>-----Original Message-----
>From: Kapinus, Barbara [NEA]
>Sent: Tuesday, September 10, 2002 10:47 AM
>To: Kapinus, Barbara [NEA]
>Subject: A article from: [log in to unmask]
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> Phonics Pitch Irks Teachers
> By Valerie Strauss
>  The Bush administration is making a concerted effort to promote the
>teaching of phonics in America's classrooms, and in the process, some
>educators charge, advancing specific commercial reading products.
>  Administration officials say they want to end a national crisis in which
>almost 70 percent of low-income fourth-grade students cannot read at a
>basic level, and they deny usurping local authority by telling schools
>what specific programs to use.
>  "We can't do that nor would we want to," said Susan B. Neuman, assistant
>secretary for elementary and secondary education at the Education
>Department. "What we want is a proliferation of excellence. We want more
>programs out there that are doing wonderful things. And we would be crazy
>to narrow the field."
>  Some educators, however, charge that the Education Department is so
>narrowly prescribing what states can do with new federal reading funds
>that the federal government is violating the clause in the country's new
>K-12 education law that bars federal authorities from involvement in local
>curriculum and instructional content.
> At the heart of the controversy is the No Child Left Behind Act, which
>President Bush, who promised during the 2000 campaign to be the "Education
>President," signed in January as a signature initiative. Effective July 1,
>the law vastly increases the federal government's role in education by,
>among other things, mandating annual standardized tests for millions of
>  It also includes a program called Reading First, which offers $5 billion
>over six years to states and local school districts to help every child
>read by the end of third grade. To qualify for the new federal funding,
>states must comply with new federal regulations that define what
>constitutes good reading instruction.
>  For decades, educators have been embroiled in a fierce debate about the
>best way to teach reading. The tension has been between proponents of
>phonics, which teaches reading skills before moving to literature and
>comprehension, and whole language, which teaches skills through literature.
>  Many educators now say a combination is necessary but that different
>approaches are needed for different children. Lesley Morrow, head of the
>International Reading Association, told a House subcommittee that there is
>no method of phonics instruction that is correct for all students. And a
>recent study of schools in 32 nations found the most critical element in
>building an effective reading program was the teacher.
>  Yet some educators say the Education Department is making clear that it
>will provide new funds only for programs that explicitly teach phonics,
>and that the department views as successful certain phonics-based
>commercial programs that give teachers highly detailed instructions to
>follow each day.
>  Prominent among these are the Open Court Reading and Direct Instruction
>programs, both published by SRA/McGraw-Hill, owned by New York-based
>McGraw-Hill Cos. Both are phonics-based reading programs. Open Court
>Reading has captured multimillion-dollar contracts in key states in recent
>years despite conflicting research about its effectiveness.
>  "The current administration is doing two things: one, it is stripping
>teachers, schools and districts of the tools they need to teach reading,
>and two, it is promoting corporate control of the education of our
>children," said Leslie Poynor, assistant professor of reading at the
>University of New Mexico.
> Bush administration officials say they believe phonics is the best
>approach for teaching reading{ndash}the 2000 Republican national platform
>endorsed phonics. But officials deny they are promoting any specific
> Some educators began complaining about the implementation of Reading
>First when the Department of Education held spring academies for educators
>to explain the program.
>  Participants said examples of successful materials presented were drawn
>from Open Court and Direct Instruction. Materials distributed included two
>lists of programs, rated for different levels of effectiveness; Open Court
>topped both lists. And many presenters were authors of Direct Instruction
>  Participants were also told that an important document for them to know
>was a summary of a 2000 report by the congressionally mandated National
>Reading Panel. The summary was largely produced by McGraw-Hill authors who
>write phonics-based materials, and critics say it does not represent the
>complete report.  The controversy about the academies became so intense
>that the apolitical International Reading Association -- which last year
>gave a warm welcome to Education Secretary Roderick R. Paige when he
>attended its annual conference -- sent a letter to Paige saying it was
>"gravely concerned."
>  The letter said many teams seeking federal reading funds had been led to
>believe by Education Department officials that approval of their
>application would be speeded if they indicated a preference for particular
>commercial programs.
>  Paige did not respond, but Neuman and other education officials suddenly
>canceled their long-scheduled appearances at IRA's annual convention,
>citing scheduling conflicts.
>  "Within the profession, there is quite a bit of controversy of Reading
>First," said IRA Executive Director Alan Farstrup. "We thought IRA would
>be a good place for these different points of view to come to the surface."
>  The Association of American Publishers Inc. also sent a letter to Paige
>expressing concern that department officials were signaling preferences.
>Paige denied there was any approved list and said the department was
>trying to promote flexibility.
>  Experts say few states have reading programs that meet the law's new
>standards. Some states, such as Florida, are revamping their programs, and
>this summer Florida became one of the first three states to win Reading
>First funds.
