the National Reading Panel (NRP)
| Regional Meetings
Regional Meeting Synthesis
Introduction: Voices From the Field
Thirteen members of the National Reading
Panel (NRP) assembled for their inaugural meeting in
Bethesda, MD on Friday, April 24, 1998 at the National
Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).
Despite their diverse professional expertise, interests,
and approaches to teaching children how to read, Panel
members determined that they could not effectively carry
out their Congressional mandate of assessing the readiness
of research-based knowledge for application in homes
or schools without gaining valuable perspectives and
insights from practitioners and other stakeholders engaged
in the teaching and learning of reading across America.
By unanimous decision, Panel members
felt it was of paramount importance to supplement their
review and scrutiny of research findings by listening
to and learning from the many voices of parents, educators,
students, community members, and civic and business
leaders whose own practical experiences and knowledge
of craft would balance and inform the Panels inquiry.
To accomplish this objective, Panel members decided
to organize a series of regional meetings in Chicago,
IL (May 29, 1998), Portland, OR (June 5, 1998), Houston,
TX (June 8, 1998), New York, NY (June 23, 1998), and
Jackson, MS (July 9, 1998).
Through news releases and articles,
public service announcements, notifications and letters
of invitations, the NRP blanketed the nation and host
communities with information on its mandate and approachencouraging
concerned individuals, reading experts, parents, teachers,
researchers, and representatives of national, state,
and local organizations to attend one or more of the
regional meetings, request presentation opportunities
in advance, or sign-up on-site to provide public comment
that would contribute to the Panels work.
In total, close to 400 people attended
regional meetings, where Panelist heard from 44 invited
presenters and 73 members of the public who addressed
their concerns about reading. The regional meetings
helped Panel members better understand how reading is
currently taught, what the challenges and opportunities
are in changing reading instruction, and how to translate
the Panels findings to meet the information needs
of various audiences.
Congress originally charged the National
Reading Panel with assessing "the status of research-based
knowledge, including the effectiveness of various approaches
to teaching children how to read." In its report,
the Panel is to "present the Panel's conclusions,
an indication of the readiness for application in the
classroom of the results of this research, and, if appropriate,
a strategy for rapidly disseminating this information
to facilitate effective reading instruction in the schools."
Through these regional meetings, the Panel learned first
hand what various stakeholders currently know and believe
about reading and reading research, providing a starting
point for dissemination efforts. Individual speakers
also revealed how these audiences view various aspects
of reading research and specific programs to help students
read. By presenting their experience and knowledge of
reading instruction, these speakers helped Panelists
better determine the readiness of schools to apply the
results of their research.
This report reviews the major concepts
discussed at the five regional meetings conducted May
to July 1998. It synthesizes remarks made by the presenters
and organizes them into several predominate themes that
- validity of
- breadth of
of reading instruction and goals;
- phonics and
- reading as
a cross-disciplinary skill;
- multiple approaches
- the role of
parents and other concerned family members;
individuals and situations;
priorities and recommendations; and
By seeking out voices from the fieldand
considering not only public counsel, but also the implications
of practitioner concernsthe Panel embarked on
a process to yield far more than a compendium of research
for academics. Rather, it would be poised to craft a
final report that took into account where educators
and other stakeholders currently stand on the teaching
of reading. Information from the regional meetings would
also make the report of Panel findings much more useful
and accessible to those in schools, homes, and communities
throughout America. Throughout the regional hearings,
Panel members remained strong in their conviction that
a good faith effort to learn more from ordinary Americans,
as well as those who have long studied reading research,
would undoubtedly help them prepare a final report that
would speak to a wide majority of Americans and impact
their work with children, educators, and schools.
The meetings also demonstrated the
Panel's respect for the practice and knowledge of those
who work with children and helped them to shape a final
report that is not a prescription written by an elite
group of academics, but a summary of the state of current
knowledge on teaching reading that draws on multiple
sources, including the experience of practitioners.
This qualitative research into the beliefs and opinions
of parents, educators, and members of the general public
provided a vital balance to the investigative research
conducted by the six Panel subcommittees. The voices
collected in this report demonstrate areas of public
concern, highlight questions that the Panel should address,
and draw attention to programs that can serve as models
of how to disseminate reading research into practice.
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Research What is Valid?
Many presenters at the regional meetings
provided their own experience and opinions about how
reading should be taught, or they described their own
programs that were designed to help children learn to
read. As the purpose of the regional meetings was to
learn how reading instruction is perceived by those
working with children, very few of the presenters addressed
the research issues and the question of what forms of
research are valid.
Those who did, however, criticized
the accuracy and utility of existing research in reading.
Chief among those critics was Ed Kame'enui, professor
at the College of Education at the University of Oregon,
director of the Institute for the Development of Educational
Achievement in the universitys College of Education,
and a member of the National Academy of Sciences
National Research Council Committee on the Prevention
of Reading Difficulties in Children. Kame'enui discussed
the problems facing the National Reading Panel in determining
what research is valid and reliable. He said that his
experience as a member of the NAS panel told him that
the biggest challenge and most important charge facing
the NRP is to agree on formal rules of evidence that
can help in the selection of research studies meeting
the highest evidentiary standards. "Standards that
will engender public support and the belief that your
recommendations are based on trustworthy, valid, reliable,
and usable research," he said. "Your primary
charge, then, is not necessarily about reading; but
about what passes as acceptable scientific evidence
in the current educational research on teaching children
to read in an alphabetic writing system."
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The Gold Standard:
Scientific Rules of Evidence
To winnow the wheat from the chaff,
Kame'enui recommended that the NRP "stick with
the most rigorous rules of scientific evidence available
in determining what is acceptable for informing practice."
Calling science "our primary means for guarding
against the false or fashionable," he urged the
Panel adopt a strict standard in deciding what research
to use. He also warned against a tendency he perceives
in the field of education where opinions and beliefs
masquerade as facts evidenced from rigorous, reliable,
and replicable research.
At the Houston meeting, Darvin Winick
of the Governors Business Council also agreed
that scientific criteria for determining the acceptability
of research findings must be developed. According to
Winick, knowledge about how to teach reading does exist
but it is not used in many classrooms. For example,
Winick said, when Texas business leaders tried to help
implement Governor George W. Bushs goal of having
all children reading "on grade level" by grade
three, they were surprised to receive confusing advice
from the experts. "Advocates for various approaches
to the teaching of reading quickly came forward. But
many were unable to provide us with any credible proof
that their approach worked."
In conducting their own research analysis,
the Governors Business Council was surprised to
find "an enormous variation in the quality of evidence
of effectiveness that was available for various reading
instructional programs." Winick said that some
approaches were well-supported by controlled experimentation,
while others were backed by what he labeled "poor
or inappropriate research." Too many studies lacked
the standards for proper scientific inquiry, which he
characterized as "clear statements of hypotheses,
controlled experimental conditions, standardized treatment,
and reliable and objective measurement." He blamed
this on a tendency in the field of education to inadequately
develop data and a hesitancy to look at research in
psychology, physiology, and other fields for models.
