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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Reading First: Not the first failure, worse than nothing, and credit where credit is due

from ELL Advocates

by Stephen Krashen

According to the "Reading First Impact Report," children in Reading First did no better than children in comparison groups. In the media descriptions, as well as in the report itself, there have been several serious omissions.

Not the First Failure

This isn’t the first failure of Reading First. The current dismal results are consistent with all previous analyses.

A number of studies have shown that since Reading First was implemented, there has been no change in the rate of improvement on reading tests given by the states. Members of the administration have repeatedly claimed that national (NAEP) reading scores for fourth graders are at an all-time high, but a brief look at the data in NAEP publications, such as The Nation’s Report Card, shows that nearly all of the improvement took place before Reading First was implemented. Also, American fourth graders did not improve between 2001 and 2006 on the international PIRLS reading test. In addition, there has been no reduction of the gap between children from high and low-income families on any measure. Reading First has failed every time it has been put to the empirical test.

Reading First Less Effective than Comparison Methods

The Reading First Impact Report (and previous analyses) actually showed that Reading First was less effective than the comparison methods. Reading First students had an additional ten minutes per day of instruction on the elements of reading that Reading First assumed were crucial (derived from the National Reading Panel report). That’s about an extra six weeks of instruction every year. Even if Reading First were only mildly effective, the extra time should result in higher reading scores. It didn’t. This means that time was taken from other subjects and activities, as well as recess, and students got nothing in return. This must be one of the great failures of educational research.

Credit Where Credit is Due

The foundation of Reading First is the report of the National Reading Panel, which recommended phonemic awareness training, intensive systematic phonics, and de-emphasized the role of pleasure reading in school. There has been no mention of the many criticisms of this report (e.g. the work of Elaine Garan and Gerald Coles), and no mention of the vast research supporting a different view of how children learn to read. There has, in particular, been no mention of Frank Smith and Kenneth Goodman, world famous scholars, who proposed years ago that we learn to read by reading, by understanding what is on the page. Their view, and the considerable evidence supporting it, has been mischaracterized or ignored by advocates of intensive systematic phonics. The Reading First Impact Report has confirmed that Smith and Goodman and the critics of the National Reading Panel, were correct all along.


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