It’s easier to be ideological if you don’t have children sitting in front of you day after day. When you’re trying an approach and it’s not working, you have to back up and say, ‘I have to try something else.’ You can’t say [students] don’t fit the program.
~Dottie Fowler, a 15-year veteran teacher, 1998 (Education Week)
Parents, whose children have been identified as having dyslexia, are upset with university teacher education programs. They will tell you that students in public schools don’t get the reading instruction they need.
Here’s a post from several years ago. It’s still a problem that often divides teachers and parents. Why do parents see teachers as unprepared when it comes to reading instruction?
In 1998, an Education Week report titled, “Ed. Schools Getting Heat on Reading,” holds some clues.
Back then there were calls for states to revise their reading standards. Louisa Moats, now seen as an authority on dyslexia, was directing a project with the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development.
Reading scores on the 1994 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were the focus. Forty percent of U.S. 9-year-olds scored below the “basic” level in reading. But there have always been questions surrounding the NAEP and how scores are interpreted and reported to the public, especially in light of school reform.
At this time, concern centered on future teachers in the nation’s universities, that they should take more classes covering reading instruction.
Prospective teachers typically take two or three courses in reading before being certified to teach elementary school, according to a survey conducted last spring by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education in Washington. In some states–such as Maryland–they are required to take only a single course. And some teachers who enter the classroom through alternative routes may receive no formal instruction at all in reading.
While mention is made of alternative teaching routes, groups like Teach for America, who get to be teachers after only 5 weeks of training, didn’t get much attention.
Nor did charter schools. Who’s teaching reading in those schools? Both Teach for America and KIPP got a pass when it came to reading instruction.
University prepared teachers became the enemies. The message has been that they used whole language and didn’t understand phonics.
The Learning First Alliance–which includes the two national teachers’ unions and the leading groups representing superintendents, principals, and school boards–is also calling for policy changes to enhance teachers’ knowledge, including revised course-content and graduation requirements for teacher education programs, tougher accreditation standards for institutions, and stiffer licensing rules for elementary teachers.
Moats said, There’s a lot of talk about the importance of phonological processing and understanding early reading. But very few people actually understand what that means in practice. Misinterpretations are rampant, superficial treatment is rampant, and poor application is rampant.
The sticking point!
In the same Education Week report, Professor Richard L. Allington, a prominent reading researcher, noted, the amount of funding for teacher education in my 25 years [in the field] keeps declining.
Teacher pedagogy can’t be improved, nor can better phonics instruction be added.
Allington noted that teachers don’t get as much supervision or demonstration teaching if resources are stripped from teacher preparation programs. Ed. schools were made to look like they failed, but they were losing resources just like public schools!
While groups like The Learning Alliance were getting tougher on those studying to be teachers in university settings, money has always flowed to Teach for America. The novices often move from the classroom into high powered administrative positions. Who has questioned their understanding of reading instruction?
The other point that should not go unnoticed, is that this uproar about teacher preparation took place in 1998—twenty years ago!
After NCLB, Race to the Top, and Common Core, what kind of ed. school reading programs do we find now? Who’s worrying about reading when it comes to teacher preparation at the university level? Who’s doing further reading research?
Instead, we hear that more children than ever before have dyslexia!
Children, who struggle to read today, should not have been used as pawns in the politicized, education reform battle.
Students will continue to have reading difficulties until teacher education programs are well-funded, and the focus is put on preparing real professional teachers who understand individual reading needs.
Ann Bradley. “Ed Schools Getting Heat on Reading” Education Week. February 18, 1998.
Heather Kelly says
It’s honestly, because they don’t have enough time in the day to teach it properly.
Nancy Bailey says
Actually, time is a huge concern with teachers! You’re right. I did a study involving teacher needs when teaching students with learning disabilities years ago for my dissertation. Lack of time was a constant factor that general ed. teachers complained about. Put that together with large class sizes and it’s a nightmare. Thanks, Heather!
Romina Sparano says
Indeed, the real problem is that we treat teacher education as we treat MBAs training: as if it’s business and a matter of adhering to a model. If we paid our teachers at the level of CEOs and selected them fiercely (yes make teachers programs extremely competitive as they are in the best educated nations in the workd), then we would have a fighting chance at greatness. The disservice to our children—and our democracy—is enormous.. And enough of inclusion: we need to not only respect and celebrate our differences but acknowledge them, to give every child what they need, that’s the only fair way to educate them. Sameness is unjust when needs are so different.
