Reading. It’s one of the most important and controversial topics in education. Reading is the foundational skill required of children to learn. With a new President and educators Dr. Miguel Cardona and Cindy Marten, the time is right to convene a new, inclusive National Reading Panel (NRP).
Here’s why this is important, along with some brainstorming as to what it could involve. Please share your ideas.
National Reading Panel
The last NRP convened in 1997, submitting its report to Congress in February 1999, almost 25 years ago. Much has changed.
The NRP is mired in controversy. In his recent book, education scholar P.L. Thomas states:
A central component of No Child Left Behind was the NRP; however, as a key member of the panel has detailed, that report was neither a comprehensive and valid overview of the then-current state of research on teaching reading nor a foundational tool for guiding reading practices or policy. Yet, media coverage routinely references the NRP as gold -standard research and laments its lack of impact (although the NRP report did spawn a disturbing scandal concerning federal funding and textbook adoptions) (133).
That key panel member was Dr. Joanne Yatvin, a principal at the time, and her concerns about the panel have been pushed aside by some.
Everyone should appreciate a new and better panel to remedy the old panel’s mistakes and pull together the research and debate the future of reading instruction.
Even with Covid-19, many school districts continue to sign onto expensive state and federally funded reading programs with little oversight, still following old NRP recommendations.
States or districts purchase reading programs and determine later that they failed, based on test scores. New reading programs are chosen, sometimes by the same individuals who chose the previous programs, and the cycle begins again.
It’s not that reading programs are good or bad; they haven’t been independently peer-reviewed. A new NRP could review all reading programs, past and current.
One criticism of the NRP was that it did not include primary teachers who teach reading! The new NRP should consist of teachers at all levels and professionals, including reading experts from various areas.
Well-known professors who have done long-term reading research should be invited to participate or act as advisors to the panel.
Educators and parents have expressed concern about disturbing reading expectations for young children. A University of Virginia study in 2016 tells how accountability measures from 1998 to 2006 altered kindergarten. Kindergarten teachers spend more time on literacy instruction, posing the question, Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?
Do children display more reading problems due to higher pressure placed on them in kindergarten and preschool? A new panel could study this phenomenon and make better determinations as to what reading instruction should involve across grades and considering a child’s development.
Phonics vs. Balanced Literacy
An elite group of cognitive psychologists, reading specialists, and journalists have turned phonics into a reading science, claiming it a new paradigm.
They often highlight the NRP as proof that early structured phonics instruction is best for all children and that it has been missing. They’re critical of balanced literacy programs that have been successful in the past.
But the NRP highlighted phonics without good results. From Education Week in 2008:
The $1 billion-a-year Reading First program has had no measurable effect on students’ reading comprehension, on average, although participating schools are spending significantly more time teaching the basic skills that researchers say children need to become proficient readers, a major federal report finds.
We need a new independent evaluation that collectively examines phonics and balanced literacy.
How children are assessed on reading progress matters. What does the testing say? Which tests are beneficial and which are unnecessary? How should teachers use reading assessment to help students progress?
What do tests mean when reading scores are average or low? How do they compare to other countries?
How does poverty continue to affect how children learn to read? How do reading programs compare in schools across the nation?
Technology has changed how children get information. With Covid-19, it has been front and center.
An abundance of online reading programs are available for schools and homeschooling, but little information is available to determine effectiveness. Much of it is hearsay or recommendations made by the company that owns the program.
An independent review is necessary to determine whether these programs do what they promise.
Recent reports claim students dislike reading. What programs entice children to read? How do teachers and parents support their child’s reading habits so they will like to read?
How are reading classes employing inclusivity and diversity for students who have been marginalized? What reading materials and literature are available in schools? How can school districts facilitate a better understanding of social justice issues in reading classes?
Students with Disabilities
More children with disabilities are taught to read in school along with their peers in general education classrooms. What programs help them to learn to read? How can schools serve children with disabilities inclusively and effectively?
English Language Learners (ELL)
How are classrooms effectively accommodating ELLs? What programs work best? How can school reading programs best serve English Language Learners?
Some parents are unsatisfied with their child’s public school reading program. They may claim their child’s dyslexia hasn’t been addressed. Parents deserve a seat at the table to determine why they’re unhappy with their child’s current reading program. What is the school doing wrong when it comes to their child’s reading instruction?
What qualifications should a teacher have to teach reading in public schools? How many teachers have the necessary credentials to be teaching reading?
University education schools are criticized for not teaching teachers how to teach phonics. Some teachers also complain.
A new NRP could evaluate how universities teach teachers how to teach reading, provide transparency, and determine those programs’ strengths and weaknesses.
Review of the Research
Failure to do a complete review of the reading research was one complaint of the old NRP. A new NRP must cover a wider range of information.
How many schools are missing school libraries or have libraries that are a shell of what they should be? We know that school libraries and qualified librarians are important for children to learn to read.
How are subjects like science, social studies, math, and the arts handled in schools? Do schools provide a rich curriculum that will support a good literacy program?
Common Core State Standards
The English Language Arts Standards from Common Core have driven reading instruction for years, despite the controversy surrounding the standards, how they were written, and how they were foisted on schools without any serious study or fieldwork.
Many online reading programs and reading resources and materials have adopted CCSSs. Yet, it’s easy to find reports that claim the standards have failed.
The time seems long overdue to review the effects of Common Core on public schools.
How do other countries teach reading? How can successful programs, resources, or activities be duplicated here? Or can they?
Often the only variables considered when reading are phonics, decoding, balanced literacy, and whole language. But children face many problems when it comes to reading.
All of this indicates that students deserve a renewed focus on reading instruction in preschool, elementary, middle, and high school. It’s time for a new National Reading Panel. Our students deserve nothing less.
Report of The National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/pubs/nrp/Documents/report.pdf
Thomas, P.L. (2020). How to End the Reading War and Serve the Literacy Needs Of All Students: A Primer for Parents, Policy Makers, and People Who Care. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.
Yatvin, J. (2003). I Told You So! The Misinterpretation and Misuse of The National Reading Panel Report. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/opinion-i-told-you-so-the-misinterpretation-and-misuse-of-the-national-reading-panel-report/2003/04