Over the years, we’ve done more than a few blogs about the incredible resistance within the K to 12 education community regarding effective ways to teach reading. Sadly, the fallout from the “Reading Wars” of the 1990s are still very much with us today.
Far too many teachers and college Ed school types still cling to ineffective fad ideas about reading instruction that were called “Whole Language Reading” in the 1990s, which later morphed into what today is called “Balanced Literacy.”
Still, compelling scientific research based around functional MRI investigations shows that when children are beginning to learn to read, they need to be taught first with a phonics-rich approach. If there is early emphasis on “Sight Words” or a push to recognize the word as some sort of hieroglyphic instead of a phonological representation of the spoken word, there is great risk that the students will wind up using the wrong areas of their brains when they read.
But, resistance to the science remains strong in K to 12 education. As Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, recently opined:
“Unfortunately, many teacher educators who teach reading courses to future teachers are leading this resistance, even though there isn’t much evidence that they are even aware of the scientific evidence (or how to apply it).”
“It is particularly frustrating that the interest of adults continues to be the priority, overriding what’s in the best interests of kids, particularly students of color and students from low-income families. Two-thirds of the kids who struggle to read don’t have any physiological problem such as dyslexia. They just have had insufficient exposure to language and reading instruction—a gap any well trained teacher could ameliorate.”
Here in Kentucky we saw an effort in 2019 to improve reading instruction. House Bill 272 from the 2019 Regular Legislative Session was an attempt to do the same thing Arkansas is doing now, requiring Ed schools to start teaching reading instruction the way science shows works best. The bill initially had a generally focused section that would have pushed better reading programs into both our schools and college teacher preparation programs. Unfortunately, the bill got watered down to only focus on Ed school improvement and then totally died in committee.
I hope Kentucky’s legislators pay attention to the growing number of people who now know the science behind the push to teach reading properly and revisit HB-272 in 2020. With well under half of Kentucky’s white students testing proficient in Grade 4 reading in the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress and only 16% of the state’s black students reaching proficiency in the same assessment, it is clear that many Kentucky teachers need to learn about the science, and how to teach reading, too.