Wednesday, December 31, 2014

U.S. schools Don't Teach Kids to Read

A high school English teacher at Rosemount High School in Minnesota, which was called a "top-ranked school" by the Minnesota Department of Education, given the Blue Ribbon School of Excellence Award by the U.S. Department of Education and named a top school in the nation for 2014 by Newsweek Magazine, just wrote a shocking letter alerting parents and the public that her high school juniors can't read. Her letter, published by the Minnesota Star Tribune on Dec. 4, was eloquent, so I quote it verbatim.

"We are in the midst of one of the greatest literacy crises ever encountered, and we are fighting an uphill battle. Every day I experience firsthand what it means to be illiterate in a high school classroom. Average students with average abilities can fervently text away, but they cannot read."

She said some of her students just sleep away an assigned unit. Others resort to depression or aggression. She gave them a not very difficult test, but they couldn't read the test.

When she assigns her students a book to read, they often don't even try to read it. Ask them why and they say, "It's boring." She wrote that this translates into "It's too hard to read." The teacher appeals to parents and the public, saying, "I need your help."

Don't count on the shift to Common Core to teach school kids to read. Common Core will change the assigned stories and books, but it won't change the fact that elementary school kids are only taught how to memorize a few dozen "sight," mostly one-syllable, words, but not taught phonics in order to sound out the syllables and then read the bigger words in high school and college assignments.

Students are not assigned or motivated to read whole books. In the name of "close reading," they are given short so-called "informational" excerpts to read over and over in class, almost until they are memorized. You don't find the students going to the library to take out and read the classics, and students don't acquire the vocabulary necessary to do college work.

Limited reading skill means that what the students read is tightly controlled. Common Core has rewritten the history of America's founding to present James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and other Founders to fit the leftwing narrative of gender, race, class and ethnicity, and students have neither motivation nor skill to seek out the true history of the Founders.

Common Core does, however, find space for stories that many parents find morally objectionable, such as "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison.

The change from teaching school children to read by phonics and replacing phonics with the so-called "whole word" or "look-say" method was fully debunked in the landmark book "Why Johnny Can't Read" by Rudolph Flesch in 1955. Unfortunately, the truth had no impact on public schools, which stuck with the new method because it was part of "progressive" education. It was brought to Teachers College at Columbia University with a $3 million grant from John D. Rockefeller Jr., who then sent four of his five sons to be educated by Dewey's progressive ideas.

Publishers responded eagerly to the opportunity to sell new books to all elementary schools, and the "Dick and Jane" series seemed much more attractive than the widely used McGuffey readers. Reading suddenly appeared to become easy because the Whole Word method teaches the child to guess at the words from pictures, to memorize a few dozen one-syllable words that are used over and over again, and to substitute words that fit the context.

The "Dick and Jane" books were full of color pictures and only a couple of short sentences on every page. A typical page showed Dick and Jane on a seesaw. The kids could easily "read" the two sentences below: "See Dick up. See Jane down."

Nelson Rockefeller, who became governor of New York and ran three times for U.S. president, described his reading handicap in The Reading Teacher in March 1972: "I am a prime example of one who has had to struggle with the handicap of being a poor reader while serving in public office."

Rockefeller hired expensive speechwriters, but he said that many times he threw away the speech and told the audience he was just going to give his "spontaneous thoughts." He confessed that the real reason was that he could not do an adequate job of reading the speech prepared for him.

If parents want their children to be good readers, parents will have to do the teaching as I did with my six children. When the book I used was allowed to go out of print and its publisher went out of business, I wrote "First Reader" to teach phonics to my grandchildren at ages 5 or 6 (now available at and "Turbo Reader" for kids over age 8 (available at


Margaret Thatcher feared news middle school qualifications would lower school standards

She was right

Files released by the National Archives show the then prime minister believed exam results would be distorted by “biased” teachers helping teenagers with coursework
Margaret Thatcher attempted to put off the introduction of GCSEs because she feared the exams would lead to lower standards and a “can’t fail” mentality among pupils, newly released files show.

In comments which are likely to be seen by Conservatives as a further vindication of their sweeping reforms of the exams, the then prime minister said the system would allow results to be distorted by “biased” teachers helping teenagers with coursework.

Previously unseen papers show Mrs Thatcher warned six months before GCSEs replaced O-levels in 1986 that she did not “like the sound of the new exam”, and asked for its introduction to be delayed.

However she eventually concluded that to intervene would amount to a public “contradiction” of Keith Joseph, the education secretary and a close friend, and appear as if she was taking the side of teaching unions, which wanted more time to prepare for the new system. She therefore had “no option but to go ahead”, she told aides.

Her previously unknown concerns are revealed in official papers from 1986 released by the National Archive in Kew, west London.

