To the Editor:
Joanne Yatvin protests teaching children the skills and knowledge they need to become competent and joyful readers (“A Flawed Approach to Reading in the Common-Core Standards,”, Commentary, Feb. 29, 2012). Worse, she underestimates the capability and interest of young children. I, too, was an elementary school principal and saw firsthand the interest children took in the world around them. Kindergarten children devoured nonfiction about dinosaurs. They requested over and over again the Magic School Bus books about their bodies.
While I agree that the Common Core State Standards demand more of children and that analytical skills must be developed thoughtfully, young children can grapple with such texts.
Additionally, Ms. Yatvin protests the statement that students should receive explicit and systematic instruction in the reading-foundation skills in order to develop automaticity. This was exactly what the National Reading Panel found, and the finding is well supported by research.
Furthermore, the statement she decries does not say that comprehension comes automatically. The quoted portion states that independent and automatic reading is important “to ensure” that the focus can be on comprehension. It is well supported that students who lack automaticity and fluent reading ability have a harder time focusing on meaning.
Finally, the argument against the vocabulary focus is particularly troubling. Tier 2 words (as studied by Isabel L. Beck at the University of Pittsburgh) are not just academic words, but also vocabulary common to much of children’s literature. By addressing academic language early, we can attempt to overcome the socioeconomic and language discrepancies noted in Todd R. Risley and Betty Hart’s book Meaningful Differences in Everyday Experience of Young American Children (1995).
Developing academic and important vocabulary knowledge is an equity issue. I cannot believe Ms. Yatvin doesn’t want our English-learners and children with impoverished vocabulary to develop language on par with their more advantaged peers.
Chief Executive Officer
Consortium on Reaching Excellence in Education
The consortium was previously known as the Consortium on Reading Excellence, or CORE.
A version of this article appeared in the March 28, 2012 edition of Education Week as Common-Core Standards in Reading Not ‘Flawed’