April 12, 2006

Out of the Stratosphere

I like the professional policy blogs, such as EduWonk, This Week in Education, NCLBlog, and The Quick and The Ed. They excel at analyzing and reporting on general education policy issues like charter schools, vouchers, NCLB, drop-out rates, and the like. Though, occasionally, they seem to value each other's (and the other think tanks') opinions a wee bit more than is healthy. (They should heed the valuable advice of Mr. Wolf).

They're generally reliable when it comes to education policy that's up in the stratosphere, but tend to be just as unreliable as the rest of us when it comes to street level issues. Let's take a recent post on History is Not Math at The Quick and the Ed:

Although there are still some folks--primarily in ed schools--who haven't bought into it yet, there's actually a pretty clear, well-defined research consensus about how children learn to read, and what educators need to do when for kids to become proficient readers.

Cetainly there is some truth to this statement, but it doesn't probe deep enough to the real problem we have in early reading instruction. Everyone pays lip service to the National Reading Panel's findings as to what well designed reading programs must include. To wit: phoneme awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, reading comprehension. Almost every commercially available early reading instructional program claims to have all these critical components. Problem is most of them stink.

The NRP was a naive observer when they looked at the valid research on early reading instruction. It focused on the superficial attributes of the successful reading programs and failed to attend to the critical details of what makes good instructional programs effective. This is because no one on the NRP team ever designed an effective reading program or knew what to look for.

Dead reckoning.

So when The Quick and the Ed concludes:

In both reading and math, we can study what and how kids need to learn in order to become proficient because--calculator debates aside--there's some general agreement about what, ultimately, kids need to know. Everyone agrees that kids need to learn how to read, and there's not a lot of debate about what that means.
they seem not to recognize the very real problems that still exist today in early reading instruction. Sure, everybody can agree on what "kids need to learn how to read" because the NRP made its recommendations so vague and meaningless that even ineffective programs can claim to comply.

Effective education requires close attention to detail and adherence to strict quality control measures.

If the professional education policy blogs want to have any impact on education they need to stop worrying about meaningless generalities and stratospheric policies and start attending to the street level details where all the problems are occurring. Maybe, Alexander Russo is on to something when he's written that most education blogs aren't very good.

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