Tuesday, November 02, 2004


Continuation of the century-old "whole word" strategy can a only be explained as putting ideology before children's welfare

I began referring to the sight word/whole language foolishness ("Foolishness?". Actually I consider it a criminal act against the children and the culture of this nation) as the "I Haven't Had That Word Yet" method. I encourage my students to either: work hard and become skilled at phonetically decoding the Code in which English is written (the only way to read at any level above a middle-third/early-fourth grade), or.OR. plan their honeymoon around my schedule so that I can accompany them and help them read the ".(I haven't had that word yet).[menu].menu!"

Since I believe the adage that "The first step towards solving a problem is to find some humor in it," I tease and the students soon respond to my "joke," my challenge, with laughter and a strengthened determination to learn the phonograms; to decode with automaticity in the shortest timeframe possible. They swear that they will never let me accompany them on their honeymoon. [Whew! I haven't had to attend even one thus far.]

Poor readers feel their limitations and live compromised lives. They are embarrassed at having to ask for words that they "haven't had yet," but still too many educators fall for the fallacy that if only students experience good literature and have fun in reading class, they will, by osmosis, just naturally learn to read. Too many educators believe that the brain is wired for learning to read as it is naturally wired for learning language. It is not. Louisa Cook Moats, in Speech to Print, explains:

Alphabets, systems that use symbols for individual speech sounds, were invented little more than 3,000 years ago. It is understandable, then, that learning to read is not as natural or biologically "wired in" as are speaking and listening and that reading must be taught directly to most children over several years through formal education. Our brains are not as fully evolved for the processing of written language as they are for the processing of spoken language, and, therefore, learning to read and write are much more challenging for most of us than learning to speak. (pg 3)

Another problem is that many instructors and professors involved with teacher training accept money from parents and taxpayers (who have the right to expect that teacher-training establishments actually train teachers to teach), then purposely fail to accomplish what they have been paid to do. Such instructors feel no responsibility to drop their pet prejudices and foolish schemes; to research reading with an open mind; to send young teachers out into the schools skilled in teaching children how to read - logically, systematically, explicitly.

Instead, teachers leave college with no idea about what needs to occur in order to produce a good reader, or how to teach those skills, strategies and processes. I know, for I left college having no idea, and taught for several years lacking the knowledge and skills that I needed. Had I not done my own research, paid for my own training with Spalding, learned from every child with whom I came into contact, I would still be a caring, hardworking, highly motivated, but very ineffective reading teacher....

It is completely unfortunate that the control of so many teacher-training programs lies in the hands of those with gimmicks and snake oil. Teaching reading is not so very difficult once one understands what needs to be done. My best friend (who is not a teacher) spent a few hours with me to learn the whys and wherefores, then read a couple books that I suggested. Following the fastest 'teacher training' program on record, she proceeded to skillfully teach her two homeschooled children to not only read, but to read far above grade level, and to love reading in the process....

School children are burdened with defects brought about by dangerous methods devised by fools who have forgotten, or have chosen to ignore, the fact that once .ONCE. Americans, as a whole, were not only literate, but were enthusiastic, skilled readers capable of reading, pondering, and arguing the points in newspaper articles such as The Federalist Papers.

It is completely unfortunate that the federal government has violated the U.S. Constitution by stealing local control from states and communities in order to establish the ineffective, illegal, and immoral public schooling system in which children are caught in a web of destruction as parents too often look on in anger but feel helpless, unable to act. Let us seriously work towards closing the State educational system. Let us then work to replace it with small, autonomous, local schools having no obligation, and no right, to: teach State curriculum; answer to State demands; mold and warp young minds by whim or State order; destroy a culture by Federal mandate.

More here


Encouraging school flexibility and encouraging effort are the keys

The education establishment would have us believe that poor children can't learn. The excuses are numerous. But across the nation dozens of principals of low-income schools have demonstrated that poverty is no excuse for academic failure. I recently studied more than a hundred high-performing, high-poverty schools to identify those practices that can make any school a center of academic excellence, regardless of its particular student composition. In general, I looked for schools where at least 75 percent of the students come from low-income families, but which score above the 66th percentile on national exams. Typically, schools of this profile score below the 35th percentile.

The schools themselves are a diverse lot. Three of them are charter schools. Three are private. One is religious. One is rural. Fifteen are public schools that draw a majority of their students from the same local attendance zones where other public schools are failing. These 21 schools are a foretaste of what choice and competition would bring to education in America. Their success demonstrates that by taking back the freedom that most schools have long-since relinquished to bureaucracies, teachers' unions, and a hopeless degree of regulation, some schools possess the intelligence, the inventiveness, and the willpower to achieve.....

Achievement is the key to discipline. In a "command-and-control" approach, discipline is limited by the number of guards hired. But when discipline and order come from within, everybody is part of the solution. Nothing inspires confidence like success and the school's own success helps create order and discipline among its students. Parents must make the home a center of learning. Achievement is a choice that parents make, too. In high-poverty schools, lack of parental involvement is often the easiest excuse for poor performance. So principals of high-performing schools have parents sign contracts that they will support their children's efforts to learn. Effective parents read to their children, check their homework, and ask after their assignments.

Effort creates ability. Education is hard work, and great principals demand that their students and their teachers work hard. Longs days, extended years, after-school programs, weekend programs, and summer school are all features of outstanding schools. And in high-performing schools, no student is advanced without a clear demonstration of mastery. Students must fulfill very specific course requirements in order to advance either in class or on to the next grade level. No exemptions. No excuses.

Conclusion. It bears repeating that many of these high-performing, high-poverty schools are public schools. The great tragedy is that all of them achieved their success in spite of the structure of our education system, and not because of it. No educational system can be deemed healthy if it thwarts the efforts of committed reformers, as ours so frequently does. The men and women who buck the system of public education are the kinds of leaders and educational entrepreneurs that America needs more of if we are to improve education--especially for low-income children. Conservatives tend to focus on the benefits of school choice between schools. But few consider the benefits of choice and competition within the schools themselves. When principals and teachers are encouraged to perform at their best, any school can improve. Only by encouraging and rewarding achievement--rather than mediocrity--within the four walls of every schoolhouse will our classrooms provide the kind of opportunity that all children in a free society deserve.

More here


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

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