Category Archives: reading

2019 Medley #21

Retention-in-grade, Low Test Scores,
Reading wars, Charters and Choice,
Mississippi Strategy,
Vouchers and Discrimination, Poisoning Children

RETENTION HURTS CHILDREN

The Haunted Third Grade Classrooms Children Fear: Enter and… Stay Forever!

It’s time again for another article dealing with retention…complete with references.

In-grade retention doesn’t work. More often than not it harms students psychologically and emotionally, increases the chances of students dropping out, and doesn’t improve achievement. Yet we continue to do it in order to appease the gods of “test and punish.”

I’ve also collected dozens of articles, research articles, blog posts, and position papers on retention-in-grade, the vast majority of which document the damage done by this outdated and abusive practice.

Students who have academic struggles, but who move on, do better in the long run. Students who are retained might seem to do better at first, but they drop back to having difficulties later. Many students who are retained go on to drop out of school.

THE MYTH OF AMERICA’S FAILING SCHOOLS – LOW TEST SCORES

While I Wasn’t Paying Attention……

In a long, rambling blog post, John Merrow touches on a variety of topics. I disagree with one area he discussed in which he talks about how American students score poorly on the PISA test. Our students don’t “underperform their peers in most other countries”. We have a higher rate of child poverty, which lowers our average.

As I wrote in March of 2017,

American public schools accept everyone and test everyone. Not all countries do that. We don’t weed out our poor and low-achieving students as they get older, so everyone gets tested…

The fact is that students who come from backgrounds of poverty don’t achieve as well as students from wealthier backgrounds. And we, in the U.S. are (nearly) Number One in child poverty…

Children from American schools where less than 25% of the students qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch, score high on the PISA test. In fact, they would rank first in reading and science and third in math among OECD nations.

On the other hand, American students from schools where more than 75% of the students qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch, score much lower. Because the U.S. has a much higher percentage of students in poverty than nearly all the other OECD nations, the overall U.S. average score is below the median.

Other topics covered by Merrow are…

  • How do you teach appropriate behaviors when the current President role models bullying and vulgarity?
  • the Secretary of Education’s assault on public education
  • What should we measure in our schools? We approach measurement the wrong way.
  • the value of play in education
  • the cost of testing
  • the poor quality of our standardized tests and our undemanding curriculum

A sampling…

A social studies teacher right now is a modern-day Hamlet. Should he or she embrace the chaos and encourage students to debate the morality of the flood of demonstrable lies coming from the Oval Office on a daily basis, knowing that doing so is guaranteed to incur the wrath of some parents, and perhaps some administrators as well? Or should the teacher studiously avoid controversy, knowing full well that doing that sends a powerful value-laden message? To teach, or not to teach, that is the question…..

Or suppose you were an elementary school teacher trying to model appropriate behavior for your impressionable students. How do you respond when one of your kids asks you why the President said Joe Biden was kissing Barack Obama’s ass? Or why Trump can say ‘bullshit’ but kids get punished for swearing?

…We have to learn to Measure What We Value, instead of simply Valuing What We Measure.

…Ironically, the PISA results revealed that American kids score high in ‘confidence in mathematical ability,’ despite underperforming their peers in most other countries…

NRP AND THE READING WARS

Problematic “Scientific Based” Phonics: The Flawed National Reading Panel

The “reading wars” have heated up again and the report of the National Reading Panel (NRP) is being hauled out as proof that we need to dump current methods of teaching reading (balanced literacy) and teach “systematic phonics.” However, the NRP didn’t actually find that “systematic phonics” worked better than other methods of teaching reading.

Metcalf mentions educational researchers who raised questions concerning the National Reading Panel.

Elaine Garan an education professor and author was one.

She believes there are wide discrepancies between what was reported to the public and what the panel actually found. Most blatantly, the summary proclaimed that “systematic phonics instruction produces significant benefits for students in kindergarten through sixth grade,” while the report itself said, “There were insufficient data to draw any conclusions about the effects of phonics instruction with normally developing readers above first grade.” [emphasis added]

CHARTER SCHOOLS AND CHOICE

Charter Schools Cherry Pick Students & Call it Choice – PART 1: The “I Didn’t Do It!” Excuse

Charter Schools Cherry Pick Students & Call it Choice – PART 2: The “EVERYONE’S DOING IT!” Excuse

An excellent summary of the problem with charter schools in two blog posts by Steven Singer.

It takes a certain kind of hypocrite to be a charter school champion.

You have to deny any wrongdoing one minute. And then admit you’re guilty but explain it away with the excuse “Everyone’s doing it!” the next.

Take cherry picking – one of the most common admonishments leveled against the school privatization industry.

Detractors claim that charter schools keep enrollment low and then out of those who apply, they pick and choose which students to accept.

Charters are run by private enterprise but funded with public tax dollars. So they are supposed to accept all comers just like the authentic public schools in the same neighborhoods.

But charter schools don’t have to follow the same rules as authentic public schools. They pretty much just have to abide by whatever was agreed upon in their charter contracts. Even then states rarely check up on them to make sure they’re in compliance.

So critics say many of these institutions are circumventing enrollment procedures. They’re welcoming the easiest kids to teach and dissuading others from enrolling – even to the extent of kicking out hard to teach children or pretending that an “unbiased” selection process just so happened to pick only the most motivated students.

WORKERS OR EDUCATED CITIZENS?

Indiana’s “Mississippi Strategy” for Education Will Bear Bitter Fruit

Should we raise and educate our children to supply the economy with workers (the Mississippi strategy) or should we teach our children to be educated citizens? Our goal should be towards citizens who think, rather than workers for a corporate state. In The demon-haunted world: science as a candle in the dark, Carl Sagan wrote,

If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.

In this post, Doug Masson agrees…

I think there is a fundamental difference between policymakers with respect to whether they see people as liabilities or assets. When we see people as liabilities, then the goal of government is to spend as few resources on them as possible, getting them from cradle to grave with as little fuss as possible. When we see people as assets, then the goal of government is to maximize their potential as efficiently as possible, knowing that the return on that investment will exceed the expenditure as the children become productive, well-rounded citizens contributing to the community. The Mississippi Strategy takes the former approach.

