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Are Any Schools Using Research to Improve Reading?
by Suzanne Whitney, Research Editor, Wrightslaw

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Jimmy Kilpatrick, publisher of EducationNews, asks:

"Do you know of any school in the nation that has adopted and used successfully the NIH research in reading? If so, have these schools addressed the needs of kids in the bottom 20%?"

"Although advocates for children with disabilities and U. S. Department of Education want to bring this into reality, it seems that nothing is changing.
"

Sue Whitney , research editor for Wrightslaw, replies:

Things are changing.

No Child Left Behind is attempting to address reading problems by requiring states to use federal funds on research-based reading programs.

When Congress reauthorized NCLB in 2002, they added the legal definitions of reading, essential components of reading instruction, scientifically based reading research, and diagnostic reading assessment to the law.
(See 4 Great Definitions about Reading in No Child Left Behind)

Teachers Trained in Research Based Methods

Children at the bottom 20th percentile in reading cannot learn to read when they are taught by teachers who are not trained to teach reading.

These children need teachers who are trained in research based methods and know how to teach the essential components of reading instruction to a level of mastery for each student. These teachers must also know how to tailor instruction so it addresses each individual child's stage of reading, not the child's grade or age level.

Teacher Colleges Do Not Prepare Teachers

Few, if any, teacher's colleges in the United States are training teachers in even one research based method of reading instruction.

State teacher certification requirements
do not require elementary teachers or special education teachers to be trained in even one research based method of reading instruction.

Training in Research Based Methods

The problem is not that the training is unavailable. Colleges, hospitals, and clinics around the country offer training in research based methods of reading instruction.

The problem is that school districts do not require the training as a condition of employment. States do not require the training as a condition of certification. Teachers colleges do not require the training as a condition of graduation.

Taxpayers, parents, teachers, administrators, school board members, and legislators who want better outcomes for students need to look at the teacher training and certification process.

This system may have been adequate when we were satisfied to allow 30% of students go through school without learning to read.

Is the system doing a satisfactory job when less than 20 percent of 12th graders are proficient in science and math? (these graphs are from the U. S. Department of Education website)

Federal Spending on K-12 Education (1965-2005) and
Reading Proficiency of 4th Graders (
click for larger image)

Percentage of 12th Graders
Proficient in Math (<20%)
Percentage of 12th Graders
Proficient in Science (<20%)

The system is not adequate if we expect to produce a literate workforce. The system is not adequate if we expect to raise our abysmal school outcomes. The system is not adequate when we have the knowledge and programs available to teach virtually all children to read fluently at grade level.

Dr. Martha Thurlow, Director of the National Center on Educational Outcomes testified before Congress about these issues:

"We know how to educate all children, including those with disabilities – if we have the will to do so. The question is not whether students with disabilities can learn to proficiency – it is whether we have the will and commitment to make it happen."

Reading Proficiency & Impact of NCLB

Here are links to two recent reports on reading proficiency in high poverty schools and the impact of No Child Left Behind. They will you an idea of what is changing, where, and to what degree. There are more reports available - these are just two that I have handy.

Inside the Black Box of High-Performing High Poverty Schools (February 2005) This study looks at a group of high- poverty, high-performing schools in Kentucky to determine how they broke the pattern of low achievement. The lessons from these schools can help other educators who face similar challenges.

The Impact of the No Child Left Behind Act on Student Achievement and Growth: 2005 Edition (April 2005) A national research project indicates that student achievement has improved since No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was implemented, but student growth has declined slightly. Unless teaching and learning improves, schools will not reach the requirement of 100 percent proficiency by 2014. The study also evaluated achievement gaps among ethnic groups.


Meet Sue Whitney

Sue Whitney of Merrimack, New Hampshire, is the research editor for Wrightslaw.

Sue is the co-author of Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind (ISBN: 978-1-892320-12-4) that is published by Harbor House Law Press.

In Doing Your Homework, she writes about reading, research based instruction, No Child Left Behind, and creative strategies for using federal education standards to advocate for children and to improve public schools. Her articles have been reprinted by SchwabLearning.org, EducationNews.org, Bridges4Kids.org, The Beacon: Journal of Special Education Law and Practice, the Schafer Autism Report, and have been used in CLE presentations to attorneys. Sue Whitney's bio.

Sue has served on New Hampshire's Special Education State Advisory Committee on the Education of Students/Children with Disabilities (SAC) and has been a volunteer educational surrogate parent. She currently works with families as a special education advocate.


Copyright © 2002-2014 by Suzanne Whitney.

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