Groff, P. (1987). Private sector alternatives for preventing reading failure, Washington, DC: National
Advisory Council on Educational Research and Improvement.
Editor’s note: Chapters IV-VI contain outdated names, addresses, and references, and therefore were omitted
A directory of national organizations providing a rationale for their need; An assessment of the professional training they provide for prospective or inservice teachers of reading
By Patrick Groff, Professor of Education
San Diego State University
The major purpose of the present study is to identify and describe private sector organizations that presently provide training for prospective teachers of reading. The organizations are private enterprises, either of a profit or nonprofit makeup, that receive no direct public tax monies for the conduct of their operations. Brief profiles of the workings of each of these organizations are given.
The study describes the monopoly over the training of reading teachers that currently is held by college and university departments of education. It depicts several of the unfortunate educational consequences of this monopoly. It explains, for example, how future teachers of reading have not received the kind of training that best prepares them to conduct this instruction. In this regard, the lack of competition to departments of education in the training of reading teachers has resulted in the perpetuation of many “myths of reading instruction” (Groff, 1987). This monopoly undoubtedly has contributed to the crisis in the development of literacy that the nation now experiences.
A reasonable and readily available alternative to departments of education in the training of reading teachers is the body of private sector organizations that offer this service. Profiles of 27 of these private sector organizations are presented. These descriptions of their programs of instruction give details regarding the cost, length, materials, content, and methods of their instruction to reading teachers.
This study also presents examples of the successes that private sector organizations that train reading teachers have had in this enterprise. This record of accomplishment includes statistical data from experimental studies. Several private sector organizations offer prima facie evidence of the success of their operations: they have served their clients satisfactorily for many years. These organizations also use methods of teaching word recognition that appear to be superior to those used in department of education courses in reading instruction.
The primary justification for the present study is the emergency in the development of literacy that our country currently faces. The study describes the extent of this critical failure of our educational system and the immense costs in terms of human development and productivity and national prestige it has exacted.
The efforts that have been made, so far, by government agencies, business and industry, and foundations to stimulate improvements in the quality of instruction in literacy are explained. It is demonstrated, however, that these actions, although commendable, have not dealt with one of the root causes of the inadequate cultivation of literacy skills by our schools: the monopoly in the training of reading teachers held by college and university departments of education. This study suggests that until this monopoly is broken, that is, until private sector organizations that train reading teachers are allowed to compete with departments of education for the delivery of this educational service, the improvement of literacy in our nation will continue to be handicapped.
This conclusion is based, fundamentally, on the fact that monopoly practices result in socially unacceptable behavior by those who enjoy such an exclusive privilege, whether they be in business or industry, education, or government. History dramatically illustrates that when competition is curbed, so as to favor a given group, and so that equality of opportunity is denied certain of those seeking employment or commercial or entrepreneurial opportunities, product quality suffers, costs rise, productivity slackens, and service deteriorates. The many laws and government agencies that have been established in America to prevent monopoly practice attest to the nation’s dedication to discourage anybody from obtaining rights that empower him or her to decide who can or cannot compete for jobs or for sales of products or services.
In conclusion, this study makes the argument that the regulations and laws that now entitle government agencies to reject out of hand the training given by private sector organizations to educate reading teachers are contrary to the nation’s basic principles of fair play and equal opportunity in the educational marketplace. These rules and legislation should be changed, the study maintains, so that private sector training can be acceptable by the agencies that license teachers. Such a reform in credentialing laws would create competition between private sector organizations and departments of education for the training of teachers, and in the long run improve the quality of service they both offer.
II. The Monopoly in the Training of Teachers
Although there always has been some private sector education of reading teachers, the training of these teachers for many years has been conducted almost exclusively by colleges and universities. The formal preparation of reading teachers in which teaching was explained as a body of pedagogical principles began in what were called “normal schools.” These were teacher training institutions, started in 1839 (Borrowman, 1965), that offered a two-year or less course of study.