>  This happened a few months after Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother,
>announced an unprecedented agreement with several major publishers to
>provide as much as 100 hours of free training to Florida's teachers. The
>offer is available to those districts that purchase the publishers'
>products; Florida districts have $100 million to spend this year on
>"research-based" instructional materials.
>  The five publishers are Harcourt School Publishers, Houghton Mifflin
>Co., MacMillan/McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education and SRA/McGraw Hill.
>  Some educators also note that the companies publishing the reading
>programs also publish the standardized tests commonly used around the
>country. For example, McGraw-Hill is one of three major test publishers in
>the country.
>  "What they want is to have the publishers making teacher-proof
>materials, and of course it is big business," said Lucy M. Calkins,
>founding director of the Reading and Writing Project at Columbia Teachers
>College. "The thing that is really is scary is how do you prove that your
>reading program is a success? It's by kids doing well on the standardized
>tests made by the same publishers that wrote the teacher-proof programs."
>  McGraw-Hill has in recent years hailed the success of its education
>division in improving profits, citing repeated victories in Texas as being
>important in those gains. For example, company documents say that profits
>for the division in 2000 increased by 12.5 percent, to $307.8 million,
>from the year before. The company said in a 2001 statement that SRA/McGraw
>Hill had "a stellar year" in 2000, with its phonics-based reading programs
>capturing 37 percent of the $100 million spent on textbooks in Texas --
>when Bush was governor.
>  The company has ties with Bush. Bush tapped company officials to sit on
>his transition team before he took office: Harold McGraw III, who is
>chairman, president and chief executive officer of McGraw-Hill Cos., and
>company board member Edward Rust Jr.  Company spokeswoman April Hattori
>said McGraw-Hill offers many reading programs and that neither the new
>education law nor the Department of Education endorse specific programs.
>  Even educators who do not believe the administration is deliberately
>dictating programs say it is inadvertently sending messages about
>  "I think there are a lot of very new people running this effort," said
>Bob Slavin, founder of Success for All, a nonprofit reform program. "I
>think they thought they could say, for example, 'This is something that
>works,' and not have everybody think that 'for example' is what they
>favor.' "
>  Some educators in New York say state officials may have thought they
>were pleasing the federal government when dissension over Reading First
>erupted in late July at a conference in White Plains. Educators from
>schools across the state gathered to discuss grant proposals they had
>spent thousands of hours developing for new professional development
>programs for teachers -- to be funded with Reading First money.
>  School officials said they had been told by state officials that they
>could establish relationships with professional development providers and
>assess their own needs. But at the conference, state officials said all
>schools had to use an online program being developed by a Texas-based
>company, Voyager Expanded Learning, which markets school curriculum and
>professional development programs.
>  Some participants questioned the choice of Voyager, a company with
>virtually no track record in New York and one that offers a 100 percent
>guarantee that children who enter the program in kindergarten will read on
>grade level by the end of third grade -- something few educators do.
>  Several Texas educators have taken positions in the company during the
>past few years, including Jim Nelson, who resigned earlier this year as
>Texas education commissioner to become Voyager's senior vice president for
>state and federal relations. He now works to improve teacher quality
>through training and certification programs with states.
>  Nelson was appointed in 1999 as head of the Texas Education Agency by
>then-Gov. Bush. Three years before that, Bush had named Nelson head of the
>Texas State Board for Educator Certification. While commissioner, Nelson
>served as chair of the D.C.-based Education Leaders Council, an education
>reform group that supported the No Child Left Behind legislation.
>  Nelson said he had nothing to do with the New York contract. He said his
>job is to contact education commissioners and other state officials to try
>to sell Voyager now that there is "a lot of new federal money out there."
>  Many conference participants were furious and issued a "statement of
>protest" that said, in part: "We are very distressed that you expect us to
>mandate a one-size-fits-all prescribed program of scripted professional
>  State officials said they are following the federal government's
>guidelines. Sheila Evans-Tranumn, associate commissioner of education in
>New York, said she did not know why schools did not know about the Voyager
>contract before devising their own grant proposals but that the company
>was picked in a competitive bid.
>  "Washington is prescribing, but people still have the opportunity and
>freedom to choose a prescribed way they feel comfortable with," she said.
>  Dick Allington, the Irving and Rose Fien Distinguished Professor of
>Education at the University of Florida, is less sanguine. He said the
>administration is going further than any other in telling teachers how to
>  "The administration is trying to make it look like they are not
>violating the 'local control' clause of the No Child Left Behind bill, but
>the profession isn't buying it," he said.
>Only the individual sender is responsible for the content of the
>message, and the message does not necessarily reflect the position
>or policy of the National Education Association or its affiliates.

Norman A. Stahl
Professor and Chair
Literacy Education
GH 223
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115

Phone: (815) 753-9032
FAX:   (815) 753-8563
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Universities are institutions run by amateurs to train professionals.
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