We’ve written a lot over the years about the massive war concerning which reading instruction approach, phonics-based or Whole Language, works best.
The argument should have been pretty much settled after the National Reading Panel issued its scientifically conducted report in 2000, but K to 12 education is weak about doing scientific research and even weaker about accepting the results when those findings don’t agree with the current fad ideas in classrooms and Ed Schools. In K to 12 education, fads trump science.
So, the reading war has dragged on. As pointed out by American Public Media’s Emily Hanford, Whole Language got renamed as “Balanced Literacy” to hide the fact that the war was continuing, but the “balance” doesn’t include phonics in an effective way, and MANY kids have suffered in consequence.
For example, the NAEP Data Explorer web tool shows the latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for Grade 4 reading indicate only 38 percent of Kentucky’s students tested “Proficient or Above” while a highly disturbing 30 percent, nearly one in three, scored “Below Basic.” This means nearly one in three Kentucky Grade 4 students, as NAEP puts it, lacks even “partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at each grade.”
For Kentucky’s black students, the numbers look even worse. More than half tested in the “Below Basic” score range and just 16 percent scored proficient.
For students identified as learning disabled, including those who have what is known as a 504 plan, 61 percent scored in the Below Basic region and just 17 percent were rated Proficient or Above.
Did you catch the interesting fact that essentially equal proportions of Kentucky’s black and learning-disabled Grade 4 students had the same proficiency rate? That implies problems with reading instruction don’t exist only for kids with learning disabilities.
Thus, getting reading instruction right could help a whole lot of kids.
But, how do we get this right? Clearly, it isn’t happening right now in Kentucky’s classrooms.
Some interesting answers, which again point to getting all teachers proficient at teaching phonics as the first step in reading instruction, come in a news item from a PBS News Hour broadcast. And, parents are leading this charge.
Check the News Hour video to see what is going on in Arkansas, and pay attention to the teachers who honestly admit they didn’t really know how to teach reading before they got help to do phonics-based introduction to reading properly. Just click here to see this clip, which runs about 8 minutes.
If you paid attention to the video, you noted that Kentucky has some efforts under way to improve reading instruction. That is true, but the effort hasn’t been nearly so successful as what Arkansas parents have accomplished.
For one thing, the Kentucky Department of Education recently issued its Dyslexia Toolkit for teachers. This came in response to House Bill 187 from the 2018 Regular Legislative Session, which specifically focused on dyslexia. But, this bill didn’t cover the needs of all students.
House Bill 272 from the 2019 Regular Legislative Session initially had a more 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. So, it looks like the Whole Language crowd is still holding sway in Kentucky and the Bluegrass State has a considerable way still to go to match what is already happening in Arkansas.
And, it won’t surprise me if Kentucky parents wind up taking an important lead in this, just like in Arkansas because in K to 12 education, fads trump science.