.. atic, enemies of early, intensive teaching of phonics. Frank Smith and Kenneth Goodman are two of today’s most influential proponents of the look and say or as they would term it, whole language philosophy of teaching reading. San Diego State University Professor Patrick Groff recently reviewed 43 reading texts, all published in the1980’s and used by teachers’ colleges in training reading teachers, to see if they included the findings of researchers that the code-emphasis or phonics approach to teaching reading should be used. He found that none of these books advocate phonics.
In fact, only nine of these books inform teachers that there is current debate about if or when phonics should be taught. Despite the overwhelming volume of research supporting early, intensive, systematic instruction in phonics, college textbooks used by most university departments of education fail to apply this research in the training of prospective teachers. The National Education Association declared in the 1983-84 Annual Edition of Today’s Education that the overemphasis on phonics with beginners is now ready for the scrap heap. Why do faulty reading methods continue to be used? It’s Big Business! The sale of instructional reading programs is big business today, as it has been since the 1930’s when the basal reading series for elementary schools were introduced. Each year publishing companies compete for the adoption of reading programs in states like California and Texas where millions of dollars of expendable look and say workbooks are purchased every year. Many Americans will recognize Dick and Jane, Alice and Jerry, Janet and Mark, Danny and Sue, or Tom and Betty. These are the characters in the look and say readers that most of us grew up with.
The 1986 National Advisory Council on Adult Education report, Illiteracy in America cites several examples of how the cost of reading instruction can be reduced, while at the same time improving reading scores: In her book, Programmed Illiteracy in Our Schools, [Mary Johnson] says that: `The workbooks to a sight method [`look and say’] basal series soon become superfluous whenever phonics is taught by a direct method. . . .the annual expenditure on workbooks was more than four times greater than that on hardcover readers [used in a phonics-first program]. (The workbooks have to be replaced each year because the children write in them.)’ The Superintendent of Schools in Seekonk, Massachusetts hired a private-sector organization to train his primary-grade teachers in intensive systematic phonics.
The cost of reading materials to implement the new program was eighty-eight percent less per pupil than the look and say or whole language reading program previously used in the district. Mr. H. Marc Mason, Principal of Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Mesa, Arizona, said that in 1978 his school spent $23.42 per student on reading materials. In the same year, his teachers were trained [to teach phonics].
By 1981, expenditures for reading materials had dropped to $8.50 per student, [while at the same time] achievement scores . . . surpassed the national, state, and district norms in language as well as in math. In his book, Preventing Reading Failure: An Examination of the Myths of Reading Instruction, Dr. Patrick Groff devotes an entire chapter to a question that is most commonly asked: Why do the myths of reading instruction prevail? The answer is summarized below.
There is no single reason for the fact that research findings are not applied in teacher training institutions, or in the classroom. Common sense is defeated by the: Forces of tradition. Interlocking relationships between basal reader publishers and reading experts. Refusal of reading experts to accept outside criticism. Reading experts’ lack of knowledge about phonics teaching, negative biases toward phonic instruction, and fear that phonics advocacy equals political conservatism. Negative attitudes toward phonics by teachers’ organizations.
Unsubstantiated information in educational publications. Expectancy that research will not affect teaching practices. Refusal to admit that there is a literacy crisis. Lack of legal redress for malpractice in reading instruction. Establishment of public schools and teacher education as a monopoly. Most teachers use methods of teaching reading that their professors teach them, or they follow the teachers’ guide for the textbook series used in their school system, neither of which present logical and systematic instruction in phonics.
In an Education Week article, June 12, 1985, Rudolf Flesch concluded: Decades of painstaking research have shown that neither our schools nor our teachers are to blame [for the illiteracy problem in America]. Rather, the fault lies with a method of teaching reading that was first proposed for general use in 1927 and has since been adopted in most of our schools. It is called the ‘whole-word’ [look and say] method because it relies on memorizing the shapes and meanings of whole words. It was introduced with the best intentions: the idea was to make learning to read more fun for our children. Today, it is almost universally used in this country.
