School & District Management

Book on ‘Scientifically Based’ Reading Research to Debut

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — March 10, 2004 3 min read
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Two staff members at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which has played a key role in disseminating reading research and informing policy decisions, have compiled a volume of essays to help educators weed through the rhetoric of “scientifically based” reading research and make their own decisions about how it can be used to improve instruction.

“The Voice of Evidence in Reading Research,” can be order for $29.95 from Brookes Publishing. Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The Voice of Evidence in Reading Research, which was to be released by the Baltimore-based Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. this week, features essays by 30 researchers, educators, and policy experts, including several members of the National Reading Panel and others aligned with the NICHD. In more than 400 pages, the authors describe what they deem to be sound research practices, outline the evidence on effective reading instruction, and explain the findings of the reading panel, which are outlined in the congressionally mandated group’s 2000 report.

“We felt that it was important to help teachers understand where we are coming from in terms of why we put such an emphasis on ‘scientific evidence,’” Peggy McCardle, the associate chief of the NICHD branch that subsidizes reading research, wrote last week in an e-mail to Education Week. Ms. McCardle edited the volume with Vinita Chhabra, a research scientist at the national institute.

“Schools are being asked under [the No Child Left Behind Act] to implement scientifically based reading research. ... So we felt they needed not only the information but ‘tools'—the knowledge of how research is done and how to decide what is trustworthy and what’s not,” Ms. McCardle said.

Panel Findings Explained

The volume includes sections on methods, evidence-based instruction, brain research, and the use of science in crafting reading policies.

In four of the 19 chapters, members of the National Reading Panel explain their findings on such matters as the teaching of basic skills, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

Timothy Shanahan, the director of the Center for Literacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a panel member, rebuts criticism of the panel in great detail. For example, he notes that condemnation of the panel’s narrow focus on experimental studies—and not qualitative research—is unwarranted, given his own investigation that found a more inclusive review of the literature would have had little or no influence on the panel’s conclusions.

“The critics were often less interested in the practical implications of the NRP for teachers and schools than about some feared side effect, such as the impact the NRP might have on future research funding,” Mr. Shanahan writes. “The NRP report has generated a firestorm of controversy among critics who seemingly would like to prevent it from being used by teachers or policymakers.”

Tribute Included

Though the panel’s detractors have not yet seen the book, such passages and the adulation of G. Reid Lyon are bound to attract further criticism.

The book is dedicated to Mr. Lyon, the chief of the NICHD’s Child Development and Behavior branch. It includes a glowing tribute to Mr. Lyon, by Robert H. Pasternack, the former assistant secretary for special education who left his U.S. Department of Education post in January.

“Dr. Lyon has elevated the importance of teaching reading, and his courage to bring rigorous science into education has brought discussion about reading to its current emphasis on the need for teachers to use scientific, evidence-based, empirically proven practices,” Mr. Pasternack writes.

Authors’ royalties from the book will be donated to the Children’s Inn at NIH, which provides housing for children with rare, terminal, or life- threatening diseases, and their families, while they are being treated at the Bethesda, Md., campus of the National Institutes of Health.

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