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Have the Pro's Messed Up Reading Instruction?


Q. It's so puzzling to see how literacy has declined in the last couple of generations, despite the enormous increases in spending per pupil, and the increasing professionalism of our teacher corps. What gives?


All but a handful of states (including, as of this writing, Nebraska and Montana) give their prospective teachers a licensing exam over basic skills before they can begin teaching. That sounds like a good device for quality control.


But an expert on reading instruction, Sandra Stotsky, has completed the nation's first study of teacher licensing exams. Stotsky holds a doctorate of education degree and is the author of the acclaimed Massachusetts learning standards credited with that state's relatively high standardized test scores in recent years. She is a noted advocate of traditional instruction in reading, math and other subjects, rather than the more popular contemporary styles in most schools, often called "progressive" or "child-centered."


Stotsky found that the questions on these exams that have to do with the way we teach children to read have little or nothing to do with the three basic elements of reading instruction.


Research shows that these three elements are crucial for proper reading instruction:


         Phonemic awareness (distinguishing the sounds in words)


         Phonics (identifying words in print)




Instead, the test questions are over more "holistic" reading standards promulgated by the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association, Stotsky found. Both of these organizations basically ignore the research-based approach to reading instruction, and are avid proponents of whole language, which is basically learning to read by simply reading.


Because of the influence of these professional groups, "whole language" reading instruction is the preferred philosophy in the vast majority of teachers' colleges, too.


Stotsky estimated that the version of the PRAXIS test used by the most states, 22, contained only about 3% of the proper elements of reading instruction. A couple of tests, given in Massachusetts and California, are up to about 50%, but that's still a far cry from what's needed in the way of proper reading instruction.


Stotsky contends that, unless states test elementary teachers over research-based reading research, which has proven for more than 100 years that there is a certain way we should teach reading, it is highly unlikely that education schools will change their instruction.


Consequently, our schools will continue to hire newly-certified teachers who are poorly equipped to follow the latest reading research. 

Homework: See this paper by Sandra Stotsky:



By Susan Darst Williams Reading 12 2008





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