Winick called on the NRP to eliminate
misinformation about how reading skills are acquired.
When, for example, his group announced they were looking
for research-based programs, everyone claimed that their
program was based upon research. But the quality of
this research varied. "I just wonder," said
Winick, "should it be necessary for people outside
of education to go through the high level of effort
to protect our investment in the schools. Should educational
researchers not have a higher standard? Why is there
no accountability for the quality of investigation and
Winick also warned the Panel against
writing a compromised document that supports every theory.
Instead the NRP should adhere to its charge by "taking
into account the relevance, methodological rigor and
applicability, validity, reliability, and replicability
of the reported research." Only experimental evidence
should be used to set a high standard for future research,
he asserted. For this reason Winick did not give his
own opinion on how reading should be taught. Instead
he encouraged debate over reliably obtained performance
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Establishing a High Degree of Confidence
in the Research Base
David Denton, Director of Health
and Human Services Programs for the Southern Regional
Education Board, expressed a greater degree of confidence
in the reliability of the research. He said that reading
research is "as valid as research can be, as long
as we recognize that knowledge is not static, and that
tomorrow, or next week, or next year, there will be
new research that will inevitably alter our understanding
of todays research findings." While more
research is always needed, the research we currently
have is sufficient to use as the basis for policy and
conclusions as long as we are willing to change our
minds should we develop different evidence.
However, Denton expressed this confidence
only about the research conducted by the National Institute
of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), not about
other studies. He said that, "[NICHD] research
has been characterized by the highest scientific standards,
and it has provided invaluable knowledge about how good
readers read, and why many children do not become good
readers. The NICHD research has clearly shown us that
phonemic awareness, the knowledge that certain letters
and letter combinations correspond to certain sounds
is a critically important skill that all good readers
Furthermore, he added that much of
this research does not make it into the classroom and
that some reading programs lack evidence of their effectiveness.
"The biggest problem posed by the research on reading
today is that we havent yet figured out how to
make sure that all teachers have that full range of
instructional tools at their disposal, and that they
have the ability to use appropriate assessments to make
the right choices for different children. And the piece
of those tools which seems to be most missing, particularly
among new graduates, is the ability to assess and teach
specific skills such as phonemic awareness."
Denton described the NICHD research
as supporting the claims of non-extremists from both
the phonics and whole language camps. "It is clear
from that research that the best reading programs provide
many opportunities for children to read a wide variety
of good literature. There is nothing in the research
that supports the idea that a program based exclusively
on skills instruction or phonics, with little emphasis
on reading for meaning and pleasure, is an appropriate
way to teach reading. Children must master the necessary
skills, but they must also be engaged and given reasons
for wanting to read." He found that "the great
contribution of the NICHD research is that it tells
us how important it is to make sure that one particular
piece of the reading puzzle, phonemic awareness, is
in place for all children at least by third grade."
Ultimately, he supported a balanced approach that recognizes
that this balance could be different for different children.
Although only a few of the speakers
examined the question of the validity of the research,
those who did supported a hard, scientific approach.
Without such a scientific approach, they maintained
there is a danger in relying merely on opinion or being
seen as a combatant in the false dichotomy of between
phonics and whole language that has been dubbed the
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Reading Research: Cast the Net Broadly
The National Reading Panel was advised
by presenters to cast its net broadlymaking sure
to capture the essence of reading research. In general,
presenters appeared to convey that while the graphophenomic
system of language and its relevance to the reading
process has been well documented, other areas that also
directly bear on reading acquisition have been neglected
or not conveyed to teachers.
Specifically, speakers petitioned for
the inclusion of emerging brain research, writing as
part of reading instruction, and anthropological considerations
to become part of a reading research "package"
that is made available to educators.
Jennifer Monoghan, founder of the History
of Reading Special Interest Group at Brooklyn College,
questioned why writing is not an integral part of the
reading process. "Why is there a National Reading
Panel, but no National Writing Panel?" she queried.
"Why are we so obsessed by childrens failure
to read when we are relatively cavalier about their
failure to write?"
One way Monoghan linked reading and
writing is through phonemic segmentation, a basic requirement
of both. She encouraged those in the field of reading
to focus on teaching teachers about the orthography
and phonology of their own language.
Reading research also should devote
time to the study of emerging brain research, particularly
in early childhood, noted Kathy Grace, an early childhood
expert from Tupelo, Mississippi. She cited a national
program involving physicians that helps disseminate
reading information to parents. Noting her familiarity
with the program locally, she said pediatricians in
Greenville, SC, regularly give parents a "prescription"
that says: "Read to your child." They also
give them a book. Said Grace; "The physician gives
the book because it is a health issue. It is a development
of the brain issue. It is not just an educational issue."
A number of presenters advised the
Panel to include in its study a review of research on
the impact of technology on reading. Mark Horney, from
the Center for Advanced Technology in Education at the
University of Oregon, described two research projects
designed to make better use of technology to teach reading:
"Project Literacy High," which uses electronic
versions of text to help hearing-impaired students improve
reading skills, holds significant promise for all readers;
and the "de Anza Multimedia Project," currently
under construction, applies the "supported text"
notion to create a web-based learning environment "where
you would study from a whole collection of texts all
with resources on a particular domain of study,"
explained Horney. He added that his work centers on
reading to learn, rather than learning to read.
Educational anthropology is missing
from the reading research equation, according to Jan
Lewis, a professor at the Pacific Lutheran University
in Tacoma, Washington. In presenting to the Panel, she
defined educational anthropology as a "way of taking
what we know from anthropology, that of looking at cultures
... from the perspective of the participant or the stakeholder
or the person who was involved." In the education
field, that means examining the players involved in
schoolsprimarily the student and teacherand
observing, from their perspective, what is happening
in the classroom. "We look at the perspective of
the teacher," said Lewis. " We look at the
perspective of the child and how those [perspectives]
Becky McTage, an Illinois teacher,
also counseled the Panel to consider research from a
variety of fields. She called the Reading Recovery program
effective because of its ability to answer questions
about a childs reading development within a "broader
base and context" than is generally the case with
other reading programs.
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Panel Urged to Avoid Skirting Tough
A few speakers stated that, contrary
to media headlines and professional judgments that various
approaches to reading instruction are segments of a
broad spectrum associated with child development and
acquisition of reading skills as opposed to competing
camps, the "reading wars" are not overat
least not on the frontlines of education. They called
on the NRP to clear up the muddied waters.