Normal schools stressed the development of craftsmanship in the classroom management of school subjects, including reading, rather than in the study of academic subject matter. Students in normal schools were trained to teach a prescribed reading curriculum through the use of textbooks and methodologies selected by the educational experts of the time.
By the turn of the century, normal schools began to offer a four-year curriculum that included academic subject matter. These newly formed “state teachers’ colleges,” as they now were called, awarded bachelor’s degrees. For example, in 1890, the Albany, NY, Normal School made such changes. The transition from normal schools to state teachers’ colleges expanded rapidly from 1900 to 1926 (Harper, 1939). By the middle 1950’s almost all state teachers’ colleges had been redesignated as state colleges and later as state universities.
Paralleling the changeover from normal schools to state teachers’ colleges was the growing acceptance of the study of teaching as a legitimate academic department at established and leading colleges and universities. This increased acceptance of pedagogy as a genuine academic subject matter brought with it growing controls by college and university departments of education over the preparation of reading teachers. To affect this control, a cooperative network of education professors, state and federal department of education officials, textbook publishers, leaders of teachers’ organizations and unions, and local school district personnel came into being.
Teacher Training Is Standardized
As aptly described by Yarington (1978), this association has worked in a determined fashion to enforce what kind of instruction in reading methodology teachers would and would not be offered. For example, state departments of education ordinarily allow only the kind of instruction in the teaching of reading offered at approved college or university departments of education to be counted toward teacher certification requirements. The textbooks used in both college courses in reading instruction and by children in school classrooms are written by professors from these approved departments of education. These same professors also serve as the leaders of teachers’ organizations and write many of the articles on reading that appear in their journals. Textbook publishers are willing supporters of this exclusive arrangement since it brings greater profits to them than otherwise would be possible. For example, departments of education recommend the use of consumable workbooks. These are write-in-once-and-throw-away materials, which Johnson (1970) calculates constitute 80 percent of the cost of teaching reading the way that departments of education advocate. Members of teachers’ organizations and local school district officials make few, if any, negative criticisms of this interlocking arrangement, seemingly blind to the inherent conflict of interest such an entanglement engenders. This is despite the fact that the monopolistic practices in the preparation of reading teachers that this syndicate of educational forces has adopted makes the teaching of reading in schools more expensive than it should be.
School board members may be reluctant, however, to interfere in the operations of this cooperative enterprise for fear of its reprisal against them at election time for such interference. In this respect, Lieberman (1986) claims that school board members often lose their seats in elections in which they face teacher union opposition. In any event, it is reported that many school board members have, “said that they were disillusioned when they learned how little authority they had and how difficult it was to get anything done” (Institute for Educational Leadership, 1986, p.17). For example, any school board anywhere will readily attest that at present it cannot award merit pay to exceptionally able teachers of reading. School boards currently are thwarted by teacher unions from giving bonuses to teachers who are able to learn and to put into effect the most effective methods of teaching reading so that their pupils as a consequence learn to read exceptionally well (Finn, 1985).
A Monopoly Is Established
The result of the workings of this “great American reading machine,” as Yarington (1978) calls it, has been an attempt to establish a monopoly in the dispensation of instruction in reading pedagogy by departments of education in colleges and universities. As he sees it,
“The Great American Reading Machine is not a tight institution with clearly observable boundaries like the American Bar Association or the American Medical Association with their review boards, certifying procedures, and organizational structures. But The Great American Reading Machine ultimately affects every child in every school; it causes the illiteracy problem in the United States. It is a complex contraption that feeds upon itself: it is self-perpetuating, inbred, and self-supporting” (p.17).
College students ordinarily are not allowed at present to enroll in courses in reading pedagogy unless they agree beforehand to enter the teacher education programs at these institutions, it is clear. Courses in reading instruction offered by private sector commercial enterprises usually cannot be substituted for these college department of education courses. State departments of education commonly refuse to honor the private sector courses as fulfillment of the requirements for teaching credentials. Normally, local school districts will not accept this private sector coursework as evidence that their teachers have made the improvement in proficiency that is used by school districts to award teachers increases in pay or promotion in job status.
