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Reading at risk

"Reading at risk" Continued...

Issue: "Two-ring circus," Sept. 6, 2008

The anti-phonics establishment built its case by fair means and foul. This year an initial study by the Institute of Education Sciences on the effectiveness of Reading First contaminated its control-group design by essentially comparing Reading First schools to schools within the same district, which were likely influenced by Reading First methods. The report concluded that no distinguishable gains were found, directly contradicting individual state gains evidenced in the analysis of the American Institutes for Research.

Given the evidence in favor of phonics reformers, some opponents of SBRR ignored the scientific proof and lambasted phonics-based instruction as a product of "right-wing fundamentalists." Ironically, a proponent of SBRR leveled the most damaging allegations: Success for All founder Robert Slavin claimed that Reading First director Chris Doherty had conflicts of interest due to professional and personal relationships with the principals of grant recipient Direct Instruction. Even if that's true-and it is a pretty small world inside phonics-based instruction-the normal path for Congress would be to insist on a different head, and not to kill the entire program.

Beltway intrigue notwithstanding, the facts are clear: Reading First's SBRR programs have produced dramatic gains in reading proficiency in public schools across the country, especially among the youngest and most vulnerable students. The good news is that thousands of teachers and students in 5,600 schools have benefited from the effectiveness of Reading First-and they do not want to go back.

-Robert L. Jackson teaches education and writing courses at The King's College, New York City

Robert L. Jackson
Robert L. Jackson

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