For example, rather than adding new
items to the reading research agenda, Ally Sullo, editorial
director of reading language arts at Houghton-Mifflin
Company, made a case for addressing issues only partially
covered by the recent National Research Council report.
Sullo claimed the artillery is still firing between
phonics and whole language forces because the NRC report
failed to "come to grips with some of the most
contentious issues ... including organizing or grouping
for reading instruction, the role of phonics, and the
advantages and disadvantages of various beginning reading
texts." She hoped the Panel would "further
the fine work of the NRC committee and ... address some
of these contentious issues as well as establish a research
Charles Arthur, a first-grade
teacher in Portland, also expressed concern over the
"very murky" view of reading caused by "statements
made by this particular panel and other councils on
this subject." He maintained that political balance
"was king," rather than helping teachers make
good choices. According to Arthur, the penultimate question
to be answered is: "Are there good starting skills
that lead more successfully to the full act of reading
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Teachers: The Missing Voice
Numerous presenters praised the National
Reading Panel for seeking out the perspective of classroom
teachers. They repeated a common refrain among American
teachers about the lack of respect afforded them by
the public and policymakers. Panel members were urged
to "continue to put human faces on this issue,"
and to extend to teachers "the trust and the expectation
that they will make effective professional decisions
about how to use them."
Portland teacher Michael Ann Ortloff
discussed the need to respect the knowledge and work
of teachers. Ortloff underscored that respect for the
professional efforts of reading teachers should be "implicit"
in the work of this Panel or any other that may be assigned
the task of tackling a subject as complex as reading.
One speaker vilified schools of education,
state legislative bodies, and others for disempowering
teachers by taking instructional decision-making out
of their hands. James Hoffman, professor of language
and studies at the University of Texas, said disempowerment
occurs when teacher educators promote a particular method
of teaching, when researchers study "method A versus
method B," or when policy makers "who control
the curriculum through mandated assessments manipulate
the teacher incentive or reward systems to reflect a
particular conception of teaching, who impose standards
for student performance with high-stakes consequences
for both teachers and students, who control the very
nature of the curriculum materials that enter classrooms."
Hoffman boldly goes where no other
presenter journeyed by suggesting that the Panel stamp
out these disempowering factors by first visiting state
testing plans that define the curriculum. He looked
no further than his home state of Texas, railing against
what he considers to be the false claims of increased
reading scores as demonstrated by the states TASS
test. He compared the increase in TASS scores to the
fact that reading achievement scores on norm-referenced
tests have remained relatively flat. "How can this
be?" he queried. "Could it be that we are
only teaching to the test?"
Hoffman clearly stated that his position
does not suggest that empowering teachers alone is sufficient
to produce effective teaching. He acknowledged that
"you cannot empower ignorance and expect results."
Instead, "we must educate and empower. Both are
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A more common theme echoed by other
speakers was to highlight teachers roles as classroom
researchers. Kim Patterson, with the Mississippi Writing-Thinking
Institute, and Pacific Lutheran University professor
Jan Lewis discussed the merits of examining the role
of teachers as researchers. Pattersons Institute
promotes professional development opportunities that
allow teachers to develop instructional strategies based
on research. She urged the Panel to hear the voices
of front-line teachers who have conducted "action
research" that provides "valuable information
about how kids learn to read."
Lewis depicted teachers as "classroom
researchers" who are "critical to our understanding"
of how reading takes place. She encouraged the Panel
to seek out teachers who best exemplify solid teaching,
"support their work, encourage the publication
of their own classroom stories, consider the successes."
While teachers voices as "classroom
researchers" should be heard, several speakers
underscored that teachers should not work in isolation
to advance student reading skills. Paula Costello, English
language arts coordinator for a large suburban school
district outside Buffalo, New York, relayed to the Panel
the benefits of teacher study groups in describing her
recent work with seventh- and eighth-grade English teachers
who formed such a group to examine remedial practices.
Collaboration is a requirement for
success in the classroom, according to New York University
Professor Trika Smith-Burke. Unfortunately, collaboration
among teachers, central administrators, researchers,
and others is an onerous task. Smith-Burkes first-hand
experience of trying to mesh schedules between the university
and the classroom often ended in defeat, she noted.
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Obstacles to Teaching Success
Scheduling conflicts pale in comparison
to other obstacles that block teacher success, especially
for beginning teachers. University of Southern Mississippi
Professor Dana Thames elaborated on these dilemmas to
Panel members at the Mississippi meeting. Many teachers
decide to begin their teaching career on the road easiest
to travel, partly due to the lack of respect and compensation
awarded American teachers, she noted.
Other obstacles cited include:
- family members
who harp on the new teacher that they are working
- the lack of
effectiveness of the new teachers former student-teacher
- the role played
by the building and school administration, especially
if it is one that hinders creativity and innovation;
- state accountability
and school-level accreditation, which may lead to
higher test scores and a high accreditation level,
but do not "necessarily indicate success in literacy,
because most assessment focus on isolated segments
of decoding rather than on comprehension;" and
- peer pressure
from older teachers that causes the new teacher to
try to fit in by not doing things "too far out
of the norm."
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Effective Reading Instruction and
Goals: Some "Big Ideas"
Skepticism prevailed among the speakers
over the status of the "reading wars." Even
if overt fighting has ceased, fundamental questions
have been left unanswered and information on the teaching
of reading reaches the hands of too few teachers.
One speaker observed that the introduction
of new state-driven student content standards has added
a new dimension to the reading debate. A paradigm shift
in education has left reading research languishing in
a past era, according to Dick Allington, professor and
chair of reading at the State University of New York,
Albany. "Research has not caught up with policy
and practice," he argued, since new student standards
have been introduced in schools nationwide. The new
standards "offer a different vision of what it
means to be literate from the old minimum competency
definitions that have been so pervasive," he observed.
An example Allington offered is the
preponderance of research that supports the importance
of phonemic awareness and phonemic segmentation. This,
he said, stands in stark comparison with the paucity
of information on how to develop phoneme awareness and
segmentation in young students. He also reported that
while research studies exist that "describe the
nature of teacher training," few "describe
the impact of the training in terms of how teachers
teach, much less whether student learning is affected."
Allington raised concerns that few
studies tease out why something is working. He noted
that often long-term effects might significantly differ
from short-term effects that are evident in a program
Ken Pugh, representing Haskins Laboratories
in Connecticut and Yale University School of Medicine,
offered a detailed description of neurobiological research
that examines brain functions of dyslexic adults compared
to a control group that is underway as a collaborative
effort between Haskins and Yale. The research detected
that when both sets of readers moved from orthography
to orthography plus phonology, there was a noted difference
in the way their brain systems responded. The bottom
line: "the signature of a phonological deficit"
in the dyslexic adults is evident. Pugh called for additional
studies to ascertain how intense phonological remediation
affects brain patterns.
