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Why Can'T Our Kids Read

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Why can't our kids read? I

Why Can't Our Kids Read?

Christopher C. Carper

Axia College of University of Phoenix

COM 120 Effective Persuasive Writing

Professor Jenifer Leary

14 Ð'- April Ð'- 2007

Why can't our kids read? II

The nation is on the brink of an epidemic. National graduation rates are declining at alarming speeds and a larger number of children are graduating without acquiring basic reading skills. Numerous studies have attempted to determine why American youth is failing to obtain the knowledge required to graduate high school. While not all the test are conclusive as to why it is happening, all of them concur that the root cause of the alarming rise of American illiteracy is a failure to educate our children.

As numerous papers were reviewed, in an attempt to make a logical argument as to why this is happening, one key issue began to rear its ugly head. There is a debate dividing our educational system that the press has affectionately dubbed "The Reading Wars." The whole language method of literacy training versus the phonetic method of literacy training is unresolved in our educational system. Phonics is the only scientifically proven method of literacy training and should be fully integrated into our school systems.

The existence of phonetic literacy training began with Martin Luther and the split of the Catholic Church in the 16th century. He began by teaching his followers to say their Latin prayers in English and transcribed the Bible from Latin to

Why can't our kids read? III

English. He quickly realized that without a systematic way of literacy training; his work was futile and began developing a uniform way in which to teach reading that has evolved into what we recognize today as phonics.

It was not until the mid-nineteenth century that several new forms of literacy training emerged, however, it was not until 1880 that Francis W. Parker developed a method of literacy training that did away with phonics altogether. In 1938 John Dewey expanded on Parker's work and summed up the basis for the whole language movement in his article Experience and Education.

The whole language theory begins with the assumption that children learn to read the same way they learn to speak. That with little or no guidance a child will develop written language the same as they do spoken language. Much of the whole language curriculum relies on supplementing words that the student does not understand for words the student does.

A student may be shown a picture of a house with the letters, H-O-U-S-E, displayed below it. If the student responds home, abode, tent, shelter, shack, etc., the student is correct. Practitioners of the whole language movement believe that by supplementing a word that the student understands for one he or she is unfamiliar with, the child is essentially reading. This

Why can't our kids read? IV

differs from phonics in that phonics provides a set of rules to systematically decode words.

Lobbyists for the whole language movement have introduced sight-words into educational circles. Sight words are common words such as if, and, but, or, his, her, etc. that students are essentially taught to memorize. Whereas phonics instruction includes sounding out words alleviating any need for word memorization. In recent years believers in the whole language method have initiated the practice of Inventive Spelling.

Supporters of Inventive Spelling, "Ð'...believe that knowledge is created by individuals in a social context. Because knowledge is cultural, there are no right answersÐ'... the child is inventing spellings in accord with his or her understanding of language and print. These spelling are neither right nor wrong; they reflect the child's development as a speller," (Wikipedia, 2007.) This is radically different than phonetic instruction in that phonics encourages the practice of a uniform standard of spelling in which all words are spelled the same.

Given the length of history literacy training has, one would expect the topic of debate to reside in refining established tactics. However, the majority of the debate lies in how best to teach literacy. Only thirty percent of fourth

Why can't our kids read? V

graders can read at a basic skill level, the national graduation rates have plummeted and our high schools and students are scoring lower on international test than Cyprus and South Africa.

In July of 2001 President George W. Bush, along with congress, decided to get involved. The result of their efforts to reform education on a federal level came in the form of public law 107-1101. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act was passed into effect on January 8, 2002. The NCLB outlines federal incentives for using scientifically proven methods of literacy training. It allows for school choice amongst parents in degrading school systems. It also allows for teacher training and federal funding for programs exclusively teaching scientifically proven methods of literacy training. The problem is that whole language is not a scientifically proven method of literacy training.

In an effort to declare themselves the winners of the debate over phonetic versus whole language literacy training, both sides have lost sight of why there is a debate. The debate began over how best to teach the children. All philosophical and educational beliefs should have been laid to rest after the April 2000 report by the National Reading Panel (NRP.) The

Why can't our kids read? VI

NRP's report, "Teaching Children to Read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction," only help to strengthen the fight for a return to phonics in the classroom.The NRP report scrutinizes phonics and somehow determines that in the seventy years of its existence, there is not enough data to determine the effectiveness of whole language literacy training amongst learning disabled students and minorities. The report says:

". . . Systematic phonics instruction produces significant benefits for students in kindergarten and first grade and for children having difficulty learning to read. . . Systematic phonics instruction had a positive and significant effect on disabled readers' reading

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