The interlocking nature of “The Great American Reading Machine” becomes more impressive when it is displayed graphically:
The Great American Reading Machine
(Reprinted with permission from The Great American Reading Machine
by David J. Yarington, Hayden Book Company, Rochelle Park, NJ, 1978.)
The successful operation of this system of interdependent educational bodies is ensured by the fact that reforms in the preparation of reading teachers by and large are controlled by institutions of higher education. It has been argued convincingly, however, that the decisions that colleges and universities make in this regard are seldom based essentially on what is best for the teaching of reading (Lieberman, 1986). Once an institution of higher learning has been geared up to educate reading teachers in a certain fashion, it is not likely to willingly or meekly accept the changes in curriculum, faculty, and administration that are needed to put into effect the reforms in the preparation of reading teachers that the experimental research suggests are necessary. As Perelman (1985, p.17) correctly observes, “education’s most serious shortcoming is the studied indifference to productivity in educational institutions.” The result of such a fault in educational production is, of course, inefficiency, an alarming rise in costs, and a lack of desired educational performance.
Consequences of the Monopoly
The domination over teacher education by college departments of education has led to a tendency among the members of these departments who teach reading methods courses to develop arrogant attitudes toward outside criticism of their practices. As Groff
(1987a) points out, these professors of reading often appear unwilling to accept or to respond favorably to negative analyses of their work made by critics who are not members of their reading establishment ingroup. As an example of this in-group attitude, it is said that over two thirds of the reading experts who continue to write textbooks on the teaching of reading reject the well-established fact that the intensive, systematic early and direct (code-emphasis) teaching of phonics brings on the greatest degree of beginning reading achievement possible (Chall, 1983). In his study of these textbooks printed in the 1980’s Groff (1987b) found that none of them favored the code-emphasis principles of synthetic-deductive (isolated phonemes) teaching of phonics, the de-emphasis of sight words, configuration cues and context cues, instruction of a large number of phonics rules, and that children can infer the correct pronunciation of a word if they gain its approximate pronunciation through the application of phonics rules.
Strangely enough, some of these reading authorities view phonics teaching as a political issue, claiming that the advocacy of such instruction is tainted by political and/or sociological motives of a reactionary nature. These same professors have risen to positions of power and influence in teachers’ organizations like the International
Reading Association, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Education Association. Their anti-phonics views are reflected in the publications and conventions of these organizations, where seldom, if ever, is phonics teaching given any praise.
The non-utilization of research findings on phonics teaching by these dominant professors of reading, and their unwillingness to allow empirical evidence to dictate how future teachers of reading should be educated, have resulted in a general lack of any practical effects of research findings on reading instruction in the schools. For example, it can be easily demonstrated that those in the strongest position to influence the course of reading instruction, the reading experts who write the basal readers almost all school children use, do not consistently adopt the findings of research for this purpose. It is clear that findings from research have not been the most compelling force behind changes that have occurred in basal reading programs (Durkin, 1986).
These reading professors also often claim that there is in fact no significant degree of illiteracy in the nation. This statement, along with the distorted nature of the advice they give to future reading teachers has confused the courts that have handled the claims made by parents for legal redress against school districts for malpractice in the teaching of reading. So far, with the exceptions of the Karen Morse case in Henniker, NH, in 1987 and of a small claims court case in Beaumont, CA, in 1974, parents have not been able to convince judges to cite school districts who have failed to teach their otherwise normal children to learn to read. The $27,000 Federal Court award to Morse, who was graduated from her high school although she was illiterate, has been accepted for payment by the Henniker, NH, school district. This award is to be used to pay for instruction to bring her reading abilities up to specified levels of competency. Before the Morse case, however, the courts in general asked, “How can school districts be held legally responsible for their practices in reading instruction when the reading professors who educate their teachers cannot agree as to how reading should be taught?” It is noticeable, in any event, that the monopoly in the preparation of reading teachers now enjoyed by departments of education has not been significantly challenged by the courts.
