Poverty and Reading
I've heard of racial discrimination and sex discrimination. But what's "reading
That's a term used by advocates for
disadvantaged children, seeking to solve the growing chasm in learning ability
that centers on differences in reading skill between children of means and
children without means.
It appears that an unintended
consequence of the millions of dollars of federal taxpayer funding of
remediation for disadvantaged children has been to stunt their academic growth
and prevent their development into good readers. Why? Because the wrong kinds
of reading instruction are being funded and they are counterproductive.
Title I reading remediation around
the country is, in the vast majority of cases, whole-language based. The focus
is on teaching children to memorize whole words, not understanding how parts of
words come together into wholes. That method, often called "Whole Language" or
"Reading Recovery," has been shown resoundingly by empirical research to deny
children the skills they need to decode words. They aren't taught to make
crucial connections between the sounds they hear in words and the written
symbols for those sounds.
Instead, whole-language strategies
use "cues" and visual techniques that minimize phonics and retard the
development of decoding skills. The child is stuck memorizing lists of easy
words and can't decode unfamiliar ones using phonological skills. It may LOOK
like the child is reading, since the books given to the child to read have
"predictable text," that contains the same simple words that they memorize on
sight. But once they get to regular books, with words that they HAVEN'T
happened to memorize, they're stuck.
Children in middle-class and
upper-class homes that do not depend on their schools so much may have the same
failed methods of reading instruction in class, but these can be countered, to
a degree, by the presence of lots of books in the home, well-educated parents
who use big vocabularies and proper grammar, enriching experiences outside of
school, and so forth.
So in a way, federal taxes are
paying to keep disadvantaged children behind. That's why advocates for
low-income and at-risk children call the Whole Language reading philosophy
If we really wanted to "level the
playing field" for low-income children, we would require that all reading
instruction in our public schools, but especially in low-income areas, use
nothing but research-based reading instruction - which boils down to
systematic, intensive, explicit phonics such as Spalding, and good, fun-to-read
literature like the Core Knowledge series or Open Court.
Homework: "The Invisible Dyslexics: How Public
School Systems in Baltimore and Elsewhere Discriminate Against Poor Children in
the Diagnosis and Treatment of Early Reading Difficulties," in the Publications
/ Research area of www.abell.org