The educational quackery that passes for reading instruction in America’s public schools today just suffered another major blow. In a stinging rebuke of the methodology that has handicapped countless millions of Americans for generations, Emily Hanford at NPR hit a home run for the cause of literacy. The question is whether it will make any difference.
The article, headlined “Why Millions Of Kids Can’t Read, And What Better Teaching Can Do About It,” focuses on the public schools in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Just a few years ago, only a bit over half of third graders were scoring proficient on the state reading test. Now, about 85 percent of kindergarten children are meeting or exceeding the benchmark literacy score. In some schools, it’s 100 percent.
What changed? The district started teaching teachers how to teach reading the correct way — using phonics and teaching children the relationship between letters and the sounds they represent. As incredible as it might sound to normal people, there are literally professional educators all across America, many with a PhD, who insist this is unneeded or even harmful to children.
Some of the anecdotes shared in the NPR piece illustrate the problem perfectly. At a professional-development day at one of the district’s schools, “teachers were talking about how students should attack words in a story,” Hanford recounted. “When a child came to a word she didn’t know, the teacher would tell her to look at the picture and guess.”
“The most important thing was for the child to understand the meaning of the story, not the exact words on the page,” she continued. “So, if a kid came to the word ‘horse’ and said ‘house,’ the teacher would say, that’s wrong. But, … if the kid said ‘pony,’ it’d be right because pony and horse mean the same thing.”
Of course, sane people realize this is absolutely bonkers. And yet, this is what passes for “reading instruction” in classrooms all over America. In fact, under Common Core, kindergarten children are mandated to memorize “sight words,” as if the word itself was a symbol, rather than a series of symbols. This causes incalculable damage to a young reader’s ability to read.
The reading crisis goes far beyond Pennsylvania. As the NPR piece points out, less than 40 percent of American children are considered proficient or advanced in reading, and between a third and a fourth cannot even read at a basic level. And that is according to the government’s own test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The true numbers are probably even worse.
As The Newman Report reported in October, Hanford was also able to get a piece on this subject published in the New York Times. Unfortunately, though, mere exposure of this dangerous quackery is not enough to protect children from it. In the 1950s, Rudolf Flesch sparked a national uproar with his book, Why Johnny Can’t Read, exposing precisely the same thing. Since then, many more, including the late Dr. Samuel Blumenfeld, have also shined the light on this. And yet it continued.
The reality is that the education establishment knows very well that its “reading” quackery produces illiteracy on an industrial scale. This has been known since the 1840s, when the method was first tried in Boston’s schools under utopian Horace Mann. Somebody, it seems, wants millions of children to be illiterate.
In the end, it is up to parents to ensure that their children learn to read. Parents can do this by protecting their young from the education establishment and ensuring that their children learn to read using systematic, intensive phonics. The science shows that nothing else will do.