One critic of the recently released
NRC report, Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young
Children, urged Panel members to pick up the pieces
by addressing several research issues. Jerome Harste,
Vice President of the National Council of Teachers of
English, claimed the NRC report offers no consistent
model of learning, which results in teachers receiving
a "mixed message" regarding how to teach.
The NRC report also did not offer a consistent definition
of reading, said Harste, nor did it allocate sufficient
time to research surrounding comprehension issues.
Another theme that emerged from regional
meetings was the stated dangers of "tinkering around
the edges of reading." Most who spoke to the issue
believed that minor changes would not lead to more effective
reading instruction. Mike Walters, Director of the Mississippi
Association of School Superintendents, said he learned
that tinkering with the system "will result ...
in the disappointment of us all." For him, the
reading problem transcends the schools, forcing the
community and family to evaluate their role in student
While some speakers urged professional
development opportunities to focus on providing teachers
with knowledge of multiple strategies for enhancing
reading programs, other speakers focused on more discrete
issues. For example, Seattle University Professor Kathryn
Schlick Noe said helping children see themselves as
readers and writers is a key component of effective
reading instruction. She suggests that children learn
to read and write "within a context of its application
in the real world."
Barbara Foorman, professor and director
of the Center for Academic and Reading Skills at the
University of Texas, Houston, purported that to teach
reading effectively, instruction must "promote
reading success, specifically success in identifying
words and understanding text." Foorman contended
that a first step is the childs ability to segment
the sounds of words. Programs that focus on the most
frequent spelling patterns for the approximately 44
phonemes of English "can bring children at risk
for learning to read to a national average in decoding
words." She coupled the phonological approach with
an emphasis on reading for comprehension, the ultimate
goal of reading. According to Foorman, an effective
reading program would include word recognition, spelling,
vocabulary, and comprehension. All are linked. Word
recognition allows children to develop memory and attention,
which are key for comprehension. Spelling takes students
beyond phonics to "learn about word meanings and
writing conventions." It is hard to read and spell,
said Foorman, without broadening ones vocabulary.
Comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading.
Other speakers offered their opinions
on whole language, phonics, and other strategies for
teaching reading skills. For example, University of
Utah Professor Kathleen Brown underscored at the New
York meeting that research indicates reading by context
alone is an unreliable and inefficient aspect of any
reading program. Although many teachers encourage their
nascent readers to rely on context clues for decoding
unknown words, Brown finds it an abhorrent practice.
"Using context to identify words only works about
approximately 25 percent of the time and it is poor
readers who rely on these strategies to identify words,"
she said. A more effective strategy, she noted, is decoding
by analogy. In other words, when confronted by an unknown
word, effective readers use chunks they remember from
other words to discover an approximate pronunciation
of the unknown word.
Seattle Pacific University Professor
Bill Nagy focused his presentation on the important
role vocabulary plays in reading comprehension. However,
he cautioned that spending more time doing vocabulary
activities is not the correct route. Instead, teachers
"need to be more intentional about doing what we
can to promote vocabulary growth in our students."
He suggested a multi-pronged approach, with "wide
reading" as a cornerstone, including individual
word education, word learning strategies, and word consciousness
"Big ideas" tangential to
reading acquisition also surfaced during the meetings.
According to many speakers, improved reading achievement
is not possible without addressing such issues as class-size
reduction, teacher training, consideration of different
learning styles, and early intervention. Portland parent
Lisa Leslie advised, "If your desire is to accomplish
something other than stirring the reading debate pot,
you are going to have to look beyond just finding the
best practice and the research and look at some of the
big ideas that would apply to any reading method that
is used in the classrooms."
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for Reading: From Phonemic Awareness to Comprehension
To borrow from Dr. Seuss, reading is
a great balancing act, according to most speakers. Most
presenters supported reading instruction that combines
systematic phonics with good childrens literature.
Susan Stires, a staff developer in New York City representing
the National Council of Teachers of English, spoke for
many when she endorsed a reading approach that combines
"phonology and meaning-making [as] both are essential
to childrens learning to read."
While not dismissing whole language,
other presenters cheered phonics as the "come-back
kid" in the great debate. Most echoed Portland
parent and educator Sharim Wimbley Gouveia, who insisted
that children must be taught how to decode the language
using phonics since "our system of spelling and
reading was created as a sound-symbol relationship."
Several presenters discussed the needs
of children who do not require phonics instruction to
break the code. Some argued that if reading instruction
was truly individualized, the needs of these children
could easily be met. On the other hand, Dorothy Whitehead,
a veteran reading teacher with 38 years of experience,
spoke up in favor of a whole language program that does
not "completely ignore the 20 percent of the children
who need the phonics to decode the words."
One speaker railed against an approach
to reading instruction that includes both phonemic awareness
and whole language strategies. Jimmy Kilpatrick, director
of READ BY GRADE 3.com, insisted that a program including
phonics and whole language only confuses children. Said
Kilpatrick, "In actuality, I believe public schools
in this country have been teaching the balanced approach
for reading for years. This is why our students cannot
read. Most teachers have been providing a smattering
of phonics with whole language lessons. The children
have been totally confused because whole language means
teach the children to read form the whole to the part;
phonics means to teach children to read from the part
to the whole. ... How can children keep from being confused
when the two approaches are mixed or balanced?"
Kilpatrick unequivocally concluded that whole language
is "educational malpractice for the bottom 20 percent
of our student population."
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Striking a Balance in Reading Instruction
Flexibility is key to a successful
reading program, stated David Denton, Director of the
Health and Human Services Program of the Southern Regional
Education Board, because "children arent
all the same." He called for a "flexible,
multi-faceted approach to reading, or a balanced
approach, for want of a better term," a theme
echoed by a broad range of speakers. Denton stressed
that balance means different things for different children.
Officials from Chicago, Portland, Houston,
New York, and Jackson presented their schools
plans to improve reading achievement. All promoted balance
in their reading programs. Student standards were set
and assessments developed to measure progress.
"A Balanced Approach to Reading"
is the title given to Houston Public Schools reading
program. Phyllis Hunter, reading manager for Houston
Independent School District, explained the six key features
of the reading program: phonological awareness; print
awareness; alphabetic awareness; orthographic awareness;
comprehension strategy; and reading practice. These
principles are imbedded in a literature- and language-rich
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Early Identification of Weaknesses
One issue that united presenters is
the need for an early screening test to detect a weakness
in phonological awareness. Yolanda Proust, a linguist
who addressed the Houston meeting, called upon researchers
to develop tests for teachers to use to assess "on-the-spot"
a "poor reader" who has not grasped phoneme
To respond to this need, Hofstra University
Psychology Professor Charles Levanthal has been engaged
for the past eight years in developing a "quick
and effective screening instrument for the detection
of reading difficulties based upon the acknowledged
role of phonological coding skills in the process of
reading." His instrument, "The Quick Rhyming
Test" (QRT) is based on phonological and orthographic
similarity and dissimilarity. It is a 15-minute test
for both children and adults that Levenathal claimed
correlates with subscores on the Stanford Achievement
Test and the Woodcock Reading Subtests for adults.
