Opinion
Federal Letter to the Editor

What Blocks Innovation in Reading Instruction

January 23, 2007 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

Your Dec. 13, 2006, article “Reading Law Fails to Bring Innovations” seems to overlook the fact that the aim of the No Child Left Behind Act was not to encourage innovation in reading instruction, but rather to ensure that the methods used to teach reading in American schools were well researched and evidence-based.

Only methods already widely used in schools generate enough scholarly studies to be considered well researched, however. When the U.S. Congress, in 1997, created a National Reading Panel to study the status of reading research in America, the panel could find only two teaching methods that met its research criteria: systematic phonics and nonsystematic phonics or no phonics.

For more than a century, these two reading philosophies, along with their variations and combinations, have dominated reading instruction in our schools. By the end of the 19th century, it had become clear that neither method was satisfactory. But in spite of ever-accumulating evidence—humiliating adult-illiteracy figures, shocking National Assessment of Educational Progress results, disastrous reading scores in the inner city—we continue to cling to these methods.

When the drafters of the No Child Left Behind law put in a requirement that schools wishing to receive federal funds use systematic phonics, they were relying on rather unconvincing research by the National Reading Panel comparing these two failing methods.

“Systematic phonics instruction,” the panel reported, “was most effective in improving children’s ability to decode regularly spelled words and pseudowords.”

“However,” they added with apparent disinterest, “the effects of systematic phonics instruction on text comprehension in readers above 1st grade … were not significant for the older group in general.”

We are left to wonder what made the panel think that being able to read regularly spelled words and pseudowords helps a child read connected text, when its evidence was to the contrary.

Real innovation can only come about by breaking free of the strange paralysis of the imagination that binds us helplessly to two illogical, antiquated, and chronically nonperforming teaching methods for reading. Innovation of this kind has never been well tolerated in our schools. By tying federal funds to a strict adherence to one of these failed methods, the No Child Left Behind law has only aggravated the situation. Useful innovation is now, in effect, prevented by law.

Helen B. Andrejevic

New York, N.Y.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 24, 2007 edition of Education Week as What Blocks Innovation In Reading Instruction

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attend to the Whole Child: Non-Academic Factors within MTSS
Learn strategies for proactively identifying and addressing non-academic barriers to student success within an MTSS framework.
Content provided by Renaissance
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Trump's VP Pick: What We Know About JD Vance's Record on Education
Two days after a gunman tried to assassinate him, former President Donald Trump announced Ohio Sen. JD Vance as his running mate.
4 min read
Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, right, points toward Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally, March 16, 2024, in Vandalia, Ohio.
Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, right, points toward Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally, March 16, 2024, in Vandalia, Ohio. Trump on July 15 announced the first-term Ohio senator as his running mate.
Jeff Dean/AP
Federal In Wake of Trump Assassination Attempt, Biden Calls for Unity and Investigation Gets Underway
President Biden condemns violence, the FBI searches for a motive, and Trump heads to RNC.
3 min read
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa.
Former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents after being struck by gunfire at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. The day after the attempted assasination of the Republican nominee for president, Trump arrived in Milwaukee ahead of the start of the Republican National Convention and President Joe Biden gave a prime-time address, saying "politics must never be a literal battlefied. God forbid, a killing field."
Evan Vucci/AP
Federal What the 2024 GOP Platform Says About K-12 and What It Would Mean If Trump Wins
We break down what the GOP's 2024 policy platform says about education.
7 min read
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Trump National Doral Miami, Tuesday, July 9, 2024, in Doral, Fla.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Trump National Doral Miami, Tuesday, July 9, 2024, in Doral, Fla.
Rebecca Blackwell/AP
Federal Q&A Ed Research Isn't Always Relevant. This Official Is Trying to Change That
Matthew Soldner, the acting director of the Institute of Education Sciences, calls for new approaches to keep up with classroom tools.
5 min read
USmap ai states 535889663 02
Laura Baker/Education Week with iStock/Getty