A critic who charges that children aren’t reading well and teachers need to learn about the Science of Reading, also says children must read sooner than they did in the past. This new ideological construct promotes standards that many children will not be capable of achieving. It also sets children and their teachers up to fail.
The idea that children need to be reading sooner is not new. Common Core State Standards are about this new reading reality.
The Fordham Institute is no friend to teachers or public education. Their recent report “Why is it so Hard to Improve Reading Achievement?” by Timothy Shanahan is not kid friendly either and raises concerns.
Shanahan, is a literacy specialist and a leading critic of how reading is taught. He introduces us to an imaginary teacher who is succeeding at teaching her students to read. Parents like her. All seems well. Let me repeat. Her students are learning how to read.
But he states that’s not enough. He portrays the teacher as old fashioned, not wanting to change to improve reading achievement. He wants her to focus on “the last mile.”
…a veteran second-grade teacher, Ms. Jones. She’s always received good evaluations from her principals, the parents are happy to have their kids in her classroom, and whatever this or that test may say, she can see that her students make progress. They can read.
Now, the leveraging starts. We want that teacher to teach more phonics, or less. We want her to build knowledge instead of reading skills, or to work with harder books. Leveraging thrives on urgency, and its black-and-white rhetoric often sounds like, “If teachers don’t do what we say, kids won’t learn.”
But Ms. Jones has fifteen-years’ experience that tells her that the rhetoric is BS!
Achieving the levels of reading that we have in the past is insufficient. Ms. Jones has done well, but if today’s boys and girls only read as well as her students did a decade ago, they’re being disadvantaged.
“Ms. Jones, we need your help. Studies show that kids can do better in reading if they receive a substantial amount of high-quality phonics instruction. Research also shows that hasn’t been happening in enough classrooms. We know you’ve been successful in teaching reading, but the goal line has moved.We need to get kids to higher levels than in the past, and that’s going to require some changes. Doing what we ask won’t change everything (and it’s not a criticism of your past efforts), but it will be better for your students and we all want that.”
Shanahan never mentions students with disabilities who may need different approaches to reading. That’s a different conversation from moving the goal line, which would make learning to read and school more difficult.
He never specifies what he is asking teachers to do. He implies teachers need to teach more phonics.
Shanahan does podcasts for the digital program Amplify. He doesn’t mention that here either. But there’s much concern on the part of parents and teachers about online instructional reading programs. The Science of Reading promoters seem to support the unproven, controversial Common Core State Standards.
There’s no proof these programs will better assist students, especially students with reading disabilities. Students with reading problems need resource classes where they get extra help.
But this idea that children must achieve more advanced material sooner is a concern. It’s why kindergarten was remade into first grade, why we no longer see play, including recess, and why so many other classes in the curriculum are shoved aside. The obsession is reading.
More importantly, children, all children, need to see reading as an enjoyable activity.
Pushing children to read at a harder level, before they’re ready, is unreasonable. Many children might wind up hating reading. Some might appear to have disabilities when they don’t. It’s one-size-fits all on steroids, and it has the potential to create a real reading crisis.