John Wills Lloyd at Teach Effectively pointed me to this new report from Louisa Cook Moats, published by the Fordham Institute:
"If this were medicine, the F.D.A. would never approve these reading nostrums as ‘safe and effective,'" commented Fordham Institute president Chester E. Finn, Jr. "Tort lawyers would be bringing class action suits against their vendors. The papers would be full of allegations of fraud, misrepresentation, and actual harm done by them. Education, alas, is not nearly so rigorous.
Press release from Fordham describing the report
WASHINGTON, D.C.- Amid ongoing debate about the federal Reading First program, a new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute exposes ineffective reading programs that dishonestly claim to be "scientifically-based" and thereby qualify for millions of dollars in public funds intended to help struggling children learn to read.
In the report, Whole-Language High Jinks--note, downloads PDF, reading expert Louisa Moats offers advice for school officials, parents, and teachers about how to spot the fakes and identify programs that truly work.
"If this were medicine, the F.D.A. would never approve these reading nostrums as ‘safe and effective,'" commented Fordham Institute president Chester E. Finn, Jr. "Tort lawyers would be bringing class action suits against their vendors. The papers would be full of allegations of fraud, misrepresentation, and actual harm done by them. Education, alas, is not nearly so rigorous. Yet with the futures of countless schoolchildren at stake (not to mention lots of money), school districts would be wise not to take claims about programs' research evidence at face value. Dr. Moats performs a valuable service by helping consumers detect the phonies."
Moats, a psychologist and widely respected authority on early reading, authored a previous Fordham report in October 2000 called Whole Language Lives On. In it, she uncovered many whole-language programs hiding behind the phrase "balanced literacy" in order to win contracts from school districts and avoid public scrutiny.
Seven years later, such programs still exist-and still try to pull the wool over educators' eyes. Worse, major school systems, including Denver, Salt Lake City, and New York City, continue to adopt them, misled by materials that "talk the talk," touting the five elements of effective reading instruction identified by the National Reading Panel, but which are actually just whole-language programs in disguise.
"The failures of whole language are many-especially for the two-fifths of children who are at risk of reading failure right out of the gate," notes Moats. To ensure that a program isn't just offering platitudes, she offers a useful list of warning signs to help educators spot whole-language wolves disguised as lambs. Some key indicators that the program isn't as "scientifically-based" as it promises:
- Use of memorization and contextual guessing, instead of direct, systematic teaching for word recognition and actual comprehension;
- Rejection of explicit phonics, spelling, or grammar instruction;
- Application of the whole-language principles for English language learners.
To ensure that a reading program is based on scientific evidence of effectiveness, administrators and teachers should ask a series of probing questions about it, including these:
Does the program
- Have valid screening measures in place to identify children at risk and provide them with early/extra instruction in word recognition, comprehension, and writing skills?
- Interweave multiple language components (such as speech sounds, word structure, word meaning, and sentence structure) together in the same lesson?
- Support reading comprehension by focusing on a deep understanding of topics and themes rather than developing a set of shortcut strategies?
"This report's findings help to explain why the federal government has to be prescriptive in its implementation of Reading First," said Michael J. Petrilli, Fordham's Vice President for National Programs and Policy. "Anyone can put the label ‘scientifically-based' on the cover of their reading program. But if we want to do right by kids, we need to dig below the surface. If the policy is to fund only programs that truly work, officials at all levels need to fend off the charlatans."