October 11, 2006

Are You Jealous Yet?

All you teachers who don't work in an affluent suburban school district are missing all the fun.

How would you like to have a class where half the students are already above grade level? Your teaching method could consist of an intricate combination of farting and tap dancing and at least half the kids are guaranteed to be above grade level by the end of the year.

Such is the situation in my son's first grade class. Out of the 20 kids in the class, about 10 are above, at, or close to reading on a second grade level. Not surprisingly, most of the kids in this group are girls.

Another two or three understand the reading game as well and will definitely be there by the end of the year.

The remaining seven or eight kids, mostly boys, need to be taught. And, even then, most of these kids understand the alphabetic principle already, so they aren't starting at ground zero.

Phonics isn't taught in a systematic or explicit way in my son's school like it is supposed to be. This won't affect the 13 or so kids who already know more than enough phonics and are already reading well. It will, however, greatly affect the 7 or so kids who don't and are being "taught" using the same method.

Based on our current 11th grade test scores, about 4 of these kids will be poor readers and won't be proficient on the state tests. If you want to use NAEP scores as a rough guide, all the kids who aren't readers yet will never be proficient readers.

This is the classic sorting machine that typifies U.S. schools. The kids who are smart and capable of learning with little assistance will learn. Those that need to be taught, won't learn.

I suspect that it's always been like this when it comes to reading. A certain percentage of kids will pick up what is taught no matter how well or poorly it is taught. The remainder who struggle and for which reading skills must be induced have never done well and will continue not to do well. The quality of the reading instruction affects a few kids at the margin, but generally speaking it takes very good reading instruction to reach most of these kids which is in very short supply.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is a good book about reading instruction called Straight Talk About Reading by Susan Hall. It has been awhile since I read it, but it echos what you said in your post. I think it quoted that one-third of kids will learn how to read no matter what sort of instruction, but the others need more specialized instruction, especially phonics.
I live in a somewhat affluent university community. Many parents take it upon themselves to teach their kids to learn how to read, so you don't see the effects of the poor reading instruction unless you are at a couple of the schools that have kids from more disadvantaged backgrounds.