Phonics Claim To Be Pushed By Feds

Beverly Flanigan flanigan at OHIOU.EDU
Wed Sep 11 19:33:58 UTC 2002

"Interesting and comprehensible reading materials"--and their
accessibility--is the key.  And I don't think it's just "poor" children who
lack such materials, or the encouragement and motivation to access
them.  See Labov's homepage,,
under the Urban Minorities Reading Project, for a lively and fun phonics
program developed with teachers for "disadvantaged" kids.  I believe the
entire story series is there, with exercises; and all are free for
downloading and using (Alice, are yours? I can't find samples.)  He also
has preliminary test results at the site.  I've shown this site to teachers
of both NS English and ESL, and they think it would help all kids learn to

At 07:06 AM 9/11/2002 -0700, you wrote:
>For those who are interested in this issue of how are our children to be
>taught to read, here is a statement (below) just submitted for
>consideration as an op-ed to the Washington Post.  As a Reading Specialist
>who works daily in K-8 schools with teachers trying to improve their
>pedagogy for low-income, minority students, I feel that this statement gets
>to the heart of the matter.  I agree with Alice Faber's comments about the
>necessity to teach phonics to children (or "phonemic awareness," as it's
>called, the written symbols of the language's phonetic conventions).  One
>can't achieve automaticity in reading without knowing the phonics.  Most
>children who are deeply immersed in interesting and comprehensible reading
>materials eventually learn to intuit the rules of the phonics code; but
>some of these children must be explicitly taught the code's
>conventions.  But this applies for children who are already immersed in
>print (lots of books in the home, adults who read to them frequently at an
>early age; same conditions in pre-schools, kindergarten, etc).  Poor
>children are not immersed in print, neither at home nor in their
>underfunded schools.  So they don't even have a chance to learn reading the
>old fashioned way, by seeing and hearing lots of good books.  And thus they
>become available subjects for "scientific" research
>The current proponents of phonics programs (for the most part political
>conservatives and/or connected to the "business community") have managed to
>ignore the school underfunding and consequent "poverty of input" suffered
>by low-income children and have focused on the need to teach phonics,
>regardless of whether or not children have access to quality literature
>that will motivate them to even WANT to learn to read.  The push by those
>in power is not for a balanced use of phonics teaching for those children
>who need it (a minority) within a broader program that provides daily
>enjoyment of quality literature and informational reading; the push is for
>"one-size-fits-all" scripted phonics programs that demand a 30-45
>minutes-a-day lock-step presentation of  sequential elements of the
>phonetic code, with repitition and recitation scripts that have minimal or
>no connections to real reading.  The underlying philosophy of such scripted
>programs is a sort of Calvinist ethos that one must first learn the code in
>all its variations before one may use the code to extract meaning (or
>enjoyment!!!)  from a real text.  Unfortunately, children (in fact humans)
>don't learn well this way.  No motivation, no learning is the motto of the
>human mind.
>The question is not "phonics vs no phonics" but rather "HOW is the code
>best taught?"
>Pete Farruggio
>In the Tuesday, September 10, 2002 article,  Phonics Pitch Irks Teachers:
> > U.S. Denies It's Pushing Commercial Products, Washington Post writer
> > Valerie Strauss makes a compelling argument that "the Bush administration
> > is making a concerted effort to promote the teaching of phonics in
> > America's classrooms, and in the process, some educators charge, advancing
> > specific commercial reading products." I would argue, however, that the
> > purpose of the new legislation is NOT to push phonics back into the
> > classroom , but rather to push commercial programs into the classroom.
> > Reading success (or failure) has nothing to do with it.  What the
> > administration is doing now is simply a return to the bad old days with a
> > vengeance.
> >
> > When I was a kindergarten and first grade teacher in rural Alabama in the
> > late 80s and early 90s (the end of the Reagan-Bush era) I was forced to
> > use basal reading text books that prescribed a skills only approach to
> > reading.  I saw countless African-American children fail to learn to read
> > with those programs and worse I saw them come to believe that they were not
> > readers and could never be readers.  This changed only after I received a
> > grant with two other teachers to purchase real children's literature to
> > read, read, read with our children.  Our goal was to help our children fall
> > in love with the written word and once that happened to set about teaching
> > them how to use phonics, grammar, and their own common sense to read
> > unfamiliar texts.  And, before my comments are dismissed as ideological, I
> > should add that this was in 1992 and I voted for George Bush, Sr.
> >
> > This is not about ideology.  This is about freedom.  Teachers should be
> > free to do whatever they can to help children become literate. The Reading
> > First legislation strips teachers of this freedom and demands they use one
> > method (conveniently supplied by a corporate commercial program) to fit
> > all.  If this administration really wanted to "leave no child behind" then
> > it would make certain that the poor rural public schools of Alabama and the
> > poor inner city public schools of Washington, D.C. had school and classroom
> > libraries well stocked with quality children's literature, university
> > educated and qualified  teachers, and safe and well maintained facilities.
