Magazine article The Masthead

Why Can't Johnny and Jill Read?

Magazine article The Masthead

Why Can't Johnny and Jill Read?

Article excerpt

WHY AREN'T OUR KIDS learning to read in That's the question I set out to answer after fielding a phone call from an Indianapolis reading specialist hired by a prestigious private school to help children with reading difficulties.

Why do tutors and remedial programs such as Sylvan Learning Centers have long waiting lists of potential customers? Why do one-third of Hoosier third graders fall below basic skill levels on the statewide language arts test?

After interviewing parents, teachers, and researchers throughout the state, the answer was clear: whole language. While California was well-known for its whole-language experiment that sent its reading scores plummeting after once being among the nation's highest, it had never occurred to me that Indiana, a conservative state in the heartland, had also fallen victim to this failed educational philosophy.

In a four-part editorial series, I explored how whole language came to dominate Indiana schools, curriculum, and textbooks, tracing its influence to the large role played by the Indiana University School of Education, which one student described as the "whole language mecca of the world." I discussed widespread parent and teacher dissatisfaction with the way reading was being taught in the primary grades. I cited the huge research base that supports intensive phonics as the most effective method of reading instruction.

After the series ended, The Indianapolis Star published three full pages of letters to the editor from people concerned about Indiana's low reading scores, from parents relieved to know their children weren't the only ones struggling in schools to educators defending the status quo and accusing The Star of oversimplifying the "reading wars," as our series was titled. …

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