FREE EXERCISE VS. ESTABLISHMENT

Vouchers And Federally-Supported Discrimination

The free exercise clause of the First Amendment gives religious groups the right to hire and fire at will even if they choose to discriminate based on their religious beliefs. However, when the religious group takes government money, then they ought to follow the secular laws of the nation as required by the establishment clause.

…in Indianapolis, as in many areas around the country, the Catholic school system is now funded in part by school vouchers, a system of using public tax dollars for tuition to private schools. Indiana has been aggressive in pursuing school choice policies, particularly under then-Governor Mike Pence, who in his 2013 inaugural address said, “There’s nothing that ails our schools that can’t be fixed by giving parents more choices.” Indiana’s voucher program directs taxpayer dollars primarily to religious schools, and the majority of those are Catholic schools. Cathedral High School participates in both Indiana’s voucher and tax credit scholarship programs.

There was a time when private religious schools might have resisted taking government dollars, even indirectly, for fear of having the government push its rules on the institutions. But now we are seeing that the lever can be pushed in the other direction, and it’s the government that may have to bend to the will of private religious institutions.

POISONING OUR CHILDREN

NC got an ‘F’ for unsafe school drinking water. Activists want the lead out of schools.

North Carolina got an “F” when it comes to protecting its children against lead poisoning.

Environmental activists have launched a new campaign to protect children from drinking lead-contaminated water in schools following a national report that gave North Carolina a failing grade for safe school drinking water.

North Carolina was among 22 states that got an “F” grade for not getting rid of lead from school drinking water, according to Environment America Research & Policy Center and U.S. PIRG Education Fund. This week, Environment North Carolina released a back-to-school toolkit that gives the public information on how to get the lead out of schools.

“There is no safe level of lead for our citizens but especially for our children,” Krista Early, clean water advocate for Environment NC, said at a news conference at Moore Square. “North Carolina does not currently require testing of drinking water in our children’s schools.

Indiana also got an “F”.

There is no safe level of lead for children. Lead in the environment damages children…permanently. It lowers their school achievement, causes behavior and growth problems, and can increase criminal behavior.

We’re still discussing the damage that lead poisoning does to our children…and we’re still blaming the low achievement of lead-damaged children on schools, teachers, and parents through our reliance on test scores and our underfunding of those schools serving children who need the most help.

Are we doing enough to eliminate lead from the environment? Not according to this article. We spend billions on testing, but apparently can’t afford to keep our children safe from poisoning. The problem is that most of those who are affected by environmental toxins like lead are poor children of color. Chances are if we had lead poisoning in areas where wealthy white people lived, it would be taken care of immediately.

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2019 Medley #16: Back to school 2019, Part 1

Special Ed. and Lead, Testing,
Teacher Evaluations,
Commission on Teacher Pay,
Reading and Phonics, Teachers’ Spending, Supporting Your Local School, DPE

SPECIAL EDUCATION NEEDS AND LEAD POISONING

In Flint, Schools Overwhelmed by Special Ed. Needs in Aftermath of Lead Crisis

In nearly all my previous posts having to do with the lead poisoning of America’s poor children, I have commented that we would likely see increased numbers of students needing special services in areas where lead is an identified problem.

Flint, Michigan is facing that situation. There aren’t enough special education teachers to handle the increased case load in Flint’s schools. The author of the article (and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit) don’t blame the lead in the water for the increased need for speical ed services in Flint. It seems likely, however, that the near doubling of the number of children identified for special education over the last 8 years has something to do with the damage done to Flint’s children by the lead in the water.

Who should pay for the permanent damage done to an entire community of lead poisoned children? Who should be held accountable? Will teachers’ evaluations reflect the lower test scores of their students damaged by policy makers’ neglect?

By the way, the title of this article refers to the “Aftermath of [Flint’s] Lead Crisis.” Is Flint’s water safe yet? What about Newark? What about the lead in the ground in East Chicago, IN?

In a suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the Education Law Center, and the New York-based firm of White & Case, lawyers representing Flint families have sued the school system, the Michigan education department, and the Genesee County Intermediate school district, alleging systematic failure to meet the needs of special education students. The Genesee district helps oversee special education services in Flint and other county districts.

While the lawsuit does not pin the increased need for special education services solely on the prolonged lead exposure, research has linked lead toxicity to learning disabilities, poor classroom performance, and increased aggression.

STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT TESTS AREN’T VALID FOR TEACHER EVALUATIONS

As low ILEARN scores loom, McCormick wants to change how Indiana evaluates schools, teachers

What McCormick should have included in her comments…

We shouldn’t use student achievement tests to evaluate teachers. Student achievement tests are developed to assess student achievement, not teacher effectiveness…not school effectiveness…and not school system effectiveness. This misuse of standardized tests invalidates the results.

McCormick also said it is “past time” for the state to take students’ standardized test scores out of teachers’ evaluations. The argument is that scores should be used to inform educators on what concepts students have mastered and where they need help, rather than a way of evaluating how well teachers are doing their jobs.

“ILEARN was a snapshot in time, it was a one-day assessment,” McCormick said. “It gave us information on where students are performing, but there are a lot of pieces to student performance beyond one assessment.”

As for why the first year of scores were low, McCormick said the new test was “much more rigorous” and weighed skills differently, prioritizing “college and career readiness” skills.

McCormick: It’s time to change school grading system

“It’s past time to decouple test scores from teacher evaluations.”

• Hold schools harmless for test results for accountability purposes. In other words, schools would receive the higher of the grade they earned in 2018 or 2019.
• Pause the intervention timeline that allows the state to close or take over schools that are rated F for multiple consecutive years.
• Give emergency rule-making authority to the State Board of Education to enable it to reconfigure the accountability system to align with the new assessment.