The results are evident in an illiteracy rate that is the highest in our history. We should not place the blame on our teachers but rather, we need a major overhaul of our teacher training institutions. We will not halt the continued spread of illiteracy in America without this critical reform. Moving from what’s new to what works From the early 1960’s to the mid 1980’s, the Reading Reform Foundation was in the forefront of efforts to apply research findings to the teaching of reading. Since that time, hundreds of teachers and thousands of children have benefited from the practical application of the sound, proven, techniques of reading instruction the Reading Reform Foundation has promoted.
In 1993, The National Right to Read Foundation picked up the phonics torch and is carrying the message to the nation, that direct, systematic phonics is an essential first step in teaching reading. Below are just a few of the success stories that can be told, and the implication for the nation’s schools should be crystal clear. If children are taught intensive, systematic phonics at an early age, until it is automatically applied in the reading process, then illiteracy is dramatically reduced, comprehension improves, and remediation is virtually unnecessary, except for very few. Example # 1: ask Mary Musgrave, Principal, Gallegos Elementary School, Tucson, Arizona Mary was a teacher in the Sunnyside School District for fifteen years where achievement in reading, math, and writing was always last. People would say, ‘Well, it’s these children.’ That offended me because I subscribe to the idea that God don’t make no junk. She was appointed to a study committee to come up with recommendations on how to improve achievement levels, and one suggestion that the committee approved was to introduce phonics.
Mary had been taught that phonics was grunt and spit, and that children taught phonics had no fluency in reading and, even if they could read they had no comprehension or understanding. Many other policies were adopted by the review committee, including ways to involve parents, improve discipline, and strengthen teacher training, but the most important policy was the introduction of intensive, systematic phonics. After four years the results were unassailable. The school was open to everyone in the district on a first-come, first-served basis; the capacity was 623 students; 58 percent were minority students; many children came from low-income families; no federal money came to the school other than the school lunch program; there were no learning disabilities teachers, and no need for them; there was no bilingual education because everyone spoke English, and even if children didn’t speak English when they came into the school, they did when they left; the grading system had a higher standard than the other 18 schools in the district, and yet 33 percent of students on the district Honor Roll were from Gallegos; and perhaps most important of all, 46 percent of the students in the intermediate grades were former special education students. After one year, only four students remained in the special education category. The inescapable conclusion: teach intensive, systematic phonics! Example #2 – ask Charles Micciche, former Superintendent of Schools in Groveton, New Hampshire When Mr. Micciche became Superintendent of Schools, in Groveton, New Hampshire, he served one of the 20 poorest counties in the country. He was charged by his School Board to do something about the poor reading scores, which were then averaging in the 45th percentile.
Everyone, including teachers, parents, and board members, was dissatisfied. After considerable study and research, he concluded the following: At a point in our not-too-distant past – some would put the time in the 1920’s or ’30’s – a conflagration was let loose in our nation’s classrooms, a bonfire of confusion in the form of a new reading method, look-say, or whole word, which devastated the reading ability of several generations of children, which blackened the landscape of reason, which has given us the scarred legacy we recognize today as illiteracy. But rather than wring his hands in despair, or ask for more money, Mr. Micciche and his teachers decided to try intensive, systematic phonics. After a two-week training course, about a third of the primary teachers wanted to try the system. Within three months, the success of their children was so dramatic, all of their colleagues joined in the trial program. Another full year’s trial was conducted, and the test scores climbed to, and remained at, the mid-to-high 60th percentile range.
At the urging of the staff, and with the enthusiastic support of the parents, intensive phonics was in, and look and say was out. The success of intensive systematic phonics was evident in the improvement of academic achievement, but another side benefit not to be overlooked was its cost-effectiveness. The old look and say system was costing about twenty dollars per child per year to maintain. The cost of the new program over an eight-year period amounted to an average annual cost of less than three dollars per pupil. All of this for a program that worked, satisfied the staff and community, lifted reading scores to the mid-sixties on standardized tests, and gave remarkable reading power and enjoyment to the children.