Myths of Reading Instruction Prevail
These monopolistic practices bring with them other disadvantageous side effects. As evidence from the field of economics would attest, production in monopolies tends to become sluggish and inefficient. Product quality inevitably suffers. Costs accelerate. The almost exclusive control of how the training of reading teachers shall be conducted by colleges and universities has proven to be no exception to this rule.
The present monopoly in the training of reading teachers by college and university departments of education thus has had a greater effect on such training than merely making it difficult to obtain. This seemingly impregnable authority over teacher education has led to the perpetuation of practices in reading instruction that have been discredited by experimental research findings. A consequence of the heretofore-invulnerable power over the education of reading teachers by departments of education has been a group of serious mistakes in the way teachers have been trained to carry out reading instruction.
These “myths of reading instruction,” as Groff (1987a) calls these mistakes, include the unsubstantiated notions that intensive phonics instruction hinders the development of children’s reading comprehension, and that English spelling is too unpredictable for the application of phonics rules to be successful in the decoding of written words. In this respect, prospective reading teachers have been incorrectly led to believe in the existence of “sight words,” a phenomenon research has effectively discredited, and that reading is best taught by the sentence method, i.e., that teaching the use of context cues is an important aspect of teaching word recognition skills. In addition, teachers have been instructed to believe that word length and a knowledge of letter names are unimportant. It is claimed that many children can recognize individual words quickly and accurately (can decode them automatically) but cannot understand what they have read. Research finds none of these notions to be true.
On the one hand, college students in reading courses have been warned that oral reading is a dangerous practice, and, on the other hand, that children must attain a certain score on an oral language test in order to be able to learn to read. Equally in error has been the advice to reading teachers that training in dictionary syllabication aids reading development, but that sub-vocalization (the movement of the vocal cords when reading silently) is undesirable and must be suppressed. Faced with the evidence that research findings based on standardized test scores do not corroborate their lengthy list of inappropriate recommendations, certain influential professors of reading instruction have argued that reading is not actually measured by these standardized tests. They would have teachers believe, in short, that the sound and meticulous manner in which these standardized tests have been developed (Mitchell, 1985) should be ignored.
An inspection of the way in which training in reading instruction is delivered by college and university departments of education thus makes it clear that the almost total monopoly that they now enjoy in this system has greater consequences than simply making it difficult for anyone other than specially designated college schools to gain information about reading pedagogy. The absence of significant competition to the monopolistic manner in which the “great American reading machine” works permits this syndicate to perpetuate several ineffective, if not dangerous, aspects of reading methodology. The shortcomings in what departments of education teach have become apparent to leading members of the academic community. No less a figure than Harvard University President Derek Bok has chastised departments of education for failing to come forth with ideas for better methods of instruction instead of perpetuating transitory fads and theories (Bok, 1987).
The Effect on Literacy
In this respect, the monopolization of reading instruction in America described in this discussion has become, and is now, a significant contributor to the crisis in literacy development that now engulfs the nation. The extent of this literacy crisis has been amply documented. Based on the findings of one of the studies it has commissioned regarding the extent of literacy in the nation (Norton, 1986), the U .S. Department of Education concluded that 23 million of today’s Americans are functionally illiterate. It also concluded that an additional 46 million people read at only minimum competency levels. This latter group does not have proficient literacy skills, the U.S. Department of Education estimated. “America has a serious literacy problem that must be corrected,” says the prestigious Carnegie Forum on Education (Carnegie Forum, 1986, p.15).
Accordingly, if we define literacy as proficiency in the written language skills involved in communication, computation, problem solving, and interpersonal relations in the areas of government and law, health and safety, occupational knowledge, consumer economics, and community resources, it is clear that a distressingly large percent of the ex-students of our schools have not been well taught how to read (Smith, et al., 1986). There are more adults with limited literacy in America than there are students in all our secondary schools (Perelman, 1985).
