Education Letter to the Editor

On Reading, Will Obama Repeat Bush’s Mistakes?

October 19, 2009 1 min read

To the Editor:

In response to “‘Race to Top’ Said to Lack Key Science” (Oct. 7, 2009), which reports on criticism among some education researchers that the Obama administration parallels the U.S. Department of Education under former President George W. Bush by offering insufficient evidence to support its policies:

It’s good to finally see some form of recognition in Education Week that the term “scientifically based reading research” was a cover for the imposition of a particularly narrow direct-instruction phonics methodology in the form of Reading First and the federal No Child Left Behind Act. A small group of ideologues used the phrase to promote its own tests and materials and to establish a de facto blacklist of methods and researchers.

Your sources were wrong, however, in their insistence that there is a lack of research on reading. Consensus is growing among researchers that reading is a process of making sense (constructing meaning), and that when beginning readers have access to well-written and authentic literature relevant to their interests and experiences, they not only learn to read, but also become lifelong readers.

Research over the past half-century, my own included, has provided considerable understanding of how people make sense of print. We also have learned much from a wide range of researchers about how reading develops in young learners. But this large base of research was marginalized and excluded by efforts to put the focus on a single, narrow view of reading instruction.

The Obama administration can open up support for research and the application of the existing rich research to teaching. If it continues to focus on quick cures, however, or to measure progress in terms of scores on skill tests, rather than productive reading, the administration will be wasting more billions on top of the $6 billion the Bush administration threw away.

Kenneth S. Goodman

Professor Emeritus

Department of Language, Reading, and Culture

College of Education

University of Arizona

Tucson, Ariz.

A version of this article appeared in the October 21, 2009 edition of Education Week as On Reading, Will Obama Repeat Bush’s Mistakes?