McCormick also said it’s past time to decouple test scores from teacher evaluations, which can determine whether teachers get raises. Current law says teacher evaluations must be “significantly informed” by objective measures, like students’ test scores.

TEACHERS REPEAT WHAT THEY’VE BEEN SAYING FOR YEARS: LISTEN TO US!

Local educators tell commission to ‘support Hoosier teachers’ during input session focused on competitive wages

Once more teachers tell policy makers (this time “business and education leaders”) how the state of Indiana (and the nation) has damaged public education and the teaching profession. Apparently, the only people who don’t know why there’s a teacher shortage are those who have caused it…

One by one, teachers and community members took to the mic to give their input of what they believe needs to be done to increase teacher pay as well as revenues available to school corporations.

Recommendations included — but were not limited to — looking into low-enrollment schools, increasing state taxes, dropping standardized testing and examining charter schools’ “harmful impact” on public education.

THERE IS NO MAGIC ELIXIR

Is NCLB’s Reading First Making a Comeback?

There’s more to reading instruction than phonics.

[emphasis in original]

Teachers need a broad understanding about reading instruction and how to assess the reading needs of each student, especially when students are young and learning to read.

This includes decoding for children who have reading disabilities. But a variety of teaching tools and methods help children learn to read. The conditions in their schools and classrooms should be conducive for this to happen.

It would be helpful to read more about lowering class sizes, a way to better teach children in earlier grades.

Problems relating to the loss of librarians and libraries is also currently of grave concern. And with so many alternative education programs like Teach for America it’s important to determine who is teaching children reading in their classrooms.

The Reading First scandal was noxious, and I have not done justice describing it in this post. Today, most understand that NCLB was not about improving public education but about demeaning educators and closing public schools. Reading First fit into this privatization plan. It was about making a profit on reading programs. It turned out not to be a magic elixir to help students learn how to read better.

TEACHERS OPEN THEIR WALLETS

It’s the beginning of the school year and teachers are once again opening up their wallets to buy school supplies

While the governor and his commission on teacher pay argue about the best way to increase teacher salaries across the state, Indiana’s teachers are opening their classrooms and their wallets. The average amount of money a teacher spends on his/her students in Indiana is $462, which is more than the national average.

The nation’s K–12 public school teachers shell out, on average, $459 on school supplies for which they are not reimbursed (adjusted for inflation to 2018 dollars), according to the NCES 2011–2012 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS). This figure does not include the dollars teachers spend but are reimbursed for by their school districts. The $459-per-teacher average is for all teachers, including the small (4.9%) share who do not spend any of their own money on school supplies.

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL PUBLIC SCHOOL – END VOUCHERS AND CHARTER SCHOOLS

Support Our Public Schools – And The Teachers Who Work In Them

What can you do to help support your local school?

As our nation’s young people return to public schools, there are things you can do to shore up the system. First, support your local public schools. It doesn’t matter if your children are grown or you never had children. The kids attending public schools in your town are your neighbors and fellow residents of your community. Someday, they will be the next generation of workers, teachers and leaders shaping our country. It’s in everyone’s best interest that today’s children receive the best education possible, and the first step to that is making sure their public schools are adequately funded.

Second, arm yourself with facts about the threat vouchers pose to public education and oppose these schemes. To learn more, visit the website of the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE), a coalition co-chaired by Americans United that includes more than 50 education, civic, civil rights and religious organizations devoted to the support of public schools. NCPE has pulled together a lot of research showing that voucher plans don’t work and that they harm public education by siphoning off needed funds.

GUIDE TO THE DPE MOVEMENT

A Layperson’s Guide to the ‘Destroy Public Education’ Movement

This excellent summary post by Thomas Ultican was originally published on Sept. 21, 2018.

The destroy public education (DPE) movement is the fruit of a relatively small group of billionaires. The movement is financed by several large non-profit organizations. Nearly all of the money spent is free of taxation. Without this spending, there would be no wide-spread public school privatization.

It is generally recognized that the big three foundations driving DPE activities are The Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation (Assets in 2016 = $41 billion), The Walton Family Foundation (Assets in 2016 = $3.8 billion), and The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation (Assets in 2016 = $1.8 billion).

Last week, the Network for Public Education published “Hijacked by Billionaires: How the Super-Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools.” This interactive report lists the top ten billionaires spending to drive their DPE agenda with links to case studies for their spending.

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2019 Medley #12: Reading

Reading Wars, Emergent Literacy,
Third Grade Retention Laws

What is reading? Is it more than decoding? Is it only comprehension? Reading Hall of Fame member Richard Allington has a nuanced discussion about it here.

When should we teach reading? Do four-year-olds need “reading instruction? Five-year-olds? High achieving Finland doesn’t teach five- or six-year-olds to read…unless the teacher determines that they’re ready. In the U.S. it’s one-size-fits-all in kindergarten (aka the new first grade).

When children have trouble reading at age nine or younger, what should we do? Do we remediate them? Or do we retain them in grade for another year?

READING WARS REDUX

The “Reading Wars” have ignited again. We start with an article from Australia which divides us into two simplistic sides — a pro-phonics tribe and an anti-phonics tribe. While attempting to sound unbiased the author assumes we all know that “science” is on the side of the pro-phonics tribe and it’s only those foolish “regular educators; teachers and educationists in schools” who refuse to see that systematic phonics is the “only way.”

I taught reading for 35 years and always included phonics even when I was using the “whole language” method of Reading Recovery. The difference is how you use phonics instruction.

‘When two tribes go to war’: the reading debate explained

Over time, as the scientific evidence in favour of the efficacy of phonics instruction became overwhelming, the whole language movement relaunched themselves as being in favour of ‘balanced literacy’. All five Big Ideas were important, including phonics (which they now claimed was being taught in most schools, but more as a method of last resort).

Moreover, phonics instruction (where necessary) should occur naturally during ‘real’ reading activities involving quality children’s literature and certainly should not be taught explicitly and systematically.

