Balanced literacy was a way to defuse the wars over reading,” said Mark Seidenberg, a cognitive neuroscientist and author of the book “Language at the Speed of Sight.” “It succeeded in keeping the science at bay, and it allowed things to continue as before.”
He says the reading wars are over, and science lost.
Seidenberg knows of a child who was struggling so much with reading that her mother paid for a private tutor. “The tutor taught her some of the basic skills that the child wasn’t getting in her whole language classroom,” he said. “At the end of the school year the teacher was proud that the child had made so much progress, and the parent said, ‘Well, why didn’t you teach phonics and other basic skills related to print in class?’ And the teacher said ‘Oh, I did. Your child was absent that day.'”
For scientists like Seidenberg, the problem with teaching just a little bit of phonics is that according to all the research, phonics is crucial when it comes to learning how to read. Surrounding kids with good books is a great idea, but it’s not the same as teaching children to read.
Experts say that in a whole-language classroom, some kids will learn to read despite the lack of effective instruction. But without explicit and systematic phonics instruction, many children won’t ever learn to read very well.
In 2016, the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, reviewed the syllabi of teacher preparation programs across the country and found that only 39 percent of them appeared to be teaching the components of effective reading instruction.
Seidenberg says the scientific research has had relatively little impact on what happens in classrooms because the science isn’t very highly valued in schools of education. “Prospective teachers aren’t exposed to it or they’re led to believe that it’s only one of several perspectives,” he said. “In a class on reading, prospective teachers will be exposed to a menu in which they have 10 or 12 different approaches to reading, and they’re encouraged to pick the one that will fit their personal teaching style best.”
Education as a practice has placed a much higher value on observation and hands-on experience than on scientific evidence, Seidenberg said. “We have to change the culture of education from one based on beliefs to one based on facts.”
Kelly Butler has been trying to do just that for nearly two decades in Mississippi.
The Wisconsin DPI, lead by Mr. Evers, has largely killed our one (!) teacher content knowledge requirement: Foundations of Reading.
2005: When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before
2006: “They’re all Rich White Kids, and they’ll do just fine, NOT!”
2011: A Capitol conversation.
On the 5-2 Madison School Board No (Cole, Hughes, Moss, Passman, Silveira) Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School Vote (Howard, Mathiak voted Yes)
2013: Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results.
2018: The Simpson Street Free Press (!) digs: Are Rising MMSD Grad Rates Something to Celebrate?, and digs deeper: Madison’s ACT College Readiness Gap.
The state of journalism, 2018.