In this regard, the Laubach Literacy International, which sponsors the nation’s largest non-college network of literacy development programs, analyzed the four most comprehensive studies of the extent of literacy in the nation made between 1975 and 1986 (Norton, 1986). Taken together, these four studies concerning literacy indicate that the number of American adults with severely limited reading skills ranges between 17 and 28 million. The true number of these failures of our present reading instruction system seems likely to be closer to the latter figure if one depends on studies that used representative samples of the entire U.S. population. While there still remain controversies as to the precise meanings of “literacy” and “illiteracy” (Smith, et al., 1986; Kirsch & Jungeblut, 1986) and accordingly questions as to how to measure literacy, as well as over the exact number of Americans who fall into variations of these categories, there is little disagreement at present that the inability to read well plagues a vast number of our citizens.
It is doubtlessly true that limited literacy among our citizens costs the nation hundreds of billions of dollars in welfare payments, the consequences of criminal activities, poor job performance, lost tax revenues, and remedial education. California Department of Social Services officials report that 57 percent of welfare recipients in that state lack the reading skills necessary for them to find and keep a job (Los Angeles Times, 1987). (It is noteworthy that over 56 percent of these recipients have completed the twelfth grade or higher.) It is estimated that 75 percent of unemployed adults in California lack the reading skills necessary for employers to train them (Johnson, 1987). The chief executive officer of the Xerox Corporation notes that American businesses will have to hire more than a million new workers a year who cannot read or write adequately. “Teaching them how, and absorbing the lost productivity while they are learning, will cost industry $25 billion a year,” he estimates (Kearns, 1986). The business community takes the literacy crisis so seriously that it has organized large groups within its ranks to fight this blight on our nation’s economic growth and development. (See the descriptions of the Business Council for Effective Literacy and of Project Literacy U.S. in a following section of this publication.)
The United States Congress and the U.S. Department of Education also have given much attention to the literacy crisis that presently grips the country. Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have held many hearings on this compelling and serious problem. Recently passed by Congress is a law that will provide for the investigation of basal reading textbooks which most teachers rely heavily upon for instructions for teaching children to read. This legislation will provide funds for research to determine how effective these textbooks are in providing instruction for teaching phonics, and to determine the per school cost of this instruction (Amendment No. 2202, SB 2444, 1986). The U.S. Department of Education has recently published three volumes that comment on the seriousness of the reading problem in America and what can be done to help relieve it. The three volumes are: Becoming a Nation of Readers (Anderson, et al., 1985); What Works: Research about Teaching and Learning (Finn, et al., 1986); and First Lessons (Bennett, 1986). An additional sign of concern by the Federal government regarding literacy is the fact that it spent about $350 million in 1985 on adult literacy programs alone (Kahn, 1986). The federal government’s intervention into the literacy development crisis has been massive, as McMichael’s (1987) study of this effort reveals.
What of the Future?
Nonetheless, there are indications that the coming generation of adults may have similar or worse reading problems than those in the past have had. For example, the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress recently reported that 16 percent fewer young Americans read books in 1984 than did in 1978, The ability to read well is a key factor in the motivation to read shown by children. One of the key findings of the research on how motivational factors influence children’s reading habits is that motivation to read is a function of expectancy-that is, if children expect that they could read a particular book successfully they will be motivated to read it. The reverse is also true, however. If they expect they could not read it, they will avoid that reading material (Wigfield & Asher, 1984). Children who are highly motivated to read likely assume that their success with reading materials depends on their reading ability.
That young children are reading less suggests that they perceive themselves as not being able to read very well. We must contrast this distressing fact with the statistic that by the year 2000 three quarters of all jobs will involve the creation and processing of some kind of written knowledge (Perelman, 1985).
