Getting the Reading Curriculum That Works
can I go to check how effective the reading curriculum that my child's school
is using is the best?
Both the National Reading Panel and the National Reading Conference have issued
reports which conclude that systematic, intensive, explicit, phonics-only
reading instruction in the early grades of school is the best.
These are the reading programs that are authorized for federal
grants through the federal reading program, Reading First. You could ask at
your school whether the reading curriculum that is used is scientifically-based
and qualifies for funding under Reading First. If not, you ought to get with other
parents and meet with educators to discuss a curriculum change at your school.
Another piece of evidence to share: a study published in the
highly regarded Reading Research
Quarterly by Mathes et al. and which won the Albert J. Harris Research
Award from the International Reading
Association, found that explicit and comprehensive reading instruction was
significantly effective in dramatically reducing reading failure.
There are many studies that support this conclusion. When a study
contradicts it, you have to look at whether the publication that published that
study has a bias against direct instruction of reading - that's frequently the
case - and whether that study went through the formal peer review process.
Almost every study ever put forth that found in favor of Whole Language reading
techniques wilted under peer-review scrutiny. That's because the objective
empirical data is clearly in favor of phonics-only, direct instruction. Even
though most educators don't know how to teach reading that way, it's the best
tough task indeed to wade through the marketplace for reading curriculum. It's
enormous, running into the dozens of products from which to choose. It's tough
to pierce through the veneer of marketing language to really analyze how well
various products really work in establishing full literacy in children ages 5
to 8. You have to remember that there are comprehensive reading curricula, but
also supplemental curricula, and curricula targeted solely at remediation. Most
schools are using a Whole Language-based reading program, while there is
growing interest in the effectiveness of phonics-based reading curricula, even
though they aren't yet widespread in schools.
Ironically, there is very little
hard evidence available that ANY reading curriculum really works for all kids
in all circumstances, even though advocates contend that they do. There are
many people who swear by Spalding Phonics,
for example, or Success For All.
Also ironically, the three most widespread
products in the nation's public schools -- McGraw-Hill's Open Court, Scott Foresman's Reading,
and Houghton Mifflin's Reading -
weren't even included in a big federal study that was supposed to rate the
"best" reading curriculum available. The companies themselves have lots of data
which they say shows their curriculum is the best. But federal researchers
dismissed that data as being inconclusive because it was obtained without
rigorous scientific standards that differed with how the federal researchers
conduct their studies.
it has been criticized for not being more comprehensive, the What Works
Clearinghouse has completed a federally-funded study of a limited amount of
reading curriculum that might offer some guidance in the areas of alphabetics,
fluency, comprehension and general reading achievement:
The clearinghouse has been
criticized for giving a high rating to Reading
Recovery, a remediation program that features intensive, one-on-one
tutoring, is highly expensive, and offers scant hard evidence that it really
does lift struggling readers onto solid reading ground. Since the study
excluded so many phonics-based programs, it does appear that the federal
funding was intended to bolster the status quo, which is Whole Language-based.
Nonprofits such as the National Right to Read Foundation have offered
plentiful evidence that Reading Recovery
actually is ineffective and wasteful because it is based on the Whole Language
philosophy rather than phonics-based.
You can get an idea of what kind of
reading curriculum does work - the phonics-based curriculum -- from the
The Knowledge Alliance is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization
dedicated to securing research-based curriculum and instructional practices for
the nation's schools. You can see the group's membership list for an idea of
the scope of different kinds of companies and organizations that share this