Ineffective Reading Instruction Still the Order of the Day

Cover, Why Johnny Can't Read
Rudolf Flesch’s ground-breaking book

On January 26, 2018, with much rhetorical fanfare, the governor of Arkansas and his state’s Department of Education announced R.I.S.E. (Reading Initiative for Student Excellence).

According to the press release from the governor’s office, the RISE campaign will “enhance and expand existing efforts by the Arkansas Department of Education and school districts to support literacy in schools.”

Results from the 2015 ACT Aspire test prompted the creation of this latest campaign.

Reminder: Initially, the Arkansas Board of Education voted 7-1 against switching from PARCC to ACT Aspire. After the governor appointed three new board members, the board voted 4-2 to make the change.

Thought by some supporters to be “easier” than PARCC, the ACT Aspire, administered to students in Grades 3-12, produced less than stellar results in reading. When tested in 2015,

48.6 percent of students in grades 3-10 were proficient in English language arts

39 percent of graduating seniors met reading readiness benchmarks

I have not seen copies of the tests. Maybe the reading selections were not well chosen. Diane Ravitch education historian and former Assistant Secretary of Education, doesn’t think much of the reading selections on either the ACT Aspire or the PARCC.

Whatever the reason, whatever the test, and no matter the state, about half the children who begin school in this country every year fail to become competent readers.

The governor’s announcement makes the usual promises and uses the usual jargon. The new campaign will “build a culture of reading” by “partnering” with “stakeholders.” It will provide support for “rigorous coursework.” by offering “literacy courses” in high school. It will provide “educators” with “in-depth information related to the science of reading.”

In short, the powers-that-be will continue to do what they have been doing for the past seven decades to ensure that half the population fails to learn to read.

Sixty-three years ago, Rudolf Flesch shone a light on the ineffectiveness of a method of reading instruction that was leaving large numbers of American school children in a semi-literate state.

Flesch called the ineffective method the “word method.” Today it’s called “whole language.” It’s the method preferred in colleges of education and the method of choice in most of our public schools.

This is a method of beginning reading instruction that produces millions of incapable and reluctant readers every year. It’s a method that convinces children that reading is the most boring occupation imaginable by preventing them from reading books they would love at the age they would most enjoy them.

A method that is ineffective for half the children subjected to it is extremely profitable for publishers, reading specialists, consultants, and testing companies. It works rather like built-in obsolescence for consumer products: a beginning reading method of instruction that requires years of remediation for the children who can’t learn with it in Grades K-3.

Why Johnny Can’t Read (And What You Can Do About It) is still in print. Parents, teachers, and, perhaps, the governor, ought to read it—and take it to heart.

2 Responses

  1. Good article. Few people outside of the education system will even take the time to understand what is actually going on in the education of their children. (Except social and sporting events – at least up to ACT time) So, it’s great that you’re trying to get the word out.

  2. Great article, suggesting folks re-read Why Johnny Can’t Read. I’m appalled that today half the kids can’t read. One of the things that frosted me most in teaching was the tireless effort by the higher-ups to find a new vocabulary for a new and better way to teach something. Invariably it was a rehash of something we’d seen before. ??I think you hit the nail on the head by pointing out that children don’t like to read because the material is so inane. If intrigued by the story, they will figure it out and learn new words in the process! Duh!

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