Another blast in the reading wars

Sep 17, 2013 by

By Valerie Strauss –

The reading wars continue.

Last month I published two pieces by literacy experts who raised serious objections to key parts of a report released over the summer on teacher preparation by a group called the National Council on Teacher Quality. The first one is here, the second here.( I had earlier published posts on the report, here and here, which criticized its methodology in determining which colleges of education were worthwhile and which aren’t.) The literacy experts (some of whom have served as president of the  National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association) were concerned, among other things, that the council was promoting an old and narrow idea that direct instruction of phonics is the best way to teach reading and that other methods have little or no value.

Not surprisingly, a number of scholars with different views has taken issue with the group’s objections and signed a letter about their position. This letter was written and circulated among like-minded scholars by Steven Dykstra, an adolescent psychologist and a founding member of the Wisconsin Reading Coalition.

For the sake of healthy debate on an important issue, I am publishing their letter. This is an important issue, and I’ll continue to write and publish pieces on it.

Here’s the Dykstra-written letter, with the names of signing scholars at the end:

Like Washington Post blogger Valerie Strauss, we also regret that the Reading Wars continue to plague education. However, this cannot be blamed on organizations like the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), which recently published its findings on how well our colleges and universities prepare future teachers to teach reading to young students. Rather, the Reading Wars persist because of the continued dissemination of false information about the process of becoming an effective reader, with the latest example being Strauss’s own blog on August 13. Strauss’s pronouncements are particularly damaging, appearing as they do under the banner of the Washington Post, arguably the most trusted source of unbiased information for the nation’s decision makers. As such, they require a decisive response.

 

Taking aim at the NCTQ’s evaluation of teacher preparation programs, Strauss uses her forum to champion and promote the views of a limited sub-group of a society that calls itself the Reading Hall of Fame.  Although an independent organization, many members of the Reading Hall of Fame, including eight signers of the critique in question, are Past Presidents of the International Reading Association. Some of their criticisms aren’t much more than political innuendo, suggesting that the NCTQ and its allies are a front for conservatives determined to ruin public education and usurp control of teacher training.  Many staffers at the NCTQ as well as their supporters are true-blue liberals, and efforts to paint this as a clash of political philosophies distract from the real issue, which is the need to improve the effectiveness of teacher education in the United States.

 

Headliner Kenneth Goodman and the other Hall of Fame signers also complain that the NCTQ approach is incomplete, neglecting many important aspects of reading instruction and teacher training.  We must remember that NCTQ neither intended nor claimed to evaluate all aspects of how teachers are prepared to teach reading.  The NCTQ review focused on the five core components of reading identified by the National Academy of Sciences in 1998:  phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. Weakness in any of these five components impedes or obstructs reading growth and, as attested by the 2000 meta-analysis of the National Reading Panel, growth in each of the components is significantly assisted through appropriate classroom instruction.  The NCTQ reviewed programs to see if each of these critical components were covered for at least two lectures, and evaluated by at least one assignment.

via Another blast in the reading wars.

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