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Battling the education hydra

By Nancy Salvato
web posted September 25, 2006

Effective reading teachers know how students acquire reading skills, how to instruct students in reading skills, how to assess reading skills and how to strengthen reading skills.  Despite this, only three out of sixteen Reading First Education Network States require their licensed elementary school teachers demonstrate proficient knowledge of the essential components of reading instruction: phonemic awareness; phonics; vocabulary development; reading fluency; and reading comprehension strategies.

While tests specifically designed as reading licensure tests, such as: the California Reading Instruction Competency Assessment (RICA), the Virginia Reading Assessment (VRA), the Massachusetts Foundations of Reading test, and the ETS Praxis 0201: Reading Across the Curriculum: Elementary) are aligned with the five components of effective reading instruction as defined by scientifically based reading research (SBRR), general tests commonly used for initial licensure of elementary teachers, are not aligned with SBRR. States that depend upon these more generic licensure tests do not have a good measure of the knowledge or skills of new teachers in terms of reading instruction. Indeed, state licensure test questions are more often reflective of ideology.  The Language Arts standards set by these states do not necessarily specify any or all five components of proven effective reading instruction be utilized in adopted reading curriculum.  Although Title II requires teachers pass licensure tests, the content tested in the general tests does not assure "best practice" in teaching. 

Certainly, "the data from state licensing tests, the alignment of those tests with standards, and the alignment of specialty professional association standards with knowledge from research and practice—are all significant considerations for accreditation," [1] yet one must question how schools of education, state boards of education, accrediting agencies and test manufacturers are actually being held accountable for what eventually takes place in the classroom? Isn't that part of NCLB?  Instead of offering tutoring or restructuring individual schools, shouldn't the "housecleaning" start from the top? 

As was explained by Reid Lyon, in Developing an American College of Education, "Colleges of education are not accountable for what their graduates know and how that knowledge affects students in their graduate's classrooms... You only have to look at the billions of dollars that states and districts are spending on professional development for teachers already teaching to understand the gravity of this situation.  Why in the world would schools have to re-teach concepts to teachers that they should already know?" [2] 

Sadly, my own personal experience has been that classes providing teachers continuing professional development often end up being based on more of the same non-scientific ideology.  Is it fair, then, to fault an individual teacher, principal, or even an at risk environment for students' failure to make adequate yearly progress in reading when teachers are not required to demonstrate proficiency in "best practice" to begin with?

In a recent report, Educating School Teachers, the National Council for the Accreditation of School teachers (NCATE) is seen as "more a part of the problem than the solution." [3] The author of the report, Arthur Levine writes that, "Teacher education is the Dodge City of the education world…. Like the fabled Wild West town, it is unruly and chaotic. Anything goes and the chaos is increasing." [4] One of his conclusions is that students seem "to be graduating from teacher education programs without the skills and knowledge they need to be effective teachers." [5] His recommendations include changing accreditation standards and making student achievement the primary measure of teacher preparation programs. [6]  

An established illustrator/artist and old friend of mine once asked me why I thought so many adults drew the exact same way as when they were kids.  She went on to explain that no one had taught them how to "see".  Her students were wonderful artists because she used direct teaching strategies.  Best practice in reading includes direct teaching, as well. 

Recently, the mainstream media reported on a government audit that accused the Reading First program of being "beset by conflicts of interest and willful mismanagement. It suggests the department broke the law by trying to dictate which curriculum schools must use." [7] The director of Reading First was accused of repeatedly using, "his influence to steer money toward states that used a reading approach he favored, called Direct Instruction, or DI." [8] 

Anyone who knows anything about effective reading instruction should understand that a large percentage of students require direct instruction in order to learn how to read.  This type of knowledge is…well…, elementary.  However, judging from the most recent reports about accreditation and licensure, it doesn't appear that very many people in the field of education are aware of or have been made to demonstrate proficient knowledge of the essential components of reading instruction. As for the mainstream media, they need to turn in some extra credit or they receive an "F" for not doing their homework on this subject before defaming some in the education community and trying to sell it to the American people. ESR


1 Report on Licensure Alignment with the Essential Components of
Effective Reading Instruction http://www.newmediajournal.us/images/reports_studies/rigden_report_9_7_06.pdf

3 Teacher Preparation and Licensure http://www.nctq.org/nctq/jsp/view_bulletin.jsp?bulletinId=0&volume=latest

2 Developing an American College of Education
An Interview with G. Reid Lyon

4, 5 Educating School Teachers

7, 8 Bush reading program gets failing grade

Nancy Salvato works as a Head Start teacher in Illinois.  She is the President of The Basics Project, (www.Basicsproject.org) a non-profit, non-partisan 501 (C) (3) research and educational project whose mission is to promote the education of the American public on the basic elements of relevant political, legal and social issues important to our country. She is also a Staff Writer, for the New Media Alliance, Inc., a non-profit (501c3) coalition of writers and grass-roots media outlets, where she contributes on matters of education policy. Copyright © Nancy Salvato 2006






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