The author uses information from the U.S.’s National Reading Panel (2001) when discussing the “five Big Ideas” — that is, the five major pillars of “scientific reading instruction” identified by the National Reading Panel…

  • phonological awareness
  • phonics
  • fluency
  • vocabulary
  • comprehension

The National Reading Panel Summary, arguing for explicit and systematic phonics instruction, said,

The meta-analysis revealed that systematic phonics instruction produces significant benefits for students in kindergarten through 6th grade and for children having difficulty learning to read. The ability to read and spell words was enhanced in kindergartners who received systematic beginning phonics instruction. First graders who were taught phonics systematically were better able to decode and spell, and they showed significant improvement in their ability to comprehend text. Older children receiving phonics instruction were better able to decode and spell words and to read text orally, but their comprehension of text was not significantly improved.

Unfortunately, that’s not exactly what the National Reading Panel found. The Summary, written to favor phonics, overstated the findings. The full report (p. 2-116) tells a different story.

Because most of the comparisons above 1st grade involved poor readers (78%), the conclusions drawn about the effects of phonics instruction on specific reading outcomes pertain mainly to them. Findings indicate that phonics instruction helps poor readers in 2nd through 6th grades improve their word reading skills. However, phonics instruction appears to contribute only weakly, if at all, in helping poor readers apply these skills to read text and to spell words. There were insufficient data to draw any conclusions about the effects of phonics instruction with normally developing readers above 1st grade.

Stephen Krashen offers a couple of responses to the Australian article…

Sent to the Sydney Morning Herald, June 24, 2019.

Basic Phonics appears to be the position of Anderson, Hiebert, Scott and Wilkinson, authors of Becoming a Nation of Readers, a book widely considered to provide strong support for phonics instruction:

“…phonics instruction should aim to teach only the most important and regular of letter-to-sound relationships…once the basic relationships have been taught, the best way to get children to refine and extend their knowledge of letter-sound correspondences is through repeated opportunities to read. If this position is correct, then much phonics instruction is overly subtle and probably unproductive.”

Beginning Reading: The (Huge) Role of Stories and the (Limited) Role of Phonics

Stephen Krashen
Language Magazine April, 2019

The inclusion of some phonics instruction does not constitute a “balanced” approach or an “eclectic” approach: All components of the complete program, stories, self-selected reading and a small amount of direct phonics instruction are in the service of providing comprehensible input. Stories and self-selected reading provide [comprehensible input] directly: They are assisted by a variety of means for making input comprehensible: some conscious knowledge of the rules of phonics is one of them. It is, however, very limited.

Cryonics Phonics: Inequality’s Little Helper

Gerald Coles (Reading The Naked Truth) offers a discussion of the Reading Wars and how the errors of the National Reading Panel are still haunting us.

Propelling the skills-heavy reading instruction mandated in NCLB was the 2000 Report of the National Reading Panel. Convened by Congress, the panel concluded, after a purportedly exhaustive review of the research on beginning-reading instruction, that phonics and direct-skills instruction was the necessary, scientifically proven pathway to academic success. In Reading the Naked Truth: Literacy, Legislation, and Lies (2003), I reviewed all of the “scientific” studies cited in the National Reading Panel report and documented how the panel repeatedly misinterpreted and misrepresented the findings in study after study. The following are just a few examples:

  • The boost in reading associated with early phonics instruction did not last beyond kindergarten.
  • The overall data in the studies reviewed actually contradict the report’s conclusion about the “better reading growth” in skills-emphasis classrooms.
  • Systematic phonics teaching was not superior to whole-language teaching in which phonics was taught as needed.

Again, I would emphasize that I always provided phonics instruction for my students and there are times when systematic phonics can be used to benefit students. However, it’s important to remember that “Systematic phonics teaching was not superior to whole-language teaching in which phonics was taught as needed.”

[For more about the National Reading Panel and its report see:

WHY AREN’T YOU TEACHING READING TO PRE-SCHOOLERS?

Why Don’t You Teach Reading? A Look at Emergent Literacy

Just because someone went to school doesn’t mean they know everything about teaching. There’s more to reading instruction than worksheets and book reports. There’s more to language development and the skills needed for learning to read than letters and phonics.

Many developmentally appropriate preschool teachers have been asked, “Why don’t you teach reading?” The question is innocent. But teachers often come away frustrated, as most of what they do is focused on building successful readers. Often, outside observers are looking for reading worksheets and primers and long stretches of direct phonics instruction. The trick is, in these early years, so much is being done to build successful readers, but it is in the form of emergent or early literacy skills, which are much less visible to the untrained eye.

THIRD GRADE PUNISHMENT LAWS

In Indiana and 18 other states in the U.S., when third graders have difficulty passing a standardized reading test, they’re required to repeat third grade.

We know, however, that retention in grade, especially when used as a one-size-fits-all approach to reading remediation, is not effective.

States Are Ratcheting Up Reading Expectations For 3rd-Graders

Noguera sees a disconnect in the increased expectations and flat school funding. “We often hold kids accountable,” he says. “In this case, with retention. We hold teachers accountable for not raising test scores. But the state legislature doesn’t hold itself accountable for putting the resources in place to make sure schools can meet the learning needs of kids.”

Force and Flunk, Tougher Kindergarten Lead to Parental Dissatisfaction with Public Schools

States are requiring schools to retain third-graders who are having trouble reading, but reading instruction in the early years of schooling is often inappropriate and lacking resources for identifying and helping at-risk children. In other words, the children are paying the price for the failure of the adults in their world to provide developmentally-appropriate instruction and sufficient help for those who struggle. What follows, says Nancy Bailey, are parents who blame the school and perpetuate the myth of “failing schools.”

When kindergartners don’t like reading and do it poorly, public schools fall short on remediation programs. Even if a child has a learning disability they might not get the needed services because so many children struggle due to being forced to read too soon!

Kindergarten never used to be where and when children were expected to master reading! Mostly, children learned the ABCs. Kindergarten was a half day involving play and socialization, like Finnish children are schooled today.

