To the Editor:
I have a few questions for Louisa Moats regarding the report she wrote for the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, “Whole-Language High Jinks: How to Tell When ‘Scientifically Based Reading Instruction’ Isn’t” (“Whole Language,” Report Roundup, Feb. 7, 2007).
Reading scores for 4th graders on the National Assessment of Educational Progress rose between 1998 and 2002, when teachers and schools were simply asked to place greater emphasis on reading. But NAEP scores have remained flat since the mandates of Reading First were introduced in 2002. How do you explain this? If the “science” promoted by the National Reading Panel is accurate, wouldn’t the billions of dollars spent to date on explicit, systematic phonics instruction have caused NAEP 4th grade reading scores to rise?
Moreover, the full text of the National Reading Panel’s 2000 report supports “balance” between explicit phonics instruction, fluency (“the forgotten skill”), and comprehension. It also supports the use of good literature by schools, while cautioning that phonics after the age of 9 is of little benefit. Can you explain why old-school proponents of the federal phonics agenda choose to ignore these truths?
Am I the only one who interpreted “Whole-Language High Jinks” as yet another attempt to manipulate schools to choose certain types of curriculum? Oh, that’s right. Government-funded “scientists” are trying to manipulate schools to only choose certain types of curriculum (even though “the government” isn’t supposed to be involved in such “high jinks”).
If phonics had worked 40 years ago to create a nation of readers, we wouldn’t have abandoned it. The billions already spent to organize schools around explicit, systematic phonics instruction have not improved NAEP reading scores. The reading field needs to get off its high horse and admit that it does not yet know how to prevent reading problems from forming. If it did, it would clear the way for new ideas that could help the 20 million American children and teenagers who still struggle with reading.
The Literacy Alliance
A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 2007 edition of Education Week as Reading Field Needs to ‘Get Off Its High Horse’