WHY SCHOOLS FAIL
By Samuel L. Blumenfeld
The consequences are that parents will be allowed to transfer their children from failing public schools to other public schools or to charter schools, and even allowed to apply for tutoring services at government expense. Meanwhile, those children will have wasted three years in a school that failed to shape up. Why give a school "time to try other methodol- ogies" if the present methodologies aren't working? It isn't as if the failing school started in business yesterday and has to experiment to find out what works. Present test scores already identify those schools that produce failure, and no child should be forced to attend such a school while it works on revamping its programs. Children would not be in a school in the process of physical renovation. The school would be closed until the renovations were completed.
The same should be true of academic "renovations," Children who fail to learn to read in a failing school should not be expected to wait for the school to change its teaching methods before remediation is offered. A six-year-old is in the first grade for only one year and then must move on. By the time he or she is in the third grade and can't read, that poor child will be in a miserable position. Meanwhile, the No Child Left Behind Act can't guarantee that the school will ever learn how to teach a child how to read.
Without doubt, the most important feature of the new reform act is the six-year, $5 billion Reading First initiative, which has sent the Whole-Language, or Whole-Word, network into a tizzy. Clearly crafted by strong advocates of a phonics approach to beginning reading, Reading First requires schools to adopt "scientifically based reading instruction" in order in order to get some of the federal money. With the ink hardly dry on the bill, it has already provoked the expected opposition from Whole-Language educators. Gerald Coles, a Whole-Language author, was quoted in Education Week (February 20, 2002) as saying: "If you want to have a form of literacy education that is stepwise, hierarchical, small-to-large parts, with minimal democratic participation, that has very strict outcome goals, then you can use research to facilitate those goals." Of course, he doesn't explain what's undemocratic about phonics, which teaches children to become independent readers. You can't get more democratic than that.
In a letter to Education Week (February 13, 2002), Ken Goodman, noted Whole-Language guru, wrote: "Nothing less than an inquisition is being waged by federal law against teachers and school administrators to limit their practice to mandated application of officially sanctioned research findings and rooting out heretical 'whole language' practice, a term being used now as a catchall for any unsanctioned activities."
In other words, do not expect Whole-Language educators to accept the "inquisition" and play dead. They too want some of the federal money that Reading First will be handing out for phonics based reading programs. Whole-Language programs can easily be disguised to look like "scientifically based reading instruction." All it takes is a little imagination and the ability to dissinulate with a straight face.
Why will schools continue to fail? Because nothing in the No Child Left Behind Act will affect the dumbing-down agenda of the educators who have controlled the system for decades. Even if phonics is taught in the first grade, its advantages will be lost by the fourth grade. We know this from the fact that some children who have been taught to read by phonics at home before attending school, experience a decline in academics after attending public school. Thus, don't get your hopes up too high and expect miracles in a system that keeps the Maker of miracles out.
A Practical Guide to Homeschooling
Samuel L. Blumenfeld is the author of eight books on education, including NEA--TROJAN HORSE IN AMERICAN EDUCATION, HOW TO TUTOR, ALPHA-PHONICS--A PRIMER FOR BEGINNING READERS, and HOMESCHOOLING--A PARENTS GUIDE TO TEACHING CHILDREN.
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