The inescapable message: teach intensive, systematic phonics! Example # 3 – ask Sue Dickson, author and former first-grade teacher In college I had been taught that phonics doesn’t work, that the English language is too complicated to be taught that way, and I swallowed that reasoning hook, line and sinker. . . . So, during my first two years as a teacher, I didn’t use any phonics.
But in 1954[sic], my mother bought a book by Rudolf Flesch called `Why Johnny Can’t Read.’ At first Sue rejected his recommendations. After all she was the one. . .with the teaching degree. Finally she decided that she had to do something because . .
. I was losing whole groups of students through the cracks. . . .
I decided I would give phonics a try. But I was so scared. My professors had been so adamantly against it. [But the result was that] my class had scored so high on the standardized tests that the [school] administrators thought I had cheated [in reporting my test scores]! She never went back to teaching look and say again. Then she began to develop her own system of teaching reading, using the principles of phonics, but also using music to make it easier for the children to learn the letter sounds. It took her thirty years to perfect the system, but now hundreds of teachers are using her program Sing, Spell, Read and Write with thousands of children, from Maine to California, Michigan to Texas! One school system in Mississippi that used the program in 1988 found that students who were first graders in 1987 improved their reading performance by 42 percentile points on the Stanford Achievement Tests.
Reading comprehension improved 34 percentile points, and spelling went up 30 points. The message is clear: teach intensive, systematic phonics! Example #4 – ask the thousands of satisfied customers of Hooked on Phonics In 1984, Sean Shanahan’s son came home from school very upset, so upset that he threw up his supper. This went on for several days, and finally after much discussion with his son, and the school officials, the answer came. His son couldn’t read. His frustration was so great it made him physically ill. In desperation, Sean, who had learned to read using phonics, decided to make a tape of the letter sounds, set to music, for his son to practice.
Within a few weeks, his son could read. Word spread, and soon neighbors borrowed, or copied the tapes, and their children began to read as well. And thus, Hooked on Phonics was born. Thousands of Hooked on Phonics products have been shipped, and thousands of grateful, satisfied customers sent letters of appreciation for the gift of reading they received. A passing phenomenon, one might ask? No, just common sense, an entrepreneural spirit, and the truth about how children learn to read. The inescapable message: teach intensive, systematic, phonics! Which federal programs impact illiteracy? According to the Congressional Research Service, federal assistance for adult education and literacy programs is primarily authorized through the Adult Education Act (AEA). The AEA serves 3.5 million people annually, with an FY92 appropriation of [$155] million.
Compensatory education (Chapter 1) is specifically targeted toward low-income families, and teaching reading is a major emphasis of this program. The FY96 funding for Chapter 1 is $6.9 billion. Several major studies that have addressed the extent of illiteracy have been funded by the federal government over the years. These include the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Follow Through, the Adult Performance Level (APL) study, and most recently, the Commission on Reading report, Becoming a Nation of Readers, which provided a synthesis of reading research and the present state-of-the-art of reading instruction. The cumulative amount of money spent on illiteracy by the federal government over the past 25 years has been staggering. The following programs are only the tip of the iceberg: Chapter I, cumulative funding from 1966 to 1996 = $90.5 billion.
Right to Read, cumulative funding from 1971 to 1981 = $220 million. Bilingual education, cumulative funding from 1967 to 1996 = $3.2 billion. Special Education, cumulative funding from 1975 to 1996 (federal & state) = $370 billion. The six government agencies that provide the most funding for the problem of illiteracy are: The U.S. Departments of Education (29 programs), Labor (3 programs), Health & Human Services (12 programs), Justice (2 programs), Defense (5 programs), and State (2 programs). In the National Literacy Act of 1991, the U.S.
Congress established the National Institute for Literacy, with a recommended budget of $5 million and the goal of developing: ..integrated programs of research and development, identification and validation of effective practices, technical assistance, and dissemination activities designed to improve adult literacy and basic education skills needed for productive employment and citizenship. Although the purpose of the National Institute for Literacy is laudable, it is unlikely that progress will be made toward a literate America, unless there is an acknowledgement that research has already validated effective practices in teaching an individual to read. What we need is action, not more research, more talk, and more wasted taxpayer dollars! Now is the time for action! The overwhelming evidence from research and classroom results indicates that the cure for the disease of illiteracy is the restoration of the instructional practice of intensive, systematic phonics in every primary school in America! Established in January 1993, the sole purpose of The National Right to Read Foundation is to eliminate illiteracy in America by returning direct, systematic phonics to every first-grade classroom in America. To accomplish this objective will take the collective effort of parents, teachers, legislators, and public-minded citizens all across America. Unless we change the way our children are being taught to read, we run the risk of becoming a nation of illiterates, unable to compete in the international marketplace, and with increasing dependence on government support at home.
Here’s what you can do: 1.Establish a chapter of The National Right to Read Foundation in your community. 2.Identify parents, teachers, and community leaders who are successfully teaching phonics to children at home or in the classroom. 3.Organize workshops where trained teachers can share the benefits of phonics instruction with parents, teachers, school board members, and the press. 4.Teach your child to read at home, before he or she goes to school. 5.Submit an article to your local newspaper describing how your child learned to read using phonics. Sources R.C. Anderson, E.H.
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Jeanne S. Chall, Learning To Read: The Great Debate, McGraw-Hill, New York, NY, 1973, 1983. Jeanne S. Chall, Learning to Read: The Great Debate 20 Years Later — A Response to ‘Debunking the Great Phonics Myth,’ Phi Delta Kappan, Mar., 1989. Jeanne S. Chall, Elizabeth Heron, and Ann Hilferty, Adult Literacy: New and Enduring Problems, Phi Delta Kappan, Nov., 1987. U.S. Congress, Illiteracy and the Scope of The Problem in This Country, Hearing before the Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education of the Committee on Education and Labor, U.S. House of Representatives, 97th Congress, Washington, D.C., Sept., 1982.
U.S. Congress, Illiteracy in America, Joint Hearings before the Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education of the Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives, and the Subcommittee on Education, Arts and Humanities, of the Committee on Labor and Human Resources, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C., August 1, October 1 and 3, 1985. Sue Dickson, excerpted from a transcript of an interview at her home in Chesapeake, VA, 1989. Rachel Eide, Aberdeen Children Up Reading Performance 42 Points After SSRW, The Commercial Dispatch, Columbus, MI, Nov. 8, 1988. Rudolf Flesch, Why Johnny Can’t Read, Harper and Row, New York, NY, 1955.
Rudolf Flesch, Why Johnny Still Can’t Read, Harper and Row, New York, NY, 1981. Samuel Stillwell Greene, Penitential Tears, or a Cry from the Dust by the Thirty-One Prostrated and Pulverized by the Hand of Horace Mann, 1844. Patrick Groff, Ph.D., San Diego State University, Preventing Reading Failure: An Examination of the Myths of Reading Instruction, National Book Company, Portland, OR, 1987. Patrick Groff, Colleges Fail in Training of Reading Teachers, Education Week, October, 1987. Human Events, Aug. 17, 1985. Paul M. Irwin, Adult Literacy Issues, Programs, and Options, Congressional Research Service, August 1989.
David T. Kearns, Denis P. Doyle, Winning the Brain Race, Institute for Contemporary Studies, San Francisco, CA, 1988. Kathryn L. McMichael, An Overview of the Adult Literacy Initiative in America, National Commission for Employment Policy, March, 1987. Charles J. Micciche, The Reading Reform Foundation: A Partner in Reason, The Reading Reformer, 1989. Mary Musgrave, From One Principal To Another, The Reading Informer, Annual Conference Report, July, 1987.
National Advisory Council on Educational Research and Improvement, Donald A Taylor, Amy Saltzman, and Bruce B. Auster, The Forgotten Half, US News and World Report, June 26, 1989. Lauren B. Resnik and Phyllis Weaver, Editors, Theory and Practice of Early Reading, New York, John Wiley, 1978. Geraldine Rodgers, The Case for the Prosecution, July 27, 1981. Time, Jan. 9, 1956.
Ron Zemke, Workplace Illiteracy: Shall We Overcome?, Training Magazine, June,1989. Education.