As reading test scores have plummeted there has been a conspicuous rush to find means to obscure this decline without admitting its true origin and importance. One of the ways to effect this illusion is to reduce the difficulty of reading tests so that more students can reach their grade-level norms. This maneuver, however, is much like changing the markings on the thermometer if the weather is too hot. Another way, as California has done, is to set up “targets” of reading accomplishment rather than absolute test scores as the goals that schools should meet. Here the reading achievement of the school population need not reach a certain reading test score for it to be judged that its school teaches reading adequately. Now all a given school need do to reach its “target” is achieve a score in the upper range of scores for schools of a similar category based on a composite index including the education levels of parents, the English fluency of students, the rate of student turnover, and the number of school families on welfare. With this arrangement in place, as long as schools in a category all teach reading poorly, no school in that group need fear criticism for its reading practices. The incentive for schools to improve the quality of their reading instruction is likely to be curtailed. In any event, with this magnanimous notion of reading achievement in mind it is possible for the California state superintendent of education to announce that there is satisfactory reading achievement in 65 percent of California’s schools (Smollar, 1987) regardless of what the actual reading abilities of their students are.
III. The Private Sector Alternative
It is clear from the discussion so far that the distinct monopoly now possessed by college and university departments of education is not the ideal manner in which to train teachers of reading. The task of educating these teachers obviously cannot be fulfilled satisfactorily or completely through an arrangement wherein instruction in reading methodology is dominated so greatly by a single provider of this service. The noncompetitive structure that now characterizes this instruction has proven to be inadequate and not satisfactory in that: (a) it has made instruction in the teaching of reading unnecessarily cumbersome to obtain; (b) it has not entirely fulfilled its promise to train future teachers of reading effectively; and (c) it has made the teaching of reading more costly than it need be.
There is a readily apparent need, therefore, for the utilization of alternative approaches to the training of reading teachers, approaches that would supplement or supplant the instruction now given by college and university departments of education, and that would reduce the cost of reading instruction in the schools. A self-evident and unmistakable source of competition for departments of education for the delivery of training in reading instruction is private sector, non-tax-supported commercial enterprise.
Advantages of Private Sector Training
Private sector organizations have several inherent advantages over university departments of education in this regard.
One, to stay in business, private organizations must constantly demonstrate that they can successfully deliver what they promise their customers. Many college and university departments of education, on the other hand, are assured of financial support and maintenance from public tax sources regardless of the quality of the product they render. (Some critics have noted that, ironically enough, as the quality of teacher education declines, departments of education seek and gain ever greater levels of funding!) Private sector organizations that offer training in the teaching of reading thus have an inner motivation for success that is not an intrinsic aspect of the teaching systems used by departments of education.
Two, private sector organizations must keep the fees they charge their clients at reasonable levels in order to attract customers. The imposition of exorbitant charges by one of these organizations would quickly drive it from the marketplace.Departments of education, on the other hand, face no such monetary criterion in the monopoly they maintain and control. They therefore need not be sensitive to factors of cost-effectiveness in their operations. Accordingly, students (or taxpayers, as the case may be) are compelled to pay departments of education what they demand, in short, whatever the market will bear.
Three, private sector organizations can offer training in the teaching of reading in a style that is more convenient, and that can be better tailored to meet the needs of individual clients. Departments of education, on the other hand, are restrained by a myriad of largely self-imposed rules and regulations that closely govern who can and cannot receive training in the teaching of reading, and what kind and how much of this education is required. Private sector enterprises are not restricted by any such directives. They can allow their clients to decide if they will likely benefit from the program of instruction that is offered.
As would be predicted, the attitudes of prospective and employed teachers who seek private sector aid toward learning how to teach reading are more positive than the attitudes of those in department of education classes. Members of the latter group, when queried as to their satisfaction with department of education coursework, have consistently voiced their disaffection for it. In this respect, before 1975, the surveys of graduates of department of education courses in reading instruction “have repeatedly shown that, whatever the reasons, teacher training institutions have in general failed to provide adequate pre-service training” (Carroll & Chall, 1975, p. 32). For example, in 1963 Austin and Morrison (1963) interviewed over 2,000 such graduates. These teachers “revealed that their college preparation in reading had been seriously deficient” (p. 361).
