How Policy and Regulation Influence Instruction for at-Risk Learners or Why Poor Readers Rarely Comprehend Well and Probably Never Will
Richard L. Allington
State University of New York at Albany
Children who fail to learn on schedule share a number of characteristics, even though they are served by a variety of programs that assume that distinct groups can be identified and that these groups have identifiable and distinct instructional needs ( Allington & Johnston, 1989; McGill- Franzen , 1987). Regardless of which categorical instructional support program these children are assigned to (e.g., Chapter 1, special education, migrant education, etc.) the instructional intervention rarely accomplishes a return of the learner to on-schedule reading acquisition. In addition, little evidence is available to suggest that participants in these instructional support programs ever develop into readers who demonstrate adequate abilities to extract meaning from text efficiently and effectively. Even less is available to suggest that the participants develop refined higher order thinking skills, strategies, and abilities.
This chapter offers an explanation for this rather dismal state of affairs, an explanation that is rooted in the instruction offered to lowachievement children, especially the reading instruction provided. This explanation assumes that children are more likely to learn that which they are taught than that which they are not. An attempt is also made to explain why low-achievement children are taught certain things (and not others) and why instructional intervention programs are most often designed in ways that are unlikely to facilitate either learning to read well or learning to think critically. This explanation is rooted in an analysis of the conventional wisdom that shaped the policies and regulations that constrain the instructional interventions that low-achievement children participate in.
In this chapter, then, I first review current instructional practices in