taken in other areas. Unfortunately, children are suffering from this simple-minded approach to a complex problem.

On another blog people were discussing vocational education. One person wrote that the discussion was getting nowhere because each writer had a different definition of "voc ed." When I read those words, it immediately occurred to me that people involved in the "reading wars" are really not talking about the same thing. Phonics proponents are talking about decoding as a beginning reading skill, while others are talking about "reading," which is, of course, a very complex mental process. Unfortunately the federal government has endorsed a very narrow view of reading, pressuring educators all over the country to drill students on phonics skills ad nauseum. I believe that "experts" who support one way of teaching reading for everyone are doing so for financial gain. No one truly familiar with how children learn to read would ever endorse a one-size-fits-all method.

It's about time someone or some entity interfers w/how my tax money is spent. Reading First has some true successes. After 37 years in education I've seen far too much $$ wasted on poor reading programs and cringe at the number of kids who have been short changed.

The arguments pro and con regarding phonics or whole language have existed for many years.

I agree with the concept of scientifically based instruction, but let us be careful how we define it. The National Reading Panel report was based on a very narrow selection of the reading research that is available. It was a panel stacked in favor of one view of reading instruction. It was not a panel which encouraged discussion among differing viewpoints seeking a consensus model, but instead it was stacked in favor of the model preferred by G. Reid Lyon and others.

When you examine the technical assistance centers, professors, researchers, or others favored by the Reading First proponents, it is amazing to see the same names over and over. It is as if there is a small elite group of people that possess all the knowledge. They have developed the political clout to maintain their feifdoms. Trace the political networks, the money, and examine the interconnections between these elitists who have all the knowledge -- that is where the real shame is.

The implementation of the Reading First mandates by the USDOE has severely infringed on state rights. The implementation has denied the citizens of every state the right to determine the instruction of their children which is in violation of the US Constitution. The states were granted the authority over the schools, not the federal government.

The Reading First proponents point to the achievement gap as evidence of the need for Reading First. However, they have presented no longitudinal evidence (i.e., scientifically based research) that shows that their programs will alleviate the achievement gap as the students progress through our school systems.

And if you look at the research studies that have been put forth as evidence that the reading curriculums that have been "approved", most of those studies were done by the companies or developers. This creates a situation similar to the fox guarding the hen house.

Follow the career paths of those whose names have been mentioned in the news as having conflicts of interests. Where do their paths take them? What foundations support their work? What companies do they work for? It all comes down to money.

I find it curious that people with similar experiences can have such sharply different views on the same subject. In my forty-two years of teaching I have never seen a reading program that worked with every child. Right now I am using a highly structured phonics program, but, as usual, there are several children who are having difficulty learning to read. That does not mean that they are NOT learning to read because I have many ways to help them. Right now I am working with my three struggling readers for about a half hour each day. I am using a highly individualized approach based on the children's strengths and weaknesses. I choose the books and materials that I deem best for each child. My methods are not new; they are probably closest to those used by Reading Recovery teachers. Basically it's a tutoring approach designed to meet the needs of individual children. Yes, it is labor intensive, but worth the effort. My little students are now happily and confidently reading.

Almost every experienced teacher seems to know that the teacher makes the difference in the classroom. The research repeatedly supports this fact, so I'm always perplexed when an experienced educator thinks that the reading program does the teaching. It doesn't and never will.

The National Reading Panel report was based on a very narrow selection of the reading research that is available.

That "very narrow selection" is called scientific research.

Name one study that met the selection criteria that was excluded from the NRP report (or the reanalyses) or one study that should have been excluded that affects the conclusion of the NRP.

I understand your desire to expand the selection criteria to include pseudo-science. It seems that some reading pedagogies only have pseudo-science supporting their effectiveness.

Excuse me for being ancient,I can only recall that when I went to school, I already knew how to read by sight, phonics instruction was not necessary. I went to school before the seventies, there were no legislated programs such as Bilingual education, the IDEA Act, or Title Programs. They did not exist.

I read what educators call the Dick and Jane books. I only say this because for many years in this country we taught "English", it was not seperated into Language Arts, Reading, Writing, and who knows what else! So, this reflection on what happened before the seventies seems to gets lost in what some educators call "Research".

There are numbers of programs most of which concentrate on phonics, drills, etc. These programs only keep children stuck in what Robert Marzano and others call a "Pedagogy of Poverty". They will never get ahead...

When those students get to high school, they will still be in "Reading Programs", and guess what, they will still be learning phonics and performing drills. They will never get the chance to have a real high school education in which the students get a chance to interpret literature. Rather, than just learning how the words are pronounced.

It is sad in America when the concept of a researched based program overlooks 80 years of public educational experiences in this country.

Richard Donaghey
(The Ancient One)

It is the 20%-30% of children who failed with Whole Language, Look and Say, Balanced Literature and, in the UK, with multi-cueing 'Searchlights' instruction who deserve our attention, not the majority who got by with a hotch-potch of methods.