It is clear that the censure of ineffective department of education courses in reading instruction has not abated since 1975 (Bok, 1987). Johnson (1987, p. 19) notes that “the view is widely held among reading specialists, educational researchers and seasoned literacy educators that, as one puts it, ‘Too many elementary teachers simply don’t know how to teach reading’.” In department of education courses they “get only a fleeting introduction to the knowledge required for teaching reading” (Anderson, et al., 1985, p. 120) including “the phonology of English, which provides the foundation for the teaching of phonics” (p. 106).
It appears to be common knowledge that many teacher education programs in universities currently “produce graduates who complain that their education courses failed to prepare them for teaching” (Carnegie Forum, 1986, p. 71). In 1984 most teachers gave their teacher education courses a grade no higher than “C” (Gallup, 1984). “The bases for such criticism have increased substantially over the past several years,” say teacher education experts Awender and Harte (1986, p. 24). “Numerous researchers have gone so far as to suggest that faculties of education have, in fact, abdicated their responsibilities to the clients they serve” (p. 24). An example of this failure is Pigge’s (1978) discovery of a negative relationship (a coefficient of correlation of -.20) between what teachers need to learn and what they are taught in courses in departments of education. Little wonder that one university director of teacher education finds these courses “by any standard of excellence” to be “a dismal failure” (Watts, 1982, (No.2), p. 39).
On the grounds of such depressing information about the inefficiencies of department of education courses in reading instruction, some critics of this endeavor are convinced that “there is evidence that universities are structurally and philosophically incapable of providing the kind of training that practicing teachers and school administrators need” (Corbin, 1985, p. 25). Partly to blame for this condition,
Wisniewski (1983, p. 33) contends, is the fact that schools of education “still lack a sufficient number of professors and deans who care enough about the quality of their calling to demand major reforms in teacher education.” In this regard, an examination of teacher education in Florida found that in that state the curricula in departments of education “looked as it did 40 to 50 years ago” (Chance, 1986, p. 144).
The shortcomings in the personnel and delivery systems of departments of education led Saxe and de Lone (1975, p. 327) to the conclusion that “an effective national reading effort should bypass the existing education macrostructure. At a minimum, it should provide alternatives to that structure. That is, the planning, implementing, and discretionary powers of budgeting should not rest with those most likely to have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, especially given their unpromising ‘track record’.” This point of view is now reflected by officials at the federal level. The Deputy Executive Secretary for the federal Domestic Policy Council believes that “in order for [reading] reform to become a reality, regular classroom teachers must be trained in using effective methods of phonics instruction, and this training most likely will have to come from outside the educational establishment” (Sweet, 1987, p. 2). A sound, proven, and adequate alternative to the status quo in training for reading teachers is the private sector provision of this service.
Four, authorization of the use of private sector organizations for the training of reading teachers offers an opportunity to eliminate one of the systematic structural problems in teacher education that currently hinders the implementation of reforms in this system. This problem is the typical requirements people must meet in order to be permitted to teach. The difficulties that beset teacher education could be remedied, in part at least, if the teacher education delivery system would follow Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Finn’s (1987, p. 3) advice that “the ranks of the education profession must be opened to permit the entry of more and different people than have typically been welcomed in public schools.” State licensing should “rely on a person’s demonstrated knowledge, skill and character,” not on accumulated credits and papers credentials (p. 3). The fact that critics of this issue find that, “the present teacher certification system is a catastrophe,” (Watts, 1982 (No.4), p. 37) obviously strengthens Finn’s position on this matter.
If schools followed Assistant Secretary Finn’s wise counsel they would not concern themselves simply with whether prospective teachers had passed university department of education courses in reading instruction. Instead, they would determine these teacher candidates’ demonstrated knowledge and skills about this teaching and accept a positive finding in this regard irrespective of where, when, or how this competence was obtained. This proposal seems to match the one made by the Carnegie Forum on Education (1986) for the establishment of a National Board for Professional Teacher Standards that would test teachers’ competencies and certify teachers who met its standards to teach in any state. There is reason to believe that private sector training in reading instruction could be competitive with that from departments of education under these conditions.
