Poor Reading-Instruction Methods Keep Many Students Illiterate

By Brown, Martha C. | Insight on the News, January 31, 2000 | Go to article overview

Poor Reading-Instruction Methods Keep Many Students Illiterate


Brown, Martha C., Insight on the News


Figures from the "1992 U.S. Adult Literacy Survey" and the "1998 UNESCO World Education Report" show that the United States, like Haiti, is among the seven out of 39 Western Hemisphere nations entering the third millennium with a literacy rate below 80 percent. Why do we face this elementary problem?

A major reason may be so-called whole-language, or WL, reading instruction, widely used in public schools since the early 1980s. WL teaches children to memorize and guess at words, using pictures and other clues, instead of using phonics skills to sound them out. WL advocates claim reading comes naturally, like speaking. So says Kenneth Goodman, a University of Arizona professor and author of several academically popular books on WL, who claims teaching "letter-sound relationships" (phonics) "short-circuits" reading.

But according to G. Reid Lyon, chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, nearly 40 years of research proves these WL theories false. "Whether we like it or not, children need phonics to decode printed words," Lyon says. Nonetheless, for decades education professors doggedly persisted in training teachers in WL, not phonics. Yet, 43 percent of fourth-graders can't read their textbooks, according to the "1994 National Assessment of Education Progress."

"Whole language has been shown clearly to be a failed instructional innovation," says Patrick Groff, emeritus professor at San Diego State University. A leading advocate of phonics for beginning readers, Groff is the author of numerous books and journal articles on preventing reading failure. California now mandates phonics instruction. Twelve other states passed or introduced similar laws, but in most public schools children still struggle with WL.

Its methods aren't new. Until about 1930 -- when census figures show less than 5 percent of U.S. adults were illiterate -- schools taught phonics. But in the mid-1930s, disciples of "progressive" educator John Dewey replaced phonics with "look-and-say" reading, an experiment in word guessing and memorizing and a forerunner of WL. Basal readers of the 1960s and 1970s used the look-and-say approach. "Few basals taught real phonics," says Robert Sweet, former president of the National Right to Read Foundation, which promotes research-proven instruction in U.S. classrooms.

In 1988, 20 percent of American adults were illiterate, according to then-secretary of labor Ann D. McLaughlin. By 1992 the illiteracy rate was 24 percent, according to the Adult Literacy Survey. Sweet, Groff and other experts attribute the increase largely to WL. Between 1988 and 1998 spending for the Education Department's program for kids with reading problems doubled; special-education costs tripled. These programs haven't prevented academic failure for millions of normal children disabled by WL instruction. Only 7 percent of special-education students get regular high-school diplomas.

Faced with political pressure for reform, in recent years educators adopted Reading Recovery, or RR, a costly first-grade remedial-tutoring program imported from New Zealand in 1984. Created by educator Marie Clay, RR's stated goal is to bring the bottom 20 percent of readers in first-grade classrooms up to the average reading level in their classroom. RR claims an 83 percent success rate, promising to cut other remedial costs.

However, Timothy Shanahan, professor and Literacy Center director at the University of Illinois, and Rebecca Barr, professor of reading at the National-Louis University in Evanston, Ill., found RR rejects some eligible children and drops others who progress slowly. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Poor Reading-Instruction Methods Keep Many Students Illiterate
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.