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Reading: A Cross-Disciplinary Approach
that Requires Systemic Change
Steve Bingham, representing the Southeast
Regional Vision for Education (SERVE) a consortium
of educators in the southeast United States at
the Jackson meeting, describes what teachers need to
build a strong reading program. Such a program is based
on the following principles:
- stated goals
and expected student outcomes are discussed and shared;
- goals and
outcomes are consistent across a school, not just
- texts and
other materials fit the program goals;
instruction is available for students needing more
support than others;
- students read
frequently from "relevant-leveled books of their
- student progress
is assessed and documented in an ongoing fashion;
- teachers receive
more reading research information;
- teachers get
continual feedback on how to apply new instructional
- reading is
considered a cross-disciplinary skill;
- the program
is modeled, possibly through school-wide reading events
and through activities that involve the community.
of system-wide reform was Amy Alday-Murray, from
the Oregon Department of Education, who described the
comprehensive educational standards-setting process
underway in her state. Common curriculum goals guide
local educators in developing a curriculum, while content
standards "identify the essential knowledge and
skills expected of all students. These standards are
assessed statewide. The benchmarks, set for grades three,
five, eight, and 10, serve as indicators and can be
used by teachers as diagnostic tools.
Oregon has a multiple-choice assessment
and a requirement for local performance assessments,
also given at grades three, five, eight, and 10. Statewide
scoring guides have been developed, and training for
reading teachers is underway. Future goals include engaging
parents in home and school literacy and providing support
in reading instruction for secondary-level teachers.
Chicago Public Schools also produced
a comprehensive plan to increase student reading achievement.
As told by Cozette Buckney, chief education officer
for the citys school system, the plan covers pre-K
through 12th grade. The system made headlines by putting
109 schools on probation, with the administration providing
extensive help to upgrade programs, including reading.
The school system then placed reading coordinators in
the 76 next lowest performing schools to help redesign
the reading program. Academic standards were established
systemwide, and social promotion was eliminated. According
to Buckney, students cannot enter high school unless
they are reading at the 7.2 grade level, up from 6.8.
Strong support systems were put in place, including
after-school and summer programs to help students achieve
at least grade level in reading.
Mary Ann Graczyk, president of
the Mississippi American Federation of Teachers, Paraprofessionals
and School-Related Personnel, called upon the Panel
to champion a variety of conditions for reform of the
many systems that support teaching and learning in individual
schools and districts. "This means teachers and
students must be guaranteed a safe, orderly environment
of learning where there are expectations of high standards
of discipline and achievement of all students,"
she explained. She called for necessary planning time
for teachers and an "end to the excessive use of
teachers time for non-teaching duties." For
Graczyk, systemic change also means an end to using
poverty as an excuse for the lack of achievement. "Poverty
is not a synonym for stupidity, laziness, ineptitude,
or lack of learning or caring."
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Successful ReadingA Lifelong
A focus on reading should start early
in a childs life and extend beyond the walls of
the classroom. "Early education has got to start
earlier and earlier," said William Winters, former
governor of Mississippi. He explained that one of his
greatest challenges as governor was to pass a public
kindergarten bill in Mississippi. The state now makes
kindergarten possible for every child.
Deborah Shaver, a primary teacher from
Portland, encouraged the Panel to include in its study
the importance of capitalizing on eager attitudes toward
learning that youngsters typically bring to first grade.
Shaver advocated that more resources and time be devoted
to first-grade reading. Teachers must find a way to
capture the eagerness first graders bring to school
to learn to read, she said. "That is where our
biggest payback will be because we are getting children
who are engaged and who want to learn and who do not
have to carry the baggage of I cannot do this,
or I have tried, or I am not as good as everybody else,"
Other presenters called upon the Panel
to continue reading education beyond the early years
of school. Dawn Tyler, an eighth-grade reading teacher
in Mississippi who just completed her first year in
the classroom, addressed the need for reading instruction
beyond third grade. She urged Panel members to consider
the needs older students, as well as those from rural
Ellen Faeder, youth service coordinator
for Multnomah County Library, offered insight into how
libraries can participate in reading instruction. Libraries
in 18 counties in Oregon participate in the Reading
for Healthy Start Project, which receives federal and
state funding. An emergent literacy program for expectant
and new parents is part of the program run out of the
Multnomah County Library. Called "Born to Read,"
the program is affiliated with the American Library
Association. Other programs run under the auspices of
local libraries are "Ready to Read" and "Similar
Books to You," which send trained individuals into
third- to fifth-grade classrooms in low-income schools
to help with academics.
While underscoring the importance of
libraries in supporting reading instruction, Janice
Cate, an English-as-a-Second-Language teacher, decried
the lack of books in school and classroom libraries.
Not only do more books need to be made available to
students, she said, children and adults also need to
choose what they want to read.
David Wizig, a Houston middle school
teacher, reported on the importance of having students,
in his case middle school students, choose their own
books. He found self-selection to be a great motivational
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Reading: Theres No Magic Bullet
There are many ways up a mountain,
said one presenter in describing the various approaches
he believes must be corralled to produce effective reading
instruction. Other presenters agreed that a one-size-fits-all
reading model fails to address the needs of all children.
Several presenters added that reading instruction should
be part of a cross-disciplinary practice that includes
at least writing and spelling.
Learning to read should be a universal
goal, presenters maintained, with multitudinous paths
leading to goal achievement. Speakers were unequivocal
that the one-size-fits-all reading model has failed
students nationwide. Instead, teachers must first be
able to recognize different learning styles and then
be able to match appropriate strategies to the individual
needs of the child.
In broader strokes, several speakers
distinguished the earliest readers into two groups:
those who have phonemic awareness skills and those who
require direct instruction to acquire these skills that
support reading. Along these lines, Kathryn Ransom,
President of the International Reading Association,
emphasized the different learning styles of early readers.
She noted that phonemic awareness is an "essential
element of learning to read," but "universal
intensive direct instruction of the alphabetic principle
is not as clearly necessary for all children."
