Literacy experts say reformers reviving ‘reading wars’

Mary Sullivan, 11, pets Tavish while reading “The Actual Real Reality of Jennifer James” to him and Tracy Baetz at the Charles E. Beatley Jr. Central Librar(Katherine Frey / The Washington Post)
Mary Sullivan reads at Charles E. Beatley Jr. Central Library in 2012. (By Katherine Frey / The Washington Post)

In June a group called the National Council on Teacher Quality published ratings of teacher education schools that garnered a lot of attention — and a good deal of criticism. Why? The NCTQ was created by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in 2000 in order to promote alternative teacher certification and try to diminish the influence of education schools. Its largely negative results were hardly unexpected. In this post, Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, an expert on teacher training, critiqued the NCTQ’s methodology and said the ratings did not reflect the work of ed schools:

NCTQ’s methodology is a paper review of published course requirements and course syllabi against a check list that does not consider the actual quality of instruction that the programs offer, evidence of what their students learn, or whether graduates can actually teach.

 

After taking some time this summer to review what the NCTQ produced, members of the Reading Hall of Fame, an honorary group founded in 1973 with the aim of contributing to the improvement of reading instruction, just issued their own statement (see below) about the ratings. In its report, the NCTQ made declarations about what books were and were not acceptable in literacy instruction, determinations with which the literacy experts are taking issue. A good number of books by Hall of Fame authors — some of the world’s preeminent literacy educators — were deemed unsuitable by the NCTQ.

How to teach children to read most effectively has long been a subject of contention in American education. The so-called “reading wars” hit a peak in 2000 with a report by the congressionally mandated National Reading Panel that was smacked by many reading experts. They said the panel relied on a limited number of research studies that supported literacy education that involved, among other things intensive drilling in phonics, with less emphasis on comprehension of text.  In any case, the reading wars are apparently continuing.

Here’s the statement:

 

A statement from members of the Reading Hall of Fame on the report of the National Council on Teacher Quality

 

As elected members of the Reading Hall of Fame with broad and diverse perspectives on reading and reading instruction we want to raise strong objections to key aspects of the NCTQ report on teacher preparation programs.

 

 

1. NCTQ was founded by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation(i) to “provide an alternative national voice to existing teacher organizations and to build the case for a comprehensive reform agenda that would challenge the current structure and regulation of the profession.” NCTQ would control the education of teachers by asserting its authority to rate teacher education.(ii) Teacher education programs are now regulated by state certification and state education agencies and by their university administrators. They also comply with standards of their professional associations. NCTQ seeks to insert itself above these authorities.

 

2. To achieve that end they frame “existing teacher organizations” as vested interests opposed to reform.

 

3. This attempt to control teacher education follows the attempt to control schools through No Child Left Behind and Reading First. Reading First, a major part of NCLB, mandated a narrow direct instruction phonics curriculum and method. And it banned whole language. That has been the law since 2001 and it has not improved reading comprehension and it has certainly not improved schools.*(iii) (Gamse, et al., 2008)

 

4. NCTQ, with the advice of Reid Lyon and Lousia Moats, key players in Reading First, asserts that the National Reading Panel provided the answers to, “many fundamental educational questions” establishing a single scientific reading method.

 

5. So with one stroke NCTQ limits the teaching of reading to teaching the “scientific “ reading program, the same one which failed for 13 years in NCLB and it limits teacher education programs to training teachers in this one true method. And who needs reading research if the fundamental questions are already answered?

 

6. NCTQ has rated teacher education programs through rating their courses in teaching beginning reading by repeating the tactic used in No Child Left Behind’s Reading First mandates: that there are two approaches to teaching reading: the scientific approach (direct instruction phonics) and everything else.

 

7. NCTQ’S assertion that “teacher educators choose to train candidates in “whole language” methods rather than scientifically based reading instruction” indicates that NCTQ’s evaluators had so broad a definition of whole language that it is anything other than what NCTQ would mandate. After thirteen years they are still claiming that schools are failing because of whole language.

