Reading & Literacy Letter to the Editor

The Politics of Reading Is Failing Students

July 12, 2021 1 min read
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To the Editor:

Educators see this claim over and over: Students are struggling because reading instruction fails to follow the federal guidance for the best way to teach reading (“Is the Bottom Falling Out for Readers Who Struggle the Most?” June 5, 2021).

The federal guidance that originated with the National Reading Panel’s findings is the problem! Two-thirds of all American students, grades 4, 8, and 12, read at a basic level or below. This has been the trend both before and since the release of NRP’s findings. In the early 2000s, $6 billion was spent on Reading First, a national program designed to train 1st through 3rd grade teachers in instructing the five skills associated with the NRP’s findings (phonemic awareness, phonics and decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension).

The findings were evaluated in the 2008 Reading First Impact Study Final Report. What did researchers find? No significant effect on any grade level (grades 1, 2, or 3) in any year, despite well-trained teachers who had the time and materials necessary to deliver the instruction. The NRP’s guidance did not work!

Broader brain science suggests it cannot work. Why? The NRP spent no time considering the implicit aspects of reading development that must be addressed for proficient reading ability to be achieved. They only focused on the explicit aspects (e.g., the alphabet, the sound each letter makes, etc.) Thus, the NRP’s findings are flawed. This is even noted by one of its panelists, Joanne Yatvin, in her NRP report Minority View.

School administrators: Please stand up for teachers. They are not the problem. The NRP’s work was incomplete—and new work needs to begin on the role of implicit procedural learning (brain function that occurs below our awareness) in reading.

Rhonda Stone
Reading Tutor & Parent Advocate
Olympia, Wash.

A version of this article appeared in the July 14, 2021 edition of Education Week as The Politics of Reading Is Failing Students


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