But with the looming fear of third grade retention, parents are alarmed for good reason. Kindergarten is no longer joyful or the “garden,” its original German definition. It’s dominated by assessment and forced reading and writing exercises that raise fear in children. This is due to the concern that children won’t read by third grade and will fail the test and be retained.

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Father’s Day 2019: A Reminder to Read Aloud to Your Children

An annual Father’s Day post…with updates and additions.

READING ALOUD

I read aloud to my students from the very first day I taught at an elementary school beginning in January 1976. I had caught the read-aloud bug from the late Lowell Madden, one of my Education School Professors. I had it reinforced by Jim Trelease, whose Read Aloud Handbook is a treasure of information for anyone who is interested in reading aloud to children. [I’ve referenced Jim Trelease quite a few times on this blog.]

I read aloud to all my classes because reading aloud is simply one of the best tools we have to help children learn to read. Reading is, arguably, the single most important skill a child learns in school.

Jim Trelease, in The Read Aloud Handbook reminded us [emphasis added]

In 1985, the commission [on Reading, organized by the National Academy of Education and the National Institute of Education and funded under the U.S. Department of Education] issued its report, Becoming a Nation of Readers. Among its primary findings, two simple declarations rang loud and clear:

“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”

The commission found conclusive evidence to support reading aloud not only in the home but also in the classroom: “It is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.”

In its wording—“the single most important activity”—the experts were saying reading aloud was more important than worksheets, homework, assessments, book reports, and flashcards. One of the cheapest, simplest, and oldest tools of teaching was being promoted as a better teaching tool than anything else in the home or classroom. What exactly is so powerful about something so simple you don’t even need a high school diploma in order to do it and how exactly does a person get better at reading? It boils down to a simple, two-part formula:

  • The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.
  • The more you read, the more you know; and the more you know, the smarter you grow.

Reading aloud to children is an activity that entertains…it strengthens personal bonds, it informs and explains…and, according to Trelease, when you read aloud to a child you also:

  • Condition the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure
  • Create background knowledge
  • Build vocabulary
  • Provide a reading role model

Reading aloud is more beneficial than standardized tests or worksheets. It is more important than homework or flashcards. It is the single most important thing a parent can do to help their children become better readers. It is the single most important thing teachers can do to help their students become better readers.

My collection of Read-Aloud Handbook editions,
several of which have been signed by the author, Jim Trelease.

FATHERS AND READ-ALOUD

In the latest edition of his book (2013), Trelease devotes an entire chapter to fathers and reading aloud. He focuses on fathers reading aloud to sons because fewer fathers than mothers read aloud to their children, and sons are the ones, according to statistics, whose academic achievement could use the read-aloud boost. Obviously, this does not mean that fathers should not read aloud to their daughters. The point is to get fathers to read aloud to their children.

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease: CHAPTER 9: Dad—What’s the score?

In case you’ve been off the planet for the past several decades, let me bring you up-to-date on our boys and their school woes.

  • In a 2008 study of reading tests in forty-five states, the girls exceeded the boys at every grade level.
  • Unlike four decades ago, it is now common for girls to dominate a high school’s highest academic positions (valedictorian), class leadership positions, advanced placement spaces, and school activities. While the girls are assuming responsibilities, the boys are playing sports or video games.
  • For the first time in history, women exceed their male counterparts in most collegiate achievements, from enrollment and graduation to earning advanced degrees, and the gap is widening annually. About the only significant area in which males dominate in college is “dropout,” where they lead by a 3:2 ratio.

(And an excellent pamphlet with important information specifically for dads….Fathers, Sons and Reading)

Boys, Trelease says, need their fathers to read to them. The relationship between fathers and sons has changed over the years, and not necessarily in a good way. Over the last few decades, America’s “male” culture has been dominated by politics, sports, and television, and boys watch their role models carefully. Among those men in important cultural and political positions in America are abusers, racists, and misogynists. It’s more important than ever that fathers exert positive role-model influence over their sons.

The landscape of the American male’s attention span was being dramatically altered and boys were soaking up the changes.

“Is there a connection,” Trelease asks, between the “decline in boys’ interest and achievement in school and the behavior of the male culture?”

Can a father play catch in the backyard after dinner and still read to the child that same evening? Can they go to a game one day and to the library the next? You betcha.

The question is…do they? Do fathers take part in their children’s, and specifically their sons’, intellectual development? Reading aloud to your child is an easy, fun way for fathers to have a positive academic influence on their children.

Dad—what have you done for your son’s head lately?

Make a Father’s Day resolution. Read to all your kids every day.

Need more convincing? Check out the following online resources…

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Filed under Jim Trelease, Parents, read-alouds, reading

One Size Does Not Fit All

More than four dozen literacy experts have signed on to a letter expressing concern over the lack of balance in PBS Newshour’s segment about dyslexia.

Among the signers of the letter are Reading Hall of Fame members, Richard Allington, Pat Cunningham, Ken and Yetta Goodman, Michael Graves, Stephen Krashen, P. David Pearson, Gay Su Pinnell, David Reinking, and Barbara M. Taylor.

The entire letter can be found at Concern_letter_to_PBS.pdf and is listed with all signers.

One objection the signers have with the PBS episode is the assumption that there is only one way to teach reading that works for every child, and that other variables and individual characteristics of students are unimportant. The show also implies that America’s teachers don’t know how to teach reading, once again, misdirecting blame onto teachers for a lack of achievement among students.

There are a wide variety of out of school factors which could result in reading difficulties such as vision problems, lack of literacy experiences in the home, exposure to environmental toxins such as lead, and family trauma.

Dyslexia is defined differently in different places and by different people, so one single method of teaching reading is insufficient to cover all differences. Because of the confusion and differences in defining dyslexia, the American Psychiatric Association has removed dyslexia from it’s Diagnostic Statistical Manual.

The letter goes into detail on these and other issues.

