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Reading Study Comes Up Short, Lawmakers Assert

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Washington--A forthcoming report on reading instruction may not fulfill a Congressional mandate for a study of effective programs, members of the Congress have charged.

The 600-page report, expected to be published this month, examines research on beginning-reading instruction in search of a "common ground" on the divisive topic. It concludes that effective teaching requires a balance between phonics activities and reading in context.

A summary of the report, prepared by the Center for the Study of Reading at the University of Illinois, was released last month. (See Education Week, Jan. 10, 1990.)

But Kristen D.W. Morris, an aide to Representative Patricia Saiki, Republican of Hawaii, said last week that the report does not appear to represent what the Congress asked for in its 1986 legislation requiring the study of reading instruction. Ms. Saiki last fall sent a letter, signed by 32 members of the House and Senate, to Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos, urging the department to fulfill its mandate.

"From what the experts tell me, it sounds like the gist [of what was mandated] is there," Ms. Morris said. "But it would be wonderful if it were a reference, as opposed to another research paper. Another one of those isn't what's necessary."

Ms. Morris said Ms. Saiki and other members of the Congress will examine the report closely to determine if it contains the information required. If not, she said, Representative Saiki may request hearings to ask Education Department officials why they did not follow the mandate, or else introduce legislation requiring the department to meet its obligation.

In response to such inquiries, Undersecretary of Education Ted Sanders said that the forthcoming report would "comply substantially" with the legislative requirement.

"This voluminous study," he wrote, "will provide guidance to state and local education agencies, who can use the report to reach their own conclusions as to 'what will work' for their particular schools."

Mr. Sanders added that the department would also produce additional materials, including a listing, by publisher, of basal reading programs.

1986 Legislation

The Congressional mandate for a study of reading instruction was contained in legislation, passed in 1986, sponsored by the late Senator Edward Zorinsky of Nebraska.

That law required the Education Department to "compile a complete list, by name, of beginning-reading instruction programs and methods, including phonics."

The measure stipulated that the list should indicate the annual cost per pupil of such programs, as well as whether they "do or do not present well-designed instruction as recommended in" Becoming a Nation of Readers, the 1985 report by a federally sponsored commission on reading.

Erica Kenney, a former aide to Senator Zorinsky, said last week that the law was aimed at providing teachers and parents with a guide for analyzing their schools' programs.

"Anybody could have the list, and compare it with what their schools were using, and see if what they are doing is in line with what the experts recommend," she said.

A massive research report, she contended, "is not helpful to parents and the general public in determining effective reading programs."

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