letters to the editor

Reforming school reform

I was much attracted to your February 2007 article, Bush, lawmakers meet over NCLB (http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=6823). Beyond the fact that there does not seem to be any constitutional right of President Bush to financially entice the various states to follow the dictates of NCLB, the article in question points out other weaknesses [in the law].

As a longtime teacher and reading teacher educator, I particularly am apprehensive about the fact that "NCLB seeks to ensure that all children can read and do math at grade level." As you doubtless know, the designers of standardized tests in these subjects make sure that the scores by children in general on these assessments distribute themselves into the classic bell-shaped curve.

Bush’s apparent notion, to the contrary, that all children must score on these tests at least at the 50th percentile thus is irrational. If all children did achieve this remarkable feat, no sophisticated statistical analyses of their scores would be possible. In short, these children’s scores would be mathematically meaningless.

–Patrick Groff, Professor of Education Emeritus, San Diego State University

If the federal government wants our students to succeed, then teachers need to be able to group students according to ability levels.

Some naysayers call it "tracking." Those same people have made it politically incorrect to homogeneously group our students since the mid-80s.

The pendulum from that educationally unsound move has created the dilemma U.S. schools find themselves in today. Teachers in every classroom where tracking is not allowed must teach "to the middle"; [with] stanine abilities from 1 to 99 percent in their classes, the top students get bored and the lower end have a hard time keeping up.

There’s no shame in homogeneous groupings when forming classes; it is the intelligent thing to do. It is the first thing a school under restructuring goes through–all students are placed in homogeneous groupings by stanine scores.

So why wait until schools are in restructuring? The president should make a mandate to "track" our students–thereby giving the lower-level achievers the basic skills they are missing, while advancing those students who have the skills and allowing the most advanced group to soar. That is the one "corrective action" that will set all things aright.

In Hawaii, 66 percent of the schools "flunked" NCLB demands. My school is in corrective action; if our administration would approve the aforementioned proposal, then we could improve. Keep the status quo, and we will get the status quo.

–Janet Weiss, teacher (school’s name withheld), Hawaii

Something else worth reading about

In the Jan. 29 edition of <em>eSchool News</em> Online, you included an article with resources on reading fluency programs (Reading expert: Don’t forget fluency, http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=6813). I couldn’t agree more that technology has a key role in advancing reading fluency in students.

One effective program that you might do well to be aware of is Read Naturally: www.readnaturally.com. Created by Minnesota teacher Candis Ihnot, this program is becoming more and more widely used across the U.S. While it is a relatively small company compared with Renaissance, Scholastic, and others, the product is very effective. We have used the software for three years and are very pleased with it.

While the first version was somewhat primitive, version 2.0 has improved by light years. Not only is it student-friendly, but it also provides data management that gives easy access to a range of progress reports for teachers. Plus, it is easy for parents to understand. They love it! Training volunteers to become Read Naturally coaches–expanding one-on-one guidance to struggling readers–is very easy and effective. Read Naturally support has also been solid.

–John Helland, Reading/Language Arts Coordinator, Fergus Falls Public Schools, Minnesota

Critical reader

I previously wrote you in December 2005 to complain about an article that asserted a cause-effect relationship between the use of laptop computers and student achievement. [Your Jan. 29] article on reading is much worse.

Except in his own mind, Jon Bower is not a reading expert, a descriptor for which he lacks any academic credentials. The online video presents prima facie evidence of his lack of knowledge about language, learning, and reading. Bower’s agenda is singular: to sell Soliloquy products, computer-related products for improving reading proficiency, an idea discredited several decades ago by Guy Bond and Miles Tinker. Their seminal studies in the use of reading machines revealed no benefit for improving reading performance.

… The idea that fluent oral reading must precede silent reading–or that subvocalization improves silent reading–is obviously false. If this were the case, deaf children could never learn to read or have a means to improve. To teach phonemic awareness as a basic reading skill is nonsense. … There are many children who know how to read but fail reading skills tests. But there are many more children who pass skills tests but cannot read. To teach 400 reading skills is tedious for teachers and meaningless to young readers.

–Hugh Glenn, former Director of Reading Education, Pepperdine University

(Editor’s note: Jon Bower began his education studies as a participant, and then as an instructor, in Stanford’s graduate programs in Development Education. He has spoken at many education conferences, including the International Dyslexia Association and the Florida Reading Association, on subjects relating to cognitive development, reading, learning disabilities, and technology. We’ll leave it to our readers to decide if decades-old research provides the final word on technology’s impact on reading skills.)

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