Education Letter to the Editor

Policymakers Should Look to History

May 08, 2012 1 min read
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To the Editor:

Clearly, some educators and politicians hope the public’s historical memory goes back no further than a few weeks. At least that’s what can be drawn from the new policy scheme to test “elementary teachers’ knowledge of the science of reading,” based on the findings of the report of the National Reading Panel (“Separate Reading Exams Await Would-Be Elementary Teachers,” April 18, 2012).

However, has everyone forgotten that less than six months ago, the National Assessment of Educational Progress reported that reading scores have remained flat since the introduction of Reading First, the instructional core of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001? And what was Reading First based upon? Hmmm ... oh, yes ... the 2000 NRP Report!

How can this proposed testing scheme proceed as though this history never existed? How can the scheme plan to test teachers on their ability to employ a pseudoscientific, “big five” method (first teach phonological awareness, then phonics, etc.) that produced the NAEP reading outcomes?

The damage to children’s reading development evolved first because educators and policymakers who supported NCLB obstinately rejected the substantive criticism by reading experts that debunked this so-called scientific instruction. Yet because of the extent and depth of the criticism, educators who were funded by programs subsequently developed under President George W. Bush sought out a supportive document for their cause. The NRP report—which was released during the last full year of the Clinton presidency—handily provided justification for the implementation of NCLB pedagogy.

This reprise of deplorable policy and “evidence” disconcertingly recalls Bob Dylan’s lines asking “what price/ You have to pay to get out of/ Going through all these things twice.” The price will, of course, be paid by tomorrow’s students.

Gerald Coles

Rochester, N.Y.

Gerald Coles is a full-time researcher, writer, and lecturer on the psychology and politics of literacy and education.

A version of this article appeared in the May 09, 2012 edition of Education Week as Policymakers Should Look to History


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