More information must get into the
hands of educators for them to provide high-quality
teaching practice that best fits the needs of any individual
or group. Mississippi Teacher of the Year Tina Scholtes
hailed the Success for All model because it addresses
all learning styles. A belief that all children can
learn to read undergirds the program. It also is designed
to start reading instruction wherever the child lies
on the ready-to-read spectrum, rather than "throw[ing
children] into something that they are not prepared
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One Size Does Not Fit All
Kittye Copeland, a 31-year veteran
teacher, urged the Panel to reject ideas about whole
group instruction, claiming that it forces "teachers
to fragment language and it also sets up situations
that children have to sit through things that they already
know and they do not need to hear or they are not ready
to hear it." Children, then, are unable to pay
attention and grab hold of what is being presented to
them. Copeland stated that the "personalization
of reading is ignored and often individual learners
Speaking to the issue of whether it
is feasible to individualize instruction in the average
American classroom, Sholtes maintained, "You can
do it. It is not impossible." She added that her
school has built into its daily schedule 90 minutes
of uninterrupted reading instruction every day. All
teachers become reading teachers, with children divided
into groups based on "where they felt comfortable."
Yet most teachers are trained in only
one method of reading instruction, noted Miriam Balmuth,
professor at the Hunter College School of Education,
at the New York Panel meeting. She observed several
pitfalls with this approach. First, many first-year
teachers trained in one method often end up in a school
system that expects them to teach reading requiring
the application of the principles of another method.
Culpability for this one-method dilemma rests on the
faculty of schools of education and reading researchers,
who often travel down the "well-trodden path of
research that focuses on examining whole programs
Faculty and researchers mistakenly
have been searching for a "teacher-proof method,"
she claimed. Said Balmuth, "What may be needed
instead of one grounded teacher-proof method is a universe
of well-grounded, method-proof teachers."
The divide between instructional paths
should not be carved between special-needs and regular
populations, but on the specific needs of the individual
child. One parent attributed the reading success of
her profoundly hard-of-hearing child to the individualized
instruction she receives at her school. "This should
be a goal for all of mainstreamed children," declared
parent Lisa Leslie. She conceded, however, that the
teacher-student ratio in most classrooms prohibits reading
instruction designed to meet the particular needs of
an individual child; and she called for "reducing
Both Portland primary teacher Deborah
Shaver and Peter Thacker, a teacher at Portlands
Cleveland High School, supported Leslies call
for individualized instruction. "It is very important
to follow the lead of the kids," said Thacker.
"No one strategy works for all children,"
echoed Shaver. Thacker also offered a critical view
of reading research, which he said, "looks at the
mean." Instead, teachers should "look at the
individual," he declared.
Concurring that the one-size-fits-all
approach to reading excludes hordes of students, Shirley
Tipton, from the Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities,
urged the Panel to pursue multiple approaches to reading
instruction that considers a wide variety of learning
styles. She also advocated persistence. "Do not
change from one type of reading instruction to another
so often that the child or the adult, in sheer desperation,
simply gives up or drops out and becomes another literacy
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Professional Development: The Cornerstone
of Reading Achievement
Presenters at all sites implored Panel
members to address the need for effective, research-based
pre-service and in-service professional development
opportunities for teachers charged with teaching children
how to read and comprehend. However, it was the prospective
teachers undergraduate coursework in reading,
or lack thereof, that received the most attention.
Far too often, teachers unprepared
to handle the complexity of reading instruction are
sent to the frontlines of education, and, as noted by
one speaker, through default refer only to the teachers
manual in a basal reading program. These teachers, at
best, do little to advance the reading skills of students
who easily break the code; at worst, they wreak havoc
on the reading abilities of children who require direct
instruction in phonological awareness.
Kay Allen, associate director of the
Neihaus Education Center in Houston, was one speaker
who called for the renewal of pre-service reading education.
The Center is a not-for-profit education foundation
that offers teachers ongoing professional development
in reading instruction, emphasizing the needs of students
at-risk for reading failure.
Many of the teachers who troop through
the Centers doors leave complaining, "why
wasnt I taught this information in my education
classes at the university?" reported Allen,
in summarizing the Centers propositions to:
- give pre-service
teachers the information they will need in order to
help all of their students achieve their potential
in reading and writing, particularly the 15 to 20
percent who are at risk for reading failure without
training requirements for those teaching reading to
first, second, and third graders;
- provide in-service
training for teachers already in the classroom whose
pre-service training did not provide them with what
they need and whose awareness of research does not
include more recent findings such as the role that
phonological awareness plays in the reading process."
Allen concluded, "To fail to provide
teachers with the necessary knowledge base is to fail
them in their professional preparation and ultimately
to fail those students who look to them to unlock the
door to literacy."
Norfolk State Universitys Reading
Partners Clinic is a university-based program that tries
to accomplish this training requirement. Carmelita Williams,
professor in the School of Education at Norfolk State
University, highlighted the Clinics success with
education majors and their young students. The program
provides "practical and hands-on experiences [that
are] useful in promoting successful readers," she
Teacher training in reading should
stress linguistics and language acquisition, according
to Glenellen Pace, professor at Lewis and Clark University.
She told the Panel this background would allow teachers
to see that "the notion of phonics and whole language
are not parallel constructs." Like many other presenters,
Pace held that whole language is a philosophy, while
phonics is a "little, tiny piece of teaching reading."
While acknowledging an urgent need
for a "broadly grounded, scientifically credible,
and educationally appropriate knowledge base" of
reading instruction to serve as the "foundation
for professional development," several speakers
also highlighted formidable obstacles hindering progress
in this area.
International Reading Association President
Kathryn Ransom cautioned in Chicago that teachers are
leery of change. "Teachers have grown tired and
weary of todays magic bullet," she lamented.
She and others also noted the lack of time afforded
teachers during the school day to reflect on cutting-edge
reading research and innovative ways to bring theory
into practice. "I am sure each of you have been
in a classroom and realized how little time there is
for the professional educator to sit and think, to communicate
with colleagues, to visit, to read research. They constantly
have children in front of them," she told Panel
members. "For any research-based recommendation
to be effective it must be adapted to meet the needs
of each school and community."
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Are Needed to Improve Teacher Professional Development
Several speakers said it is a paucity
of resources dedicated to reading instruction that plagues
many schools. This lack of funds often leads to bad
decisions at the local level. For example, IRAs
Ransom reported that in some districts, untrained paraprofessionals
provide reading instruction in an attempt to save money.
Or a student with special needs has less time with a
"highly qualifiedand, yesexpensive
professional reading teacher," she added.
Paula Costello, an English language
arts coordinator for a large suburban school district
outside of Buffalo, New York, echoed Ransoms dismay
over lack of funds for training. Often, districts purchase
"canned program[s]" that they drop in the
laps of teachers, who then spend one day sifting through
the manuals; and "they consider that professional
development," said Costello. She warned that if
the Panel develops recommendations that "leave
leeway for districts" to grab hold of the basal
programs, they will do that because its easier
than constructing more meaningful professional development
Reinforcing the necessity of professional
development for teachers, speakers from Oregon and Texas
equated their citys and states reading success
to their ability to target funds specifically to teacher-training
According to Michael Ann Ortloff, targeting
funds for professional development that focuses on beginning
reading strategies is a key element of early literacy
programs in Portland Public Schools. Ortloff has worked
as a pre-school through eighth-grade teacher, a middle
school assistant principal, and elementary principal.