Here in the UK fast phonics instruction 'synthetic phonics' certainly doesn't entail years of work-sheet druggery. The danger to its implementation comes from those who don't understand how the alphabetic principle works and are trying to insert Reading Recovery and similar programs - that completely undermine early groundwork in decoding-not-guessing.

A lot of this talk is based on emotions, not knowledge. Take a look at Marie Clay's research and her methods (Reading Recovery). She was advocating "phonemic awareness" and VERY systematic phonics (BASED ON EACH CHILD'S NEEDS) before the research supported
the importance of these skills in beginning reading instruction. To my knowledge, she was the first educator to educate teachers on the importance of having children manipulate phonemes.

What many of us object to is not a phonics-based approach to teaching reading, but rather "the one-size-fits all" approach that is currently being advocated. As long as we are dealing with people, there is rarely one answer to anything.

Every capable reader of the English language, including Ken Goodman, would be able to decode the following nonsense word: recomaskability. That's because our language is phonetic (80% regular as in "came", "tell", and "which"; and 20% irregular as in "was", "were" and "of"). In order to read English, or any alphabetic language, one must "crack the code" just as the Chinese must recognize their characters. This said, people go about learning to decode in different ways. Most appear to learn best by blending individual sounds into words (/k/ /a/ /n/ is "can"). However, all experienced reading teachers know that there are many children who best learn analytically; that is, they see and remember "can" and then are able to decode man, tan, than, ran etc. Soon they have internalized the sound/symbol relationship, just as the synthetic blenders do. It's so important for teachers to understand that children have different learning styles. Once the reader gets past the beginning stages, other cueing systems predominate (If you don't believe this, analyze your own reading. Do you "sound out" or do you predict, and use semantic, syntactic and meaning cues?) To continue to insist that everyone learn in the same way is to condemn many children to illiteracy.

I would like to ask people on both sides of this debate if you have ever heard of “facilitated communication”. Those who occupy the Reading First camp would do well to research it. There once existed a PBS documentary on the subject that would shed light on how difficult it is to use things like research, facts or even common sense to win an argument with people who think with their heart. The crux of it is that a “progressive” State University of New York professor had a theory that many other people wanted to believe was true; that autistic children possessed inherent communication skills that simply needed help from a “facilitator”. They set about to prove this theory by having a trained facilitator assist the autistic student in answering questions by “guiding” the student’s outstretched hand over a keyboard and letting go when the student’s pointed finger was poised above a particular letter. People who remember the popular Parker Bros. game “Ouija Board” can easily see where this whole thing goes but the facilitators wanted so badly to believe that the students were typing words of their own accord that they never stopped to think that the kids had never been taught how to spell a single word.
This method of communicating with autistic children was even once used to convict a priest of sexually abusing his autistic son based on facilitated testimony using a facilitator who was an extreme left wing social worker with a personal vendetta against people of faith.
The way the hoax was exposed was by putting a visual barrier between the facilitator and the student whose hand she was guiding so that a flash card could be shown and the student could type what he saw, with the help of the facilitator. The facilitator could see the keyboard in order to provide the assistance but was unaware that the flash card that she was shown was different from the flash card the student was shown. The consistent result was that when the facilitator saw the flash card and helped the student type “apple” the student was being shown a flash card of a truck or a dog. The test went on until the witnesses could not doubt what was really happening in these education facilities with our taxpayer dollars.
At the end of the test the facilitators were shown what they had insisted with all their heart was not really happening. And they just cried. That was all they could do. They had been hoodwinked into thinking what they were doing was good and real and noble and now they were utterly and completely devastated by the truth that they swore was not.
You whole language people are no different than those facilitators. You have the history, provable theory, evidence and research of reading with which to decide right from wrong but you are just blinded by an opposing philosophy. I pity you.

Yes, I agree that we must open our eyes and look at proven methods in reading pedagogy. I was happy to see that the hugely successful Reading Recovery program received "a rare thumbs-up" from the federal What Works Clearinghouse. This is a finely tuned tutoring program that works with children who are most at-risk. Kudos to the late psychologist Marie Clay for helping teachers everywhere bring the gift of literacy to millions of children.

I understand the principle of reading recovery to be remedial and therefore not suitable as a first tier reading program. If explicit systematic phonics were the primary vehicle of reading instruction, through 3rd grade, there would be very little need for remedial programs. Most at-risk students get that way because they were exposed to whole word which is a cause of a form of dyslexia. Cure the cause and we won't need Band-Aids.

Upon reading of the corruption associated with the Reading First program, I was extremely disappointed. This program offers a great chance for children to develop and improve upon their reading skills, yet it has been handicapped through the disruptive political dealings and positioning that seems to be ever present in the political landscape of today. Perhaps, after new personnel are in place and the program is allowed to perform as it is intended, children can finally begin to fully reap the benefits of improved literacy.
Concerning the Reading First program itself, I think much worse programs have been attempted and that it serves as one of the very few bright spots of the No Child Left Behind Act. Its emphasis on schools located in areas of low income families is a very positive and important part of this program, and can hopefully help to serve as a great resource for schools that may not have the resources needed to fully serve its students. Yet, though the premise and early results are promising, it would be nice to see this program’s effectiveness after the wide scale corruption has been dealt with.