> > But, that is not the administration's real concern.  The real concern is to
> > pass legislation that will increase funding for textbook corporations such
> > as McGraw-Hill, whose CEO is a close friend and campaign contributor to Mr.
> > Bush.  The real losers in this are the children who have the misfortune to
> > be born in a country that consistently refuses to support them.
> >
> > Mr. Bush is right, no child should be left behind, but lining the pockets
> > of corporations while children languish is in schools with empty libraries,
> > decaying buildings, and emergency certified teachers is not the path to
> > quality education for all.  The idea of giving children skills and phonics
> > based textbooks instead of what they really need is much like Marie
> > Antoinette saying, "Let them eat cake."   The No Child Left Behind Act
> > clearly demonstrates that Mr. Bush, and the corporate and political leaders
> > who supported this legislation have no real understanding of the children
> > of this country.  But profits and privileges of Mr. Bush and his supporters
> > come on the backs of America's rural and inner city public school children.
> >
> > Leslie Poynor, Ph.D.
> > Assistant Professor of Reading at the University of New Mexico
>At 09:13 PM 9/10/02, you wrote:
>>Douglas Bigham wrote:
>>>As someone trained with only the "whole-word" approach to reading, and no
>>>phonics, I can only say *raspberry* to Bush.
>>I've been biting my (metaphorical) tongue for all of this discussion, for
>>reasons I'll get to in a moment. But I can't let this statement pass. What
>>you report is an anecdote. The plural of anecdote is *not* data.
>>Participants in this mailing list are not typical of English speakers, in a
>>lot of ways, and it's dangerous to generalize too much from our experience.
>>Some percentage of children (I have no idea what the actual percentage
>>would be) are going to learn to read no matter how they're taught. Chances
>>are that many of us are in that group. There are some children who, for
>>whatever reason, are going to have extreme difficulty, no matter how
>>they're taught. And then there are the kids in the middle.
>>For many, many years, part of the research program here at Haskins has
>>involved the psycholinguistics of reading. I'm not directly involved in
>>this on-going research, but colleagues and friends of mine are, and I'm
>>familiar with both published and unpublished findings. Part of what they
>>look at is what skills are involved in reading, both from the perspective
>>of predicting which pre-school kids are going to have the most difficulty
>>in learning to read and from the perspective of trying to figure out why
>>adults (and older children) with reading difficulties are having these
>>difficulties. The single most important skill is "phonemic awareness", the
>>ability to break words into components and to group phonologically similar
>>words together. If you don't get that /si/ and /su/ (<see> and <sue>) start
>>with the same sound, /s/, it's going to be hard to deal with the notion
>>that the letter <s> stands for the sound /s/. And, without this notion,
>>it's going to be pretty hard to learn new words through the medium of print.
>>A lot of kids figure this out without explicit instruction, sometimes
>>before entering school. Other kids make the appropriate inferences as they
>>learn mappings between whole word orthographic and phonological forms. In
>>other words, explicit instruction in phoneme-grapheme correspondences isn't
>>always necessary to learning to read. It's *possible* to learn to
>>read--including learning phoneme- grapheme correspondences--without
>>explicit instruction in phonics. But some kids who don't get phonics
>>training *don't* learn this part of the system, or don't learn it very
>>well. So, what to do? Well, research done at Haskins and elsewhere suggests
>>that explicit and early training in phonological structure (in the form of
>>games and rhymes) will jump-start reading for a lot of kids.
>>These same colleagues have been working for several years on a
>>Federally-funded demonstration project in Connecticut and Rhode Island in
>>which teachers work together with research fellows on developing materials
>>and classroom techniques for teaching reading in the early primary grades.
>>Integral to this program is evaluation of the effectiveness of the
>>techniques, based on improvements in standardized test scores. (There's
>>some information on the initiative at the Haskins web site
>><>; elsewhere on the
>>Haskins web page, there are bibliographic links, though not in a format in
>>which it's easy to find specific references--I'll post some actual
>>bibliography tomorrow, if I don't get caught up in hardware crises.)
>>This leads to the final, touchier, issue, that of profit. There's a lot of
>>money in publishing these packages of instructional materials that can be
>>adopted by entire school districts at one fell swoop. There's money for the
>>people who develop the programs, and there's money for the publishers. That
>>doesn't mean that the programs are educationally unsound or based on bad
>>science; likewise, of course, it doesn't mean that they're well-founded.
>>Only time--and testing scores (on well-established and well-normed
>>instruments)--will tell.
>>I'm not going to comment at all on the political agenda, aside from saying
>>that the fact that I disagree with Politician X on some issues doesn't
>>obligate me to consider him or her wrong on *all* issues. Politics makes
>>strange bedfellows, and even a blind squirrel can find an acorn...
>>Faber                                             faber at
>>Haskins Laboratories                                  tel: (203) 865-6163
>>New Haven, CT 06511 USA                                     fax (203)

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