USA Today has a pretty scathing criticism of Reading First in its editorial section. The crux of the argument is that the system has been duped by textbook publishers into wasting a lot of money on a program that has no value. But does that mean the research is wrong? Is the problem with the research or the implementation?
…the studies the panel reviewed show that intensive phonics has little to do with students’ ability to understand what they read. Distinguished literacy experts Frank Smith and Kenneth Goodman have provided compelling evidence that comprehension is the basis for learning to read: We learn to read by understanding what is on the page.
But what happens after we learned to read? How do we learn to stretch our skills? What about reading to learn? Shouldn’t our goal be to eventually learn to understand by being able to read what is on the page? Mr. Krashen’s solution to literacy ills is the mere presence of books.
Instead of wasting billions of dollars more on Reading First, let’s invest much more in libraries in low-income areas. Let’s make sure all children have access to books, and solve the real literacy crisis forever.
Great. Now what do we do about the kids who don’t live next door to the library?
Whether taught at school or at home, with books paid for by the parents or provided free for loan by libraries, using researched based techniques or trial and error, children are ultimately going to be affected more by their parents’ attitudes toward literacy and reading than anything else.