She also was co-director of the Oregon Writing Project,
and currently is the English Language Arts administrator
for Portland Public Schools.
Portlands plan, which emphasizes
professional development that allows teachers to "learn,
revise, and implement effective literacy practices,"
also calls for extensive ongoing professional development
in reading for all teachers.
Robin Gilchrist, assistant commissioner
at the Texas Education Agency, highlighted her states
financial commitment to reading and the required professional
development. All of the states Goals 2000 funds
were directed to staff development in reading, "particularly
on continued, sustained professional development,"
Methods to help teachers predict a
childs reading difficulty and strategies to help
young children at-risk of reading problems also were
considered a critical piece of the reading puzzle by
many speakers. Knowledge of appropriate early intervention
strategies is considered essential to help place children
on the road to reading, according to numerous speakers.
Patty Braunger, a 25-year teaching
veteran, credited her training as a Reading Recovery
teacher for allowing her to be a successful teacher
of reading, even with children who are severely learning
disabled. She joined the choir of reading teachers and
researchers who strongly advocate early intervention.
Said Baraunger, "There are those children that
are labeled learning disabled because of a system that
has not put the money into early intervention,"
including teacher training.
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Parents and Reading: A Childs
The Panels inclusion of parents
met with much applause at each of the meeting sites.
For many speakers, the home-school connection is a vital,
yet often underutilized, tool for teaching reading.
The role of parents as a childs first teacher
has gained status as breakthroughs in brain research
have lent credence to what many teachers, psychologists,
and social workers intuited through clinical experiences:
learning takes place at a very early stage in life,
and the interaction between child and parents and caregivers
can make a significant impact on the childs future
Despite the potential of parental instruction
on a childs future reading ability, Portland teacher
Deborah Shaver alerted Panel members to an "us
versus them" atmosphere that she has observed,
pitting school staff against parents.
One Portland parent-volunteer, Mary
Kelly Kline, offered that some educators are hesitant
to reach out to parents because it "involves changing
parent behavior" in some cases. The dirty little
secret that no one wants to disclose, according to Kline,
is that "unless a lot of parents behaviors
change ... regarding their children and reading in the
home, it is unlikely that all the literacy strategies
that we have heard today are going to be ultimately
Mary Hardy, representing the Mississippi
PTA, echoed Klines concern, calling on the Panel
to help get the message to parents that it is important
for them to read with and to their children. Reading
must be "advertised like McDonalds,"
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The Value of Volunteers
Other speakers described successful
parent volunteer or parent education programs that help
parents encourage reading among their children and also
promote intergenerational literacy skills. For example,
Margaret Doughty, executive director of the Houston
Read Commission, described the Houston Reads to Lead
program a program that depends on total community
engagement to improve literacy skills. Catering to parents
and children, the program operates in schools, parks,
churches, community learning centers, and libraries.
Doughty: "Family literacy as an intervention strategy
has been proven to work. It ties family needs for self-sufficiency
together and puts learning at the heart of change within
Portland reading teacher Kathy Baird
pointed to the strong parent-training component for
the Reading Recovery program as a model for parent involvement.
Miriam Westheimer represented the Home Instruction Program
for Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) at the New York meeting.
HIPPY works, according to Westheimer, because it does
more than simply tell parents they should read to their
children. It helps them get started by providing guidance
on how to read to a child. HIPPY also is based on home
visits conducted by paraprofessionals.
Joanne Wilson-Keenan, a language arts
teacher from Springfield, Massachusetts, informed the
Panel of the Springfield Learning Community Collaborative,
which she directs. The program was designed to "tap
families funds of knowledge and to change the
relationships between urban families and schools."
The Collaborative involves teachers, students, their
families, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Jill Brennan, chairman and president
of Reading is Fundamental in Chicago, and Nedra Whittig,
executive director of Reading is Fundamental in Chicago,
discussed RIFs strong parent component. Brennan
clearly stated that the programs mission is not
to teach children how to read, but to motivate them
to want to read. Making parents partners is a critical
element of RIF, and its subsidiary program, Project
Open Book at Childrens Memorial Hospital.
Whittig, director of Project Open Book,
also acknowledged that parents are key to her program.
Similar to the emphasis on parents in the HIPPY program,
parents are given pointers on how to help their child
read and include parent meetings which give plenty of
opportunity for parents to learn from each other.
In Mississippi, Nadine Coleman describes
the Parents As Teachers program, which operates under
the Petal School District parenting center. Coleman,
director of the center, explained that the parent program
involves home-visits, in which staff make monthly visits
to the parents of children ages zero to three.
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Special Needs: No Child Benefits from
a "Wait and Fail Model"
Prevailing commentary among speakers
focused on the similarities of special-needs and regular-tracked
students, rather than on their differences. For example,
early intervention for reading was hailed by numerous
presenters as imperative for both special-needs and
Individualized reading programs also
were hailed as essential for both special-needs and
general-education students. However, many presenters
acknowledged that learning-disabled students who are
not appropriately taught how to read are especially
vulnerable to failure.
Sandra Britt, from the Learning Disability
Association of America, succinctly described the path
far too many learning-disabled (LD) children travel.
"Unless these children are identified early, and
appropriate instruction provided, they may be passed
along in school until basic reading instruction is no
longer available," she said.
She added that many LD children require
a multi-sensory phonics-based approach with instruction
in phonemic awareness. Others need a "more meaning-based
approach, while other students need interventions to
address comprehension problems."
Some presenters argued that it is not
the child who is at risk of a reading disability, but
a school that is at risk for failing to teach children
how to read. Cheryl Ames, from the Beaverton School
District in Oregon, stressed that "policy and practice
should emphasize effective early intervention prior
to labeling [children] disabled." She cited an
International Reading Association publication that supports
her view that stated that identifying a child learning
disabled simply based on reading problems is inappropriate
unless that child has received proper early intervention
in reading instruction. She added that instruction for
these children should be in small groups, if not one-on-one,
and consist of at least 30 minutes each day for at least
one full year by a reading specialist.
Houston parent Synda Frost echoed Ames
by stating that some children are "disabled by
instruction." She said she is "no longer moved
by the common excuse given by schools that begins with,
If only the parents would do their part."
According to Frost, an effective school-based reading
program would preclude any need for parental involvement
in order to achieve reading success.
Informed instruction is key for reading
achievement for all students, including learning disabled
children, notes G. Emmerson Dickman, board member of
the International Dyslexia Association. He also advocated
early intervention, quoting Tom Hehir, Director of the
Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department
of Education, who said, "Special education for
pupils with learning disabilities in the United States
is a wait and fail model."