Not sure if the "Reading First" program is a good idea anyhow- reading should start at home, not in schools. I think if the taxpayers want a better program, NCLB should be ditched and they themselves should take up the basic building blocks for teaching their kids. They are parents, that's their job!

Overall, NCLB is very good legislation (even though it is not always implemented well). If Reading First can improve the lliteracy skills of children, then I support it. The research is scientifically based, and teachers are being trained to present the material effectively. I do not agree with public officials meddling with government affairs, no matter how high up they are. People need to be cooperative with the government, and if they do not agree, there are always options like lobbying to get their opinions across.

Reading First has the ability to be an amazing program as long as it's implemented well. Each school has its own student culture that applying Reading First may be different and difficult in its own way in each school district. I believe this is a huge problem with national programs that is overlooked by many. A national program with exact rules should not be in place, these programs should be a basic guideline and get more detailed as it goes from national to state to local. This would connect the student to curriculum better than one he/she has no relation to the ideals and concepts because of demographics. I do agree with J Black. More parents need to get more involved in their children’s literacy and stop leaving it solely on the schools. Supplementary not fundamental education should be the schools job.

Dear Education Week:

It is with great interest that I continue reading the articles about contracting issues in your newspaper. The timeline of events you provided gave good perspectives and was important to me as a federally contracted Reading First provider for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Schools (2003-05).

I would like to bring to your attention that there are also issues currently being investigated on the Reading First Program in the US Department of Interior with the Bureau of Indian Affairs schools. This is not a billion dollar program but a multi-million dollar program that serves the BIA schools in the USA.
Specifically I would like to bring to your attention the matter of my own complaint against the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Office of Indian Education Programs (OIEP), which involved similar issues within their Reading First Program. My complaint alleges impropriety within the Reading First program administration by OIEP Staff in what I and other Native American contractors perceived as racially-biased and discriminatory treatment favoring less-qualified non-Native American contractors in the contracting process.
Not only were these contractors non-Indian but most importantly these contractors were favored based on relationships not empirical and scientifically based reading research they conducted in Native American contexts.

In fact by BIA's own admission (via Lynanne Barbaro, BIA Federal Reading First Program Director), which we have legally on tape from the first contractor's meeting in September 2003, none of the contractors at the meeting even stepped foot on an Indian reservation for any reason, let alone to teach reading (except for the two Indian contractors--Bowman Performance Consulting LLC of Shawano, WI and Bryan Consulting and Training of Tulsa, OK).

Another point is that most of the same contracting agencies mentioned as being treated preferientially under the US DOE Reading First contracts also scooped up the lion's share of the work under the BIA Reading First program. The twist here is that under both "scientifically based" policies of the US DOE and under the "Indian preference" policies of the DOI, the BIA Reading First Director gave this work to contractors who were not qualified (meaning that they've taught Native students to read before and have published in a peer reviewed journal) nor were they Indian organizations. Two firms were qualified and were certified Indian firms!

To date, the DOI IG still has the investigation "opened" and we do not have a resolution to what I see as a fairly straighforward matter.

Interestingly though, my company's multiple requests for review of contracting issues were submitted by my company in 2003, 2004, and 2005. However it wasn't until Indian Country Today did a story on this, Ed Weed did a story on these issues, and that my WI congressional representatives (Mark Green, Herb Kohl, and Rus Feingold) contacted the BIA that an investigation was opened by the Department of Interior's Inspector General.

Although my complaint is currently under investigation by the BIA Office of Inspector General (case # OI-CO-06-0156-I), I hope Ed Week can cover these matters in DOI and D of ED concurrently. Thank you for your assistance,

Nicole R. Bowman (Mohican), Owner
Bowman Performance Consulting, LLC

As stated in the Nov. 9, 2006 Investigative Activity Report for Case # OI-CO-06-0156-I:

"SA Bucci and SA House explained to Bowman that the reasons she used to justify her position that she was authorized [for] Native American preference were misinterpretations of the regulations. It was further explained to Bowman that she was not authorized to certify to any announcements under Native American preference and that if she did she could be charged criminally for falsely certifying an official document."

Interested parties should contact SA Bucci or his supervisor, Art Willhite:

[email protected]
[email protected]

Or you can contact the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians to verify that Nicole Bowman is NOT a fully enrolled member.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Ann N. Amos: As stated in the Nov. 9, 2006 Investigative Activity Report read more
  • Nicole Bowman (Mohican), BIA Federal Reading First Prime Contractor: Dear Education Week: It is with great interest that I read more
  • K. Novak / Student: Reading First has the ability to be an amazing program read more
  • Erica, student at the University of Northern Colorado: Overall, NCLB is very good legislation (even though it is read more
  • J Black: Not sure if the "Reading First" program is a good read more




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