August 17, 2007

Edweek Spins Reading Research

Edweek reports on the What Work's Clearinghouse's latest report on Reading Curricula but can't help spinning the results.

A long-awaited review of beginning-reading programs by the federal What Works Clearinghouse found few comprehensive or supplemental programs that have evidence of effectiveness in raising student achievement. But what is missing from the review may be even more telling: None of the most popular commercial reading programs on the market had sufficiently rigorous studies to be included in the review by the clearinghouse.

And Edweek is surprised why? It's not exactly a secret that valid research on reading programs is scant. The situation is even worse for math. This is the phony set-up for the sucker punch:

Just one program was found to have positive effects or potentially positive effects across all four of the domains in the review—alphabetics, fluency, comprehension, and general reading achievement. That program, Reading Recovery, an intensive, one-on-one tutoring program, has drawn criticism over the past few years from prominent researchers and federal officials who claimed it was not scientifically based.

Federal officials and contractors tried to discourage states and districts from using Reading Recovery in schools participating in the federal Reading First program, citing a lack of evidence that it helps struggling readers.

This isn't the first time Edweek has whored itself for Reading Recovery. They even stooped to using Dick Allington, the Dick Van Patten of bad education research, to lend credibility to their spin.

What Edweek is trying to do is to misleadingly tie in that Reading Recovery has an alleged valid research base and should not have been excluded from Reading First funding while other reading programs which lack a valid research base were funded.

There are at least two problems with this line of reasoning.

First, the Reading First statute doesn't require that the reading programs funded thereunder have a valid research base. The statute only requires that the eligible reading programs be based upon or consistent with the scientifically based reading research. There are lots of good arguments that this should have been a requirement, but it wasn't made a requirement. The requirement was unfortunately loosened. So we hired a bunch of reading experts to determine whether programs were consistent with the SBRR. And, as it turns out, they determined that Reading Recovery wasn't consistent with the SBRR. And, there's good reason to think that the WWC dropped the ball on its evaluation of Reading Recovery.

Second, the Reading First statute requires that reading programs eligible for Reading First funding contain the five essential components of reading instruction (ECRI). Reading Recovery lacks at least one of those ECRI no matter how hard they try to distort the data to pretend otherwise. And even if you think that the WWC's evaluation is accurate, you can't help but notice that the areas that the WWC evaluate, alphabetics, fluency, comprehension and general reading achievement, don't align with the Reading First ECRI which are defined in section 1208 (5) of the Reading First statute as:
explicit and systematic instruction in—
‘‘(A) phonemic awareness;
‘‘(B) phonics;
‘‘(C) vocabulary development;
‘‘(D) reading fluency, including oral reading skills; and
‘‘(E) reading comprehension strategies."

Nice try Edweek.

The only question remaining is when will in-house Edweek blogger extraordinaire, Alexander Russo, report on this scandal going on around him?

Update: Russo falls for the bait. (Fixed some typos too.)


DC Teacher Chic said...

Some of these wonks seem to overlook the fact that textbooks don't teach children - teachers do. We use Houghton-Mifflin in DC, and while I really like it, it's a disaster in a classroom staffed with an ineffective teacher. Some of the charter schools use Open Court, which I hate, but a well-trained teacher can use the program and produce huge academic gains. *We* are the difference.

KDeRosa said...

Good teachers are constrained by an ineffective curriculum and an unskilled teacher can turn an effective curriculum into an ineffective one.

Anonymous said...

Just discovered this blog. It makes me feel less alone in the eduverse. This blog is steller, at least relative to all the ignorant nonsense that overflows in universities and the media.


How do low income students get to the 8th grade level on standardized tests of reading comprehension?

It seems like many people have phonics licked, but that only gets students to the third or fourth grade level.

I would propose that vocabulary and critical reasoning are bottlenecks for most low income students.

Are you familiar with the research on the gwl (general word list) and the awl (academic word list)?

Really interested in your thoughts on this.

KDeRosa said...

This blog is stellar, at least relative to all the ignorant nonsense that overflows in universities and the media.

That's a very low threshold to get over.

Yes, vocabulary is a known and very serious bottleneck blocking many low IQ kids from becoming proficient readers.

I had been particularly influenced by Wesley Becker's famous Harvard Educational Review article (1977) noting that the impact of early DISTAR success with decoding was muted for reading comprehension in later elementary grades by vocabulary limitations. Becker argued that this was a matter of experience rather than general intelligence by observing that while his DISTAR students' reading comprehension fell relative to more advantaged students by grade 4, their mathematics performance remained high. He suggested that the difference was that all the knowledge that is needed for math achievement is taught in school, whereas the vocabulary growth needed for successful reading comprehension is essentially left to the home. Disadvantaged homes provide little support for vocabulary growth, as recently documented by Hart and Risley (1995).

Anonymous said...

Stan Pogrow argues for the importance of Socratic dialog once decoding is mastered.

If the following link doesn't work, google this:

"Pogrow felt his blood pressure rise. This was the great success? This was the greatly influential Slavin, shrugging off the revelation that the students for whom he claimed success were essentially illiterate? Pogrow was appalled. He thought those students could do much better. He went to war."