Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

No Strings

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

No Strings

Article excerpt

The policy makers are adept at getting good press for themselves by pulling educators,' strings. President Clinton's "America Reads Challenge" is a good case in point.

Clinton's goal, which is laudable, is that every 8-year-old must be able to read. What educator could argue with that?

No, our argument has to do with the means - a volunteer tutoring program to bring all young readers up to snuff. As Barbara Wasik points out in this issue, there is no solid research base on which to build such a tutoring program. We don't know what effect tutoring has on achievement. We don't know how much training tutors need to be effective. (I have a hunch that we probably don't even know the turnover rate of volunteer tutors - and thus the potential cost-effectiveness of a volunteer tutoring program.)

The notion of bringing young readers "up to snuff" raises questions, as well. Wasik notes that "40% of all U.S. children are now reading below the basic level on national reading assessments." But Edward Fry, an emeritus professor of education at Rutgers and a former advisor to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, pointed out in the 18 June 1997 Education Week that "a 'basic level' is merely the subjective opinion of some unnamed group of 'experts.'"

Fry added, "It is not a condemnation of public education that a large group of students can't do what some experts just thought up as a new 'basic standard.'" Amen.

Fry also put down the Lake Wobegon myth that all children can be above average. Said he, "The fact that reading ability follows a normal distribution curve is quite well known." And he went on to point out that "even the President of the United States can't get rid of the normal distribution curve by making speeches or appropriating money. [He] can't get rid of it with phonics or whole-language instruction, with more tutors, or with computers in every classroom. …

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