In Louisiana, a 1991 law mandates identification
and treatment of dyslexic students. However, staff development
models were, and still are, desperately needed, said
Mary Scherff, from the Louisiana State Board of Education.
She urged the Panel to identify and distribute to schools
information on reading programs appropriate for "normal
readers, inadequate readers, dyslexic students, and
For children whose primary language
is not English, Lupita Hinojosa, President of the Texas
Association for Bilingual Education, urged reading programs
to begin in the childs first language. "Reading
is reading is reading," she told the Panel. "In
whatever language the children bring to the school,
reading is reading and they will be able to read."
She also urged the Panel to examine teacher-preparation
programs and instructional materials that serve bilingual
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The Paramount Task: Dissemination
of Findings and Successful Practices
"How to deliver the goods in the
professional development market" is a daunting
task, but one that must top the Panels agenda,
according to Sheldon Horowitz of the National Center
for Learning Disabilities. Most presenters concurred
with the general sentiment that the Panels greatest
contribution would be to deliver a report that moves
"beyond research" and tells educators and
parents what steps to take to improve student reading
achievement. However, they acknowledged that it is a
formidable task to get the report into the hands of
all the right people.
Broad distributionnot only to
teachers, administrators and other policymakers, but
also to parentswas the clarion call of most speakers.
"Until the parents are informed of what is happening
in reading, I dont think we are going anywhere,"
cautioned Mississippi State Representative Rita Martinson.
Presenters in all regions of
the country called upon the Panel to be aggressive and
creative in the tactics used to disseminate the results
of its study. Not only were Panel members counseled
to address diverse audiencesparents, educators,
members of the community, and business and civic leadersthey
were encouraged to use a variety of media and tools
to get out news and information of the findings.
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Can Serve as Models for Dissemination Strategies
The Panel heard from a number of successful
programs offered a series of initiatives and ideas that
could be used as models for dissemination. These programs
- Reading is
- Reading Recovery
- March of Dimes
- Start Making
a Reader Today (SMART)
- Time Warners
"Time to Read"
- Project Read
- Success for
- Reading Partners
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Conclusion: What the Panel Learned
From Local Meetings
The regional meetings provide opportunities
for members of the National Reading Panel to move beyond
the opinions and research findings offered by academic
experts and quantitative studies. They allowed Panelists
to hear the concerns of the Panels target audiencesthose
who will be using and disseminating the Panel's findings.
The meetings helped establish the Panel's work as a
national effort to find the best ways to teach reading.
And they widened the field of inquiry by treating parents,
educators, and concerned members as valuable colleagues
with information and experiences to contribute.
By leaving the confines of the nations
capital, the Panel heard the views of parents and teachers
across the country who wanted the opportunity to "tell
Congress how to teach reading." While most of these
presenters were practitioners rather than researchers,
their comments revealed a national concern with reading
and great frustration with the way in which reading
is taught in many American schools. They asked the Panel
to look at parent-volunteer programs and other initiatives
that involve parents as teachers. Speakers also highlighted
the importance of respecting the knowledge and work
of teachers and listening to their views. These comments
revealed that parents and educators want to help but
need programs to help show them what to do. They also
need to feel that their experience about the best methods
and programs are incorporated into the final report.
Another key goal of the regional meetings
was to evaluate schools' readiness to adopt the practices
recommended by the Panel. Comments by speakers point
to potential problems in this area. Several speakers
indicated that there is no one right way to teach reading
and supported individualized instruction, flexibility,
and programs that address many learning styles. This
opinion could prove problematic if educators' efforts
to maintain a variety of methods that can be matched
to students' learning styles cause them to continue
using strategies without research verification. However,
the comment that there is no teacher-proof method illustrates
the need to incorporate teacher training and development
into any dissemination plan.
The few speakers who addressed the
issue of research found gaps between research to practice
and a lack of a consistent model of learning, consistent
definition of reading, and sufficient information on
comprehension. Several speakers urged the panel to cast
a broad net and take a "fresh look" at programs
that work and skills not generally part of reading.
Others called on the panel to step beyond research on
reading to look toward big policy ideas that can help
schools teach reading. This means the Panel needs to
consider how its recommendations can fit into the existing
structure of schools, or, alternatively, suggest other
ways of organizing reading instruction based on its
research into effective methods.
Similarly, comments indicated that
the public still perceives a dispute between phonics
and whole language that could inhibit their receptivity
to the Panel's findings. Many speakers were strongly
in support of phonics and a phonological approach. One
speaker even directly said that the NRC report did not
settle the "reading wars." These comments
show that the phonics/whole language issue remains controversial
and cannot be ignored. The Panel should be careful to
make sure its report addresses the concerns of both
sides of the "reading wars," while rising
above the false dichotomy to help the American public
realize the full spectrum of skills and approaches required
to teach young people to be strong, effective lifelong
Part of the National Reading Panel's
charge is to disseminate its findings to facilitate
effective reading instruction. Here the Panel can learn
from the programs that have won the support of various
presenters, ranging from nationally known programs such
as Reading Is Fundamental and Reading Recovery to state
programs, to local programs in schools. These are all
examples of how specific ideas about how the best ways
of teaching of reading have been disseminated through
grassroots organizations and community-based programs.
The Panel can build upon these models to develop a dissemination
strategy that will incorporate its work into the very
fiber of daily life for parents, teachers, and studentswhile
appropriately engaging policymakers, civic leaders,
and elected officials as champions and supporters of
improved reading instruction.
These Panel meetings created a body
of qualitative research on the views and experiences
of local experts, educators, parents, and others concerned
about readingproviding an invaluable context for
the research review and a guide for the development
of dissemination strategies. While not a substitute
for academic research, these local meetings gave the
Panel an opportunity to hear the voices of those who
will need to implement any recommendations developed
by the Panel. As these meetings have shown, parents,
educators, and members of the general public already
have fixed ideas about reading, the needs of children
and schools, and the best way to help children learn
to read. They naturally will interpret the Panel's programs
and suggestions in light of their own opinions and beliefs.
Therefore, the Panel must demonstrate how its recommendations
answer the questions and concerns of the American public.
Similarly, dissemination strategies need to take into
account the public's thoughts about current programs
in order to convince them that the Panel's ideas are
The Panel's academic research showed
what experts, experimenters, and scholars have learned
about reading. But since most students are taught by
parents and teachers, not experimenters and scholars,
it was important for the Panel to reach out to Americans
in diverse localities. In this way the Panel has begun
fulfilling its mission of serving as the intermediary
between researchers and the general publicbetween
research-based knowledge and improvements in the practices
that support effective teaching and learning in reading.
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