Her fears appear to chime with the views of Conservatives about the GCSE system today - almost 30 years later.

Michael Gove, who was education secretary until the summer, is said to believe that the introduction of the exam was a “historic mistake” that has led to a dramatic fall in standards. Before stepping aside to become Chief Whip he set in train an overhaul of the curriculum which he said would address “the pernicious damage caused by grade inflation and dumbing down”.

GCSEs were eventually introduced in September 1986 with Kenneth Baker, now Lord Baker of Dorking, as education secretary, after Mr Joseph stepped down in May - weeks after his clash with Mrs Thatcher over the exams.

Mr Joseph had insisted that the new scheme was intended to better stretch teenagers, creating a tougher, “clearer and fairer” system. Under the old system, as part of which more academic teenagers took O-levels and others took CSEs, individual grades were awarded largely based on the relative performance of competing candidates.

GCSEs were intended to ensure a focus on “how much or how little pupils understand, know and can do”.

Mrs Thatcher, herself a former education secretary, raised her concerns about GCSEs with Mr Joseph in the spring of 1986. However on March 6 Mr Joseph wrote to her insisting she was “misleading herself” about the exams.

He insisted that the new system would “inject more rigour” and “use-able learning” and would be “a key instrument for improving standards”.

Mrs Thatcher marked his three-page briefing note with a series of hand-written annotations, complaining about his use of “an awful lot of high language” and questioning a number of his claims.

Mr Joseph said that under the O-level and CSE system pupils were “simply ranked in merit order, with little regard to how much or how little pupils understand, know and can do”.

But in a hand-written annotation to his letter Mrs Thatcher said: “This is not a correct judgement of the present examinations system. We were taught to think and apply 50 years ago.”

Mrs Thatcher was advised by the No 10 policy unit to postpone the new system until it was clear that it was “workable”. In one briefing note she was warned that “GCSE is an exam nobody will fail” and “does little for the lowest 30 per cent of students”. Implementing the new system in September was a “hopelessly unrealistic” prospect, an official said.

In a summary of Mrs Thatcher’s concerns, dated March 18 1986, Mark Addison, then her private secretary for home affairs, said the prime minister believed the new approach would lead to “lower standards; a shift away from the traditional approach to learning in favour of a ‘can’t fail’ mentality; assessment by the pupils’ own teachers with the consequent risk of introducing more bias.”

Mrs Thatcher had not, Mr Addison added, been impressed “by the jargon-soaked justifications” of the exam produced by Mr Joseph’s department.

She asked for implementation of the exam to be postponed for at least a year, in line with the demands of many teachers, to help ensure the syllabuses were “sufficiently rigorous” and the coursework “properly assessed”.

However in early April she acquiesced with Mr Joseph’s insistence that the Government should hold its course, agreeing with Tim Flesher, another of her private secretaries, that to back down would “look like taking the side of the unions”. “I agree - no option but to go ahead,” she said.

Asked about the disclosures, Lord Baker told the Telegraph: "She was concerned ... because she always felt that whenever you change anything in education it might be for the worse."

However, he added: "In defence of Keith I don't think she fully appreciated that the great thing about GCSEs is it did away with CSE, which was virtually valueless."

The standard of GCSEs was initially "high", Lord Baker added, saying there had been a "degeneration" in grades over time.


Australian teachers suffering under bureauracy and an old-fashioned industrial relations regime

Teachers in Australia's schools are suffering under an old-fashioned industrial relations regime and an out-dated salary structure according to new research published today by the free market think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs.

“Teachers are paid according to a ‘one size fits all’ model that pays the best and the worst teachers the same,” says John Roskam, Executive Director of the IPA.

“Promotion is based on time-served and the completion of box-ticking exercises rather than on the quality of teaching in the classroom.  For example, under existing regulations a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who wants to be a teacher must be paid the same as a 22 year-old inexperienced graduate.”

“The industrial relations regime that teachers work under means they sacrifice salary in exchange for more time off work.  For example, a teacher earning $75,000 a year has 11 weeks away from work and 17.5% holiday leave loading.  On a ‘standard year’ of 48 weeks work this equates to a salary of over $95,000 a year,” says Mr Roskam.

The report Freedom to Teach by IPA Research Fellows Vicki Stanley and Darcy Allen documents the 600 pages of regulations that stifle schools, teachers and principals.

“Teaching in Australia is managed as an industry according to systems established in the nineteenth-century.  If we are to provide young people with the best possible education we must think of teaching as a profession in which teachers are rewarded on the basis of their ability,” says John Roskam.

Key recommendations from the report include:

·       removing restrictions limiting the maximum amount classroom teachers can be paid

·       removing restrictions limiting the number of hours teachers can teach

·       allowing schools to make incentive payments to attract teachers to hard-to-staff schools


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