Paula Kerger, PBS, President and CEO
pakerger@pbs.org

Sara Just, Executive Producer, PBS NewsHour
viewermail@newshour.org

Dear Ms. Kerger and Ms. Just,

We, the undersigned, write to express concern about the PBS NewsHour segment on dyslexia, broadcast on April 30. As experienced senior scholars in the field of reading and literacy education, we found this segment to be inconsistent with the NewsHour’s stated aim of balanced and trusted reporting.

Our professional work is devoted to studying literacy and how it can be developed in schools to enrich the lives of all students. So, we well understand and share parents’ and others’ anguish and frustration when children are identified as experiencing reading difficulties. Competent reading and writing are fundamentally important in and out of school, and difficulties can shape children’s concepts of themselves as learners, while affecting virtually every aspect of their everyday experience.

Our concern is that the NewsHour received inadequate and incomplete scientific advice when producing the segment on dyslexia. The result perpetuates inaccuracies, misconceptions, and distortions related to reading, how it is taught, and the complexity of reading difficulties. It suggests erroneously that there is scientific certainty about dyslexia and how it should be addressed instructionally. In fact, the research evidence is equivocal and there is much room for debate about whether dyslexia is an identifiable condition, whether it can be reliably diagnosed, and whether there are instructional approaches that are uniquely effective in ameliorating it…

…We are particularly concerned about the dyslexia segment’s suggestion that a narrowly conceptualized instructional approach is unequivocally effective, not only for individuals categorized as dyslexic, but for all individuals learning to read. Such a suggestion perpetuates a view that there is a single approach guaranteed to transcend the incredible diversity of factors and individual characteristics that might explain why learning to read is easy for many but incredibly difficult for some. It is widely accepted that learning to read English texts entails instructional attention to sound-symbol correspondence and other phonemic aspects of reading. But, the amount and form of that attention, how it is balanced with other aspects of reading and learning to read such as motivation, and how it might deal with the orthographic irregularities of English spelling, cannot be reduced to a single, narrow, unquestioned approach. In particular, we worry that such a narrow view might divert teachers from attending to other scientifically based facets of good literacy pedagogy, such as attention to oral language, knowledge acquisition, motivation and self-efficacy, and sheer exposure to print. Again, such issues, in one form or another, have periodically blossomed into public controversies across decades and are often nurtured among the general public by shallow or misleading media reports such as the NewsHour’s segment.

We are also dismayed that the NewsHour segment implicitly questioned, even if unintentionally, the professionalism of teachers and American schools in regard to teaching reading. It was suggested that teachers were ignorant of or resistant to the scientific certainty of dyslexia and how reading can be effectively taught, not only to those children diagnosed with dyslexia, but to all children. Beyond the absence of such certainty, as we have explained above, the segment unfairly provided no opportunity for a rebuttal from qualified representatives of those groups. They could have pointed to a complementary body of scientific research that supports alternative explanations of reading difficulties and instructional approaches that have been shown to be effective for a wide range of students with reading difficulties. That lack of balance was exacerbated when the segment included emotional comments about how children’s needs were not being met…

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Filed under Allington, dyslexia, reading, Stephen Krashen

2019 Medley #8

Grade Level, Student Achievement,
Society’s Mirror, Teacher Shortages,
Charter Accountability,
Disenfranchising the Voters

CHILDREN DON’T EAT ON GRADE LEVEL

When Betsy DeVos “Likes” Your “Research”…

This post isn’t about reading, but Mitchell Robinson brings up important information we should remember.

Last month, third graders in Indiana took the IREAD-3, a reading achievement test. Those who fail to achieve the arbitrarily designated cut score must take the test again during the summer. Those who fail it again must repeat third grade.

The concept of grade level should be flexible, not based on an arbitrary cut score. It should reflect the average reading level of a child in a particular grade instead of a goal for every child to achieve on a given test day. We should teach children at their zone of proximal development — the level just beyond the child’s independent level, not at the level the test insists upon.

Would we like all children to be above average? Of course, but we can’t ignore the math which renders that impossible. Additionally, we can’t ignore the detrimental impact of poverty on school achievement. Our job, as teachers, is to analyze a child’s achievement and make our plans based on what will help him progress as quickly as possible. That means starting where the child is…not at some vague “grade-level” determined by an outside source.

By setting a cut score on a test, and using the test to determine grade placement, the state is ignoring this basic concept of academic achievement and development, usurping the professional judgment of the classroom teacher, and ignoring the best interests of children in a misguided quest to get a number with which to label teachers, schools and school districts.

I agree with Robinson when he says that we can set “goals as teachers for when we introduce various literacy concepts to our students.” We do that by understanding the reading process and observing our students. [emphasis in original]

Children don’t “read on grade level” anymore than they “eat on grade level” or “care about their friends on grade level.” Anyone who has actually helped a child learn how to read, or play a music instrument, or ride a bike, knows that kids will accomplish these goals “when they are ready.” Not by “grade level.”

So, kids will read when they have a need to read, and when what they are reading is relevant to their lives. Not when they are supposed to read as measured by their grade level. Can we set our own goals as teachers for when we introduce various literacy concepts to our students? Sure. And teachers do that, every day in every public school in the nation.

But the only thing that measuring reading by “grade level” does is make a lot of kids–and teachers–feel dumb when they are not, and turn reading into drudgery instead of the life-long pursuit of joy, knowledge, and enjoyment it’s meant to be.

FOOD IMPACTS ACHIEVEMENT

Food for thought: Students’ test scores rise a few weeks after families get food stamps

What’s this? Students learn better when they are well fed? Go figure!

…scores were highest around three weeks after families received benefits, and lowest at the beginning and end of that cycle. The differences were modest, but statistically significant.

It’s not fully clear why scores spike around that three-week mark, but the researchers suggest that the academic benefits of better access to food, like improved nutrition and reduced stress, take some time to accrue.