Five, it is more likely that private sector organizations will make changes in their instruction based on relevant research findings than will departments of education. A decision of this nature that could be done overnight by a private sector organization could take years to be put into effect by a college or university department of education. The built-in inhibitors in departments of education to improvement in the preparation of reading teachers noted so far are not normally present in private sector enterprises that deliver this training.
Six, private sector organizations that conduct teacher training in reading instruction recommend materials for use in reading instruction in schools that are less costly than the materials that are recommended for this purpose by departments of education. For example, the superintendent of schools of the Seekonk, MA, school district hired a private sector organization to train his primary-grade teachers. He reports that the reading materials these private sector trainers recommended to teach reading cost about 88 percent less per pupil than the materials his teachers customarily used, ones recommended by departments of education (Micciche, 1987). “And all this for a program that worked, that satisfied the staff and community, that lifted reading scores to the mid-sixties on standardized tests, that gave remarkable reading power and enjoyment to the children,” he attests (pp. 8-9). The principal of the Gallego Elementary School, Tucson, AZ, notes that by using the teaching materials recommended by a private sector organization that trains teachers she was able to realize the same degree of financial savings and improvement in pupils’ reading scores (Musgrave, 1986). Of these pupils, 58 percent were minority group members, many from homes in which English was not the primary language spoken.
The materials that private sector organizations usually recommend for use in the teaching of reading ordinarily do not require the purchase of consumable, write-in-once-and-throw away workbooks. Johnson (1970, p. 125) calculates that those consumable workbooks represent “at least 80 percent of the annual cost of teaching reading” in the way departments of education recommend it be done. The extraordinarily expensive materials that departments of education recommend be used to teach reading thus are likely significant contributors to the remarkable rise in school costs that have taken place in the last forty years. Educational Research Associates (1985) reports that between 1950 and 1985 costs for operating schools increased more than eight times faster than did the rate of inflation during this time period.
Seven, while the idea of private sector training for reading teachers outside the walls of colleges may appear not to have an appeal to adult learners, there is evidence to show that, in fact, adults are easily drawn to this kind of education and readily become involved in it. Overall, three out of four participants in this type of learning at present carry on this education within private sector organizations (Perelman, 1985). U.S. corporations spend as much each year initially to train their employees as is spent by students for tuition and fees at institutions of higher learning. Later on-the-job training amounts to up to five times this amount. It is clear that corporations currently spend more money on education and involve more learners than do our colleges and universities. There is no reason to believe that school districts should not make the same commitment for the training of their reading teachers. Legal arrangements to allow school districts to imitate corporations in this respect, so that reading teachers needing improvement could receive free private sector training, are badly needed.
Need for the Present Compendium
As has been indicated, the major purpose of the present publication is to identify and provide descriptive profiles of the private sector organizations that now provide training in the teaching of reading. The need to publicize brief biographies of these non-tax-supported, commercial enterprises stems primarily from the crisis in literacy development that now engulfs the nation. One way to ameliorate this literacy crisis is to draw greater attention to the private sector organizations that presently provide successful training in the teaching of reading that prevents reading failure. As noted, the departments of education that now provide the bulk of this training obviously are badly in need of healthy competition from rival sources.
Along with stimulating a positive reform in the manner in which reading is taught, competition would also reduce the average cost of teaching reading in schools. As has been demonstrated, private sector delivery of this teacher training can result in significantly lower costs for reading materials without any loss of reading achievement by the pupils who use the materials.
Private sector organizations also are more likely to instruct teachers to use methods of teaching that research shows develop superior word recognition abilities, and hence, comprehension in children and older learners. It can be reasonably argued, therefore, that tax monies coming to school districts, to be spent by them, to subsidize the cost of private sector training for their reading teachers is a wiser use of these funds than is made of tax monies by departments of education. Contracting for special services with private sector companies is not a new or unusual practice by school boards. Many school boards today contract with private sector businesses for services for