 

8. NCTQ would deskill teachers: they would be “trained” as technicians with limited knowledge and authority by teacher educators constrained to a single “scientific” method of reading instruction.

 

9. The texts authored by over 60 members of the Reading Hall of Fame were listed as unacceptable by NCTQ. Few were rated acceptable. The issue is not our texts. It is that anyone or any group can impose their judgment and become arbiters of books or methods.

 

10. NCTQ ridicules the view that prospective teachers should confront their attitudes toward “race, class, language and culture” in their teacher education programs. This is but one example of the NCTQ view that reading is an autonomous skill that can be taught out of context without regard for who the learners are and what they are asked to read.

 

11. NCTQ sees “Academic Freedom run amok” in teacher education. Yet the concept was created to protect teachers and other academics from just the sort of political interference in their teaching and research NCTQ is attempting. As professionals in the field of literacy education, we understand, appreciate, and accept the responsibility for improving teacher education. Our teachers need to know much more about the processes and practices of reading, writing, and thinking. To that end, we commit ourselves individually and collectively to promoting broader and deeper knowledge of literacy processes and practices. In contrast, however, to the message of NCTQ, we will accomplish these improvements not by tearing down, but respecting dedicated teachers and by building with them, on the rich knowledge base for literacy that has taken so long to develop.

 

§This statement represents those members signed below and should not be construed as an official position of the Reading Hall of Fame

 

Members signing this statement (Affiliation for identification only)

 

Kenneth S Goodman* Professor Emeritus University of Arizona

James Hoffman Professor University of Texas

Jane Hansen Professor Emerita University of Virginia

Richard Vacca * Professor Emeritus Kent State University

Richard Allington* Professor University of Tennessee

Yetta M Goodman** Regents Professor Emerita University of Arizona

Brian Cambourne Professor Wollongong University Austrailia

David Olson University Professor Emeritus OISE/University of Toronto

Dorothy Watson Professor Emeriita University of Missouri , Columbia

Carl Braun* Professor Emeritus University of Calgary, Alberta Canada

Denny Taylor Professor Emerita, Hofstra University

Donald Leu Professor University of Connecticut

Patrick Shannon Professor Pennsylvania Sate University

P. David Pearson Professor University of California, Berkeley

Robert Calfee Professor Emeritus on Recall, Stanford University

Roger Farr * Chancellors Professor Emeritus, Indiana University

Victoria Rizko* Professor Emerita Vanderbilt University

Victoria Purcell-Gates Professor Emerita, University of  British Columbia

Robert Tierney Honorary Professor Sydney University Australia, Professor University of British Columbia

Linda B. Gambrell* Distinguished Professor Clemson University Co-editor, Reading Research Quarterly

Patricia L Anders Professor University of Arizona

Donna Ogle* Professor, National Lewis University

Jerome Harste** Professor Emeritus Indiana University

 

*Past Presidents of the International Reading Association

** Past Presidents of National Council of Teachers of English

 

Footnotes:

i) Ravich, Diane says: “NCTQ was created by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in 2000. I was on the board of TBF at the time. Conservatives, and I was one, did not like teacher training institutions. We thought they were too touchy-feely, too concerned about self-esteem and social justice and not concerned enough with basic skills and academics. In 1997… TBF established NCTQ as a new entity to promote alternative certification and to break the power of the hated ed schools.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/ravitch-what-is-nctq-and-why-you-should-know/2012/05/23/gJQAg7CrlU_blog.html

ii) Teacher Prep Review (2003)P 93

iii) Calfee,R (In press)Knowledge, Evidence, and Faith: How the Federal Government Used Science to Take Over Public Schools in Goodman,K, R.Calfee and Y Goodman Whose Knowledge Counts in Government Literacy Policies (Routledge 2014)

 

 

(Incidentally, in June I offered the NCTQ an opportunity to write a post on this blog about their report and how they came to their conclusions but council officials declined.)

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · August 12, 2013