Jean Martin says
Romina, I couldn’t agree more. My children are all grown and have children of their own, so my focus is concern for my grand and great grandchildren. Two out 3 of my boys had dyslexia, in the 1960′ no won seemed to know how to handle the situation. I just knew that the traditional way was not working. It is really sad to see that not much has changed on that score. I have teachers in my family, and I know their hearts are with the students…….but they are so bogged down with unproductive regulations and restrictions, the children are not served.
Each child deserves the dignity of expressing who their, and allowing their creative to shine and grow, not shoved into some arbitrary mold formed by ill informed bureaucrats.
Back to the basics –
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you for sharing, Jean. Points well-taken!
Nancy Bailey says
Absolutely love the “respect and celebrate differences” remark! Thank you, Romina.
Shawna Pope -Jefferson says
Your passion for this topic is clear! Mine is as well. I am an SLP who specializes in language and literacy. I have worked in schools but am in private practice now so I can specialize. I don’t think it is the number of classes required in teacher ed programs but the content that is contained within them. Plus, must research from education is only about one of two sides, phonics or whole language. There are problems with both!
Like medicine and technology, as we learn more in education we adopt and adapt. I have studied orthographic linguistics, how our written language works, and it has enhanced my practice with all of my language and literacy clients. After 20 years this old dog learned some new tricks and finally understands our writing system. The best part are the outcomes of my clients and the boost in their self esteem that is typically immediate. Children on my caseload include those who neuropsychologists diagnosed as “severely dyslexic.” They are all learning to read, spell, and write.
Perhaps we should all collaborate since we all want the same thing, literate students. After all, it is not about us but is about them.
What is your opinion on the Spalding method?
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Shawna. I think teachers need to understand all the commercial programs available. And they need to know how to create reading enriched classrooms that encourage the joy of reading and writing.
Why are you challenging charter schools or teach for America. I have been part of both organizations and also part of traditional public schools and without a doubt the most prepared (meaning advanced ed degrees from reputable institutions) and most dedicated to making meaningful change based on data and real student achievement were folks from those places. You should stop calling out organizations before you really know them. That’s like me saying all public school teachers want their summers off aren’t committed to making sure kids get what they need.
Nancy Bailey says
Teach for America and other alternative programs are known for recruiting students out of college from other subject areas. It is well-known that they get 5 weeks of teacher training.
They are placed in classrooms without the kind of formal preparation in education that real teachers receive–including serious preparation in reading.
They focus on data, but collecting data is different from teaching.
While many young people who go into TFA are dedicated to doing a good job, they are not real teachers committed to being teachers from the start.
That said, some will go on to study education and become real teachers later. Others jump right to administrative positions. Many compare TFA to the Peace Corps.
The group has always been favored by those who want to privatize public schools.
Many TFA recruits teach in charter schools.
Rich Migliore says
Thank you Nancy. What you raise are serious issues with reading instruction today which very much need to be front center of our public discourse. I served the school children of Philadelphia as a reading specialist and reading program coordinator for 20 years, and as an English teacher and law teacher. I also hold a masters degree in Psychology of Reading from Temple University, which back in 1975, ran the nationally respected Temple Reading Clinic, After that I served as a high school administrator for 14 more years. Over the years I led many professional programs for the District in appropriate reading instruction for a very diverse community.I now work as an advocate for the best practices in pedagogy, leadership and school governance.
I had 2 courses in reading instruction at Rider college before I was hired as an English teacher and was immediately asked to be a reading teacher for the Title 1 reading program which was just being started. I was totally unprepared to teach reading until I attended the Masters degree program at Temple.
The general lack of knowledge in our education community about basic concepts of reading diagnosis and instruction is astounding to me. This general lack of knowledge is multiplied in the discourse of high stakes testing.
You Nancy, are one of the new leaders in this. You have enough experience and knowledge to understand the issues and the problems. Please stand up for a “true renaissance” in the study and teaching of reading.
It effects every American schoolchild.