In case you missed the news report there has been a war going on in education for decades. It’s called reading instruction and there are two major opponents: whole language teachers and phonics teachers. The victims are your children and the casualties have been high.
Here are just a few statistics that I found online:
More than 60% of all prison inmates are functionally illiterate.
75% of people on food stamps perform at the two lowest levels of literacy.
1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning to read.
19% of high school graduates can’t read.
Illiteracy directly impacts the economy, healthcare, unemployment, and the criminal justice system. We are all affected each and every day by those in our society who cannot read. Yet we go forward each school year with the same fundamental problem. We believe in programs and plans and philosophies and curriculums. We believe that if we put children in a classroom with a good teacher and the perfect program everything will work out just fine and each child will learn to read. And then we spend a lot of time and money fighting over the “perfect program” and defining the “good teacher”.
That hasn’t worked for us in the past ten years, or even twenty years, but we keep doing it anyway and hoping that this year the results will be different. And if the results aren’t what we desire, we can change programs and that will work. Or we can create a whole new set of state mandates and that will work. Or we can blame all these incompetent teachers and hire a new staff and surely that will work!
The truth is that nothing is ever going to work. At least not in the one size-fits-all, “everyone can succeed and learn to read” way we envision. Sure this is America. But I realized long ago that everyone is NOT equal; we supposedly have equal opportunities, but I’m not so sure about that idea either. The fact is that some children are going to struggle and even fail and we are not doing enough to find out why.
Children are unique and have a dozen factors that make their learning process different from the child sitting next to them. Genetics, personality, environment, health, hearing, sight, behavior, etc. etc. etc. all affect what goes on in that little brain. But according to some new guidelines, more time doing what we have been doing, is going to change that process and enable all of our students to read. If 90 minutes of reading instruction isn’t working, then surely 30 more minutes or 45 more minutes or a 100 more minutes will work! Or better yet, let’s do that AND make them stay after school for more instruction.
That’s like deciding that if we just make all of our students spend hours and hours practicing each and every day they will all be great basketball players. If that program had been in effect when I was in school I would still be in the gym! I was never aggressive enough, coordinated enough, or tall enough or interested enough to play basketball.
More of the same is never going to work.
You are probably going to hate my idea of a solution, but here it is: let’s find out why your child can’t read. Let’s do it early, and let’s separate him or her from the herd. Then let’s use a teaching method that works for your child. Yes, I’m in favor of early testing, early intervention, and small group instruction. I think we should group children by ability, not age. I think we should forget about kindergarten, first, and second grades. I think we should have classes of children who are learning the alphabet and classes of children who are learning to read, and classes of children who can read. Let them change groups when they are ready, whether that‘s mid-year or next year. Education should be fluid and flexible and ongoing, not divided into grades and expectations until at least third or fourth grade. And let’s promise not to let a child graduate from high school unless they can read or they are taught a life skill that will support them. It doesn’t do anyone any good to give them a piece of paper that is a lie.
Please don’t ask me about math or social studies or science or art or music skills. In today’s “reading is our #1 priority” climate we don’t have much time or money for those lessons anyway. If your child is gifted in an area other than reading, you’ll have to fight your own battles.
For now I would encourage each and every parent and grandparent to read about the Reading Sufficiency Act and consider what we are trying to accomplish.