“Students with peak test performance (who received SNAP around two weeks prior to their test date) may have benefited from access to sufficient food resources and lowered stress not only on the day of the test but for the previous two weeks,” Gassman-Pines and Bellows write.

Source: Food Instability and Academic Achievement: A Quasi-Experiment Using SNAP Benefit Timing

SCHOOLS ARE THE MIRROR OF THE NATION

‘As society goes, school goes:’ New report details toll on schools in President Trump’s America

Children learn what they live. Guess what happens when they live in a society filled with hatred and bigotry…in a society where truth has no meaning…in a society where disagreements are solved by shooting those who you disagree with…

John Rogers and his colleagues (Michael Ishimoto, Alexander Kwako, Anthony Berryman, and Claudia Diera) at UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access surveyed a nationally representative sample of more than 500 public high school principals from across the country and found this:

* 89 percent reported that “incivility and contentiousness in the broader political environment has considerably affected their school community.”

* 83 percent of principals note these tensions are fueled by “untrustworthy or disputed information,” and over 90 percent report students sharing “hateful posts on social media.”

* Almost all principals rate the threat of gun violence as a major concern, and one in three principals report that their school received in the previous year threats of mass shooting or bombing or both.

There’s more: In schools with a sizable immigrant population, principals report the significant negative effects that federal immigration policy and its associated anti-immigrant rhetoric have on student performance and family stability.

And schools that are in the areas of the country hardest hit by the opioid crisis are directly affected by addiction, overdose, and family devastation.

Source: School and Society in the Age of Trump

TOMORROW’S TEACHERS

The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought

The right-wing war on the teaching profession is succeeding. Fewer young people are going into education. The number of uncertified teachers is increasing. Class sizes will increase.

As might be expected, this has the greatest impact on high-poverty schools.

What can we do? Who will be tomorrow’s teachers? Will there still be a well staffed, local public school for our children and grandchildren?

Schools struggle to find and retain highly qualified individuals to teach, and this struggle is tougher in high-poverty schools…

Low teacher pay is reducing the attractiveness of teaching jobs, and is an even bigger problem in high-poverty schools…

The tough school environment is demoralizing to teachers, especially so in high-poverty schools…

Teachers—especially in high-poverty schools—aren’t getting the training, early career support, and professional development opportunities they need to succeed and this too is keeping them, or driving them, out of the profession…

THERE MUST BE ACCOUNTABILITY FOR CHARTERS, TOO

Weekly privatization report: Charter special ed failure in Louisiana

In the Public Interest‘s weekly privatization report for April 8, 2019, is all about charter schools. Fully ten of the fifteen education articles have to do with charters failing to do the job that taxpayers were giving them money to do. Charters should not be allowed to open in areas where an additional school isn’t needed. Charters must be fiscally and academically accountable, just like real public schools.

Louisiana officials are recommending to close a charter school amid allegations of financial mismanagement and a failure to provide proper special education services to the roughly 40 percent of enrolled students with disabilities.

DISENFRANCHISEMENT FOLLIES

Editorial: Republican legislators insult voters who support public schools

What does it say about a political party which wins elections by preventing citizens from voting…by arranging districts so that politicians choose their voters, not the other way around…and by going against the will of the voters to divert money from public institutions to privatization?

Republicans in Indiana tried this during the 2019 legislative session and didn’t get away with it. I don’t doubt that they will try again.

Pinellas County voters reapproved a special property tax in 2016 to improve teacher salaries and arts programs, not to subsidize charter schools. Miami-Dade voters approved a property tax increase last year to raise teacher salaries and hire more school resource officers, not to subsidize charter schools. Yet now Republicans in the Florida Legislature want to change the rules and force local school districts to share money from local tax increases with privately operated charter schools. Their efforts to undermine traditional public schools and ignore the intent of the voters know no boundaries.

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Filed under Achievement, Article Medleys, Charters, DeVos, Florida, IREAD-3, Legislatures, Privatization, Public Ed, reading, TeacherShortage, Testing

2019 Medley #7: Things I didn’t get to edition

Accountability, School Time,
How to Teach Reading, Management,
30 Years of Charters

I often bookmark an article that I’d like to use as a basis for a blog entry…and then a week later, it seems like there are more important things I have to do so it gets pushed down the list until I forget about it completely. So today I’d like to look back at some still-relevant articles from the last few months that I found interesting, but got buried by other things on my to-do list.

HOLD POLITICIANS ACCOUNTABLE

Politicians Forget that Cut Scores on Standardized Tests Are Not Grounded in Science

The Every Child Succeeds Act still requires states to test every child every year. There are no longer federal consequences to “failure,” but the federal government still requires the states to tell them what the state-level consequences for low scoring schools are.

Here’s an idea…we know that test scores “correlate with family and neighborhood income” so why should all accountability be dumped on teachers and students? Why should third-graders who fail IREAD3 in Indiana be forced to repeat third grade when it’s possible that the child’s academic struggles are caused by the effects of poverty?

So how about if we put the accountability and consequences where they belong…on state and national politicians and legislators.

As John Kuhn wrote a few years ago

…where is the label for the lawmaker whose policies fail to clean up the poorest neighborhoods? Why do we not demand that our leaders make “Adequate Yearly Progress”?

Politicians and legislatures are “failing” when poverty is unaddressed or when progress towards easing poverty isn’t enough to qualify as “adequate yearly progress.”

Politicians and legislatures are “failing” when they don’t spend enough on public education or waste money on mismanaged private schools (charter or voucher).

Politicians and legislatures are “failing” when they sign or pass laws such as third-grade retention laws, or laws which misuse standardized tests, which force educators into doing things that are educationally questionable.

It’s time to attach sanctions to states which allow their public schools to suffer while wasting billions of dollars on misused standardized tests, on vouchers, and on charters.

It’s time to attach sanctions to states which spend more money on wealthy schools that poor schools.

It’s time that we stop blaming teachers for things outside of their control and hold accountable those who can help change things…but don’t.

