Via a reader email; Language Log:
Last Friday, the New York Times ran a story about how school administrators in Madison, Wisconsin, turned down $2M in federal Reading First funds rather than change their approach to the teaching of reading (Diana Jean Schemo, “In War Over Teaching Reading, a U.S.-Local Clash”). Considering the importance of the topic, it’s remarkable how poorly (or misleadingly) reported this article was. The story’s key claim:
Madison officials say that a year after Wisconsin joined Reading First, in 2004, contractors pressured them to drop their approach, which blends some phonics with whole language in a program called Balanced Literacy. Instead, they gave up the money — about $2 million, according to officials here, who say their program raised reading scores.
One set of problems with the article is discussed by Ken DeRosa here. Apparently the Madison program “raised reading scores” only because the test scoring system was changed. Once apples are compared to apples, the test results show that “Madison’s Balanced Literacy reading program […] failed to increase student performance in Madison and actually caused a relative decline in the schools that were supposed to get Reading First funding.”
Last night, Mark Seidenberg sent me a note in which he lays out some additional background, and identifies what he calls the “big lie” in Schemo’s story: