Kate Walsh, President of the astroturf National Council of Teacher Quality (NCTQ), a group that pretends it’s for teachers and schools when it’s really about privatization, recently published an article “Case Closed” implying that teachers are “science deniers” when it comes to teaching reading.
But Walsh’s brain imaging illustration is taken from a research article that has little to do with her foggy claims, and her objective appears to be to plug the California RICA test (Online Reading Instruction Competence Assessment) by Pearson. The RICA test is a money-maker and the push to get states like California to pay for it is concerning.
The test was almost thrown out since it was considered a financial burden on applicants, doesn’t respond to needs of high-risk children, exacerbates California’s teacher shortage, and that “passage rates based on gender, ethnicity and other factors demonstrate bias.”
The “reading research community,” whose names we don’t see, inundated the California legislature with letters supporting the test.
If teachers come from state or private colleges where they learn to teach reading, shouldn’t we expect universities to do their job? Why must taxpayers spend money on an outside test to prove teachers know how to teach reading? Even if education schools need improvement, the RICA test isn’t going to fix that.
Walsh promotes RICA with brain image pictures where children’s brains light up. She states, If a picture is worth a thousand words, I’m thinking that these two images should have long ago put an immediate end to any debate over what teachers need to know before being entrusted with teaching children to read.
But the 2010 article cited under the pictures “Brain sensitivity to print emerges when children learn letter speech sound correspondence” has nothing to do with what she says!
The authors aren’t stating that their research shows proven science for reading. They’re demonstrating that the brain shows activity in a certain area when children make letter-speech connections compared to letter sounds in a number’s game. But children could as easily be looking at letter sound connections in books in a traditional reading program.
The control group does not get exposed to letter-sound combinations at all, but a numbers game. The study has nothing to say about the value of any particular method of learning letter-speech sound combinations. It’s basic research looking at a narrow question about areas of brain activity.
Many journalists and individuals, like Walsh, who support corporate privatization of public education, have been casting teachers as unable to teach reading. They blame education schools as failing to instruct the “science of reading.” This is a serious charge since reading instruction is an important part of what teachers do, and children who don’t learn to read well will likely struggle to learn other subjects and benefit from school.
Walsh, like other critics, has no teaching degree or experience teaching reading to children. Some reading professors who legitimately have reading credentials also sign on to the NCTQ line of thinking. Why?
NCTQ is funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other corporations which provides grants to their favored projects. The NCTQ has been highly critical of career teachers, education schools, and public education.
Teach for America’s, Wendy Kopp, used to be on the board. Isn’t it interesting we never hear criticism of Teach for America corps member and how they teach reading with only five-weeks of training?
NCTQ fails to take into consideration variables that could affect reading instruction in today’s current anti-teacher anti-public-school climate:
- Underfunding of public schools.
- Overcrowded class sizes.
- Teachers with few credentials (see Teach for America, Relay Graduate School of Education, etc.).
- The teacher shortage.
- ELL students.
- Students with disabilities in inclusive classroom settings.
- Underfunded special education.
- Lacking reading support programs.
- Unregulated for-profit and online teacher training programs.
Walsh’s inaccurate reference raises questions about other fMRI brain imaging. For years parents and teachers have read reports and claims surrounding brain imaging pictures with the intent to connect phonics instruction to benefit children learning to read. Most of us are not neurologists and we rely on what these experts tell us.
Many teachers will also scratch their heads and tell you they’ve been teaching phonics and sounds in their reading instruction programs for years! They’ve been introducing vocabulary and concentrating on reading for meaning too.
My point is not to dismiss brain imaging studies related to the importance of letter-sounds and the reading connection, but to question whether some individuals could use these studies to make unfair claims about teachers and their education school preparation, and their ability and willingness to teach reading the best way.
Every child comes to school with a variety of strengths and weaknesses when it comes to reading. Reading is rarely one single difficulty with one solution. Every child is different. For some, learning to read at the proper development is no problem. Other children require more intensive instruction.
Teachers should be well-prepared through their education schools to teach reading. Public schools should have small enough class sizes that permit teachers to address student needs.
Parental concerns should never be dismissed without consideration, and parents and teachers must work together to help children with reading difficulties overcome the real problems found in public schools and reading classrooms that detract from good reading instruction.