Decades of research show that, in the aggregate, standardized test scores correlate with family and neighborhood income. In a country where segregation by race and poverty continues to grow, it is now recognized among experts and researchers that rating and ranking schools and districts by their aggregate test scores merely brands the poorest schools as failing. When sanctions are attached, political regimes of test-based accountability merely punish the schools and the teachers and the students in the poorest places.

School Accountability Begins With the People Who Make the Rules: A Code of Conduct for Politicians and Test Makers

A code of conduct for the people making pronouncements on education…good idea.

-In fact, you know what? Don’t use standardized tests at all to assess student learning – especially not connected to high stakes. Instead rely on classroom grades and teacher observations for student assessment. Use indexes and audits of school resources to determine whether they are doing their best to teach students and whether lawmakers have done enough to ensure they are receiving fair and equitable resources.

TIME FOR SCHOOL

Squeezing the Clock

Blogger Peter Greene has retired from teaching and recently discovered that time in school is different than time outside of school.

As an elementary teacher, I had to learn how to use time to my advantage. The biggest problems were daily interruptions. One year I had to keep a list of where and at what time I had to send students out of the room.

Student A was diabetic and had to go to the nurse three times a day to have his blood sugar checked.

Student B had to go to occupational therapy three days a week and speech twice a week.

Students C, D, E, F, and G had to go to speech at a different time and different days than student B.

Students D, F, G, and H went to the reading specialist three times a week.

…and so on. In addition, I had to get my students to Phys. Ed on Tuesdays at 9:47, Music on Thursdays at 9:47, and Art on Fridays at 10:02. Library was on Mondays at 9:47, and lunch was every day at 11:20.

I also had to make sure that I picked my students up from their classes on time. The Art teacher had my students from 10:02-10:42 and another class at 10:45, which gave him three minutes between the time my students left and his next class arrived. Time to go to the bathroom? Not likely.

I had to arrange my in-class schedule so that Students A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and H, didn’t miss anything important when they were at speech, occupational therapy, the nurse, or the reading specialist. And I had to make sure that when they came back — all at different times — I was ready for them.

Our days were scheduled down to the minute…

This is one of the things about teaching that non-teachers just don’t get. If you have an office job and someone says, “Hey, I want you to work in this little project some time this week– it should just take a half an hour or so,” then nobody gets excited because, hey, you can always find a spare thirty minutes here or there. But teachers are desperately sick to death of all the politicians, policy makers, administrators, and public spirited folks who propose, “Here’s a worthwhile thing to do– let’s just have teachers add it to their classroom. It won’t take much time out of their day.” If teachers are feeling polite or restrained (or just resigned) they’ll smile and say, “Sure. Sure. Just send me the materials.” If they’re feeling undiplomatic they will say, “Sure. Please tell me exactly what you want me to cut, because every damn second of my day between now and July is spoken for.” And we’re not talking about blocks of “an hour or so.” Teacher time is measured out in minutes. It is one of those things that you just don’t get if you haven’t been there.

HOW DO YOU TEACH READING?

Reading Instruction, The Attack on Teachers, and Two Areas of Concern

Do teachers not know how to teach reading? Are schools of education at fault for not teaching education students how to teach reading?

It’s my opinion that the one, proven “scientific” way of teaching reading, which works for every child, doesn’t exist. We don’t understand enough about how the brain works when it comes to reading and therefore it’s difficult, if not impossible, to develop a way to teach reading that works for every single child. The word “dyslexia” refers to “trouble with reading.” It’s not any more specific than saying “upper respiratory illness.” In other words, we know something is wrong, and we have seen this difficulty before, but we don’t really understand the exact source or a way to treat it that works for every student.

There are a host of variables which can come into play when a child learns to read; ability, environment, personality, temperament, socio-economic status, experiences, interests. Perhaps the best method for teaching reading is the “try this…” approach which is simply defined as, “Try this. If it doesn’t work, try something else. Repeat.”

What’s most important, however, is that the teacher is familiar with different ways of approaching the teaching of reading and familiar with her students.

The ability to teach reading consists of acquiring the understanding of a large number of ideas, techniques, and concepts related to the reading process, and the ability to choose the correct path at the right time, with specific students.

Almost every day there’s another report attacking teachers for how they teach reading. It divides parents and teachers. It’s also dangerous at a time when there’s a teacher shortage and teachers are banding together to try to save not only their profession, but public education.

I don’t like to see my profession criticized so harshly by those who don’t teach and who have never taught. I fear that with this animosity towards teachers, those with minimal teacher preparation will end up in classrooms pretending to be teachers.

However, I also know parents with children who have dyslexia or reading and writing difficulties. Having taught students with such disabilities in middle and high school, I understand how frustrating it is for young people to struggle with reading and writing.

But everyone focuses on phonics while there are many other variables that could be problematic for children when it comes to reading instruction.

TEACHER MANAGEMENT

Why You Can’t Fire Your Way To Excellence

“Reformers” love to complain about bad teachers and how the union ” protects” bad teachers, yet teachers don’t hire or retain other teachers. Administrators do that.

An administration’s number one job is to make sure that the district’s teachers are working in the conditions that make it possible for them to do their best work. Every bad teacher represents a failure by a principal and a superintendent. That teacher you want to fire is a sign that either your hiring process or your teacher management process is broken.

THIRTY YEARS OF CHARTERS ARE ENOUGH

Can charter schools be reformed? Should they be?

As Diane Ravitch recently said,

There’s only one pot of State money for K-12 schools. Dividing it three ways makes all sectors suffer.

Charter schools are not public schools. They are private schools which get funding directly from the state. A public school implies public oversight. In too many cases, charter schools miss that feature.

It is time to acknowledge that what may have begun as a sincere attempt to promote innovation has given rise to fraud, discrimination and the depletion of public school funding. Thirty years of charters have resulted in an increase in profiteering far more than it has resulted in innovation. Democratic governance is disappearing.

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Filed under Accountability, Administrators, Article Medleys, Charters, Choice, Public Ed, reading, scheduling