Tuesday, May 30, 2006

National Council on Teacher Quality report on reading instruction

We seemed to have hit another level in our blogging experience. I think that because we've been organizing the Carnival of Homeschooling our blog has some extra exposure. Recently I've gotten a couple emails from organizations relating to education. Out of the blue they've asked us to mention something, or wrote us about something they thought we might want to know.

This weekend I got a message from National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) about a report they are publishing on how well schools of education do in teaching teachers how to instruct children on reading. (The executive summary is here; the full report is here.) NCTQ lists the results of scientific research into effective methods for teaching children to read. This is largely teaching phonetics.

As a child I was taught whole language. In fourth grade I was reading at second grade level. Luckily my father read The Black Stallion to my siblings and me. I loved the story, and I put in the effort to read the whole series. This helped me get pass a poor start in reading and I was then was able to move on to other books. In addition to giving me a slow start with reading, whole language damaged my ability to spell. For years I either had a word memorized, or I would guess. In the last year I started studying phonetics. I have been frustrated that for years I was handicapped as a speller.

One of the reasons, of many reasons, we homeschool is so we can help our children develop a love of reading, and to be effetive readers. We've taught our daughters phonetics. Our oldest two daughters have been late readers, but once they got started they have done very well.

The NCTQ did a sample of 72 education schools, or 5.6% of the total in the United States. They studied the course material in classes on teaching teachers how to teach reading. The NCTQ finds that most schools of education are doing a horrible job.

The study found that:

"Almost all of the professors who say their intention is to provide a 'balanced' approach never acknowledge that there is a science of reading."

The science of reading is basically phonetics.

The study also found that:

"Characteristics such as national accreditation do not increase the likelihood that an education school is more likely than others to teach the science of reading." (I've added the emphasis.)

I think most homeschoolers have long figured out that a credential doesn't grant ability. (Despite what happens when the Wizard of Oz gives the Scarecrow a diploma.)

Both of these results were scary:

"Our findings suggest that some college professors may not be teaching the science of reading, not just because they are ideologically opposed to the science, but because they may be reluctant to teach what they themselves do not know."

"Most writing assignments generally call for the students’ own feelings and observations."

I have only read the executive summary, but it reinforced what I have heard from other sources. At the end of the executive summary are some suggestions for fixing the problem.

My analysis of the problems with public education is things have gotten worse as there has been more state and federal government involvement. Public education should be a local or private affair. I think the report does a good job of summarizing some of the basic problems with teaching reading in public schools, but I don't think all of their recommendations will help. The report calls for a number of actions, including:

"States need to develop both strong reading standards and licensing tests based on those standards."

"Education schools that do not teach the science of reading should not be eligible for accreditation."

I find it a bit ironic that after the report finds that national accreditation doesn't help, that the report turns around and says the solution is to pass rules or laws.

The executive summary is worth reading.

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Kel said...

I am so glad you posted this. I have been tutoring children for a few years now in reading. The schools within Tennessee and Virginia and even the British and American school here in Qatar teach via whole reading. It's horrible and as you pointed out, by the time a child is in 4th grade, he is behind due to a limited work bank and not being able to sound out a word via phonics. I have been tutoring with Phonics Pathways. It's dull, but it works!

ChristineMM said...

I especially loved the parts of your post where you share your opinion of the analysis.

Thanks for the links.

I am always interesting in the topic of teaching reading and outcomes and reading methods. I am a HUGE supporter of intensive, systematic phonics method.

Henry Cate said...

"I have been tutoring with Phonics Pathways. It's dull, but it works!"

Last year when I decided to start learning phonics, my wife recommended Phonics Pathways. It is a bit boring, but I have been learning phonics.

Anonymous said...

Please be careful when interpreting this report - it was written with a heavy handed agenda - by folks who favor alternative route certification programs, and the rigor of the methodology is questionable, at best. For example, there are huge questions regarding whether or not their sample is representative, and syllabus study offers little insight into what was actually taught in the course.

Henry Cate said...

Sarah can you provide any documentation?

One of the main concerns from the report was over teacher quality. Everything I've read says that there are too many teachers who are very poor teachers. Here are a few books you can check out:

Thomas Sowell's "Inside American Education"
Diane Ravitch's "Left Back"
Joanne Jacobs' "Our School"
Hanna Skandera's "School Figures"
The United States' Government report "A Nation at Risk"
Paul Zoch's "Doomed to Fail"

Do you have references to who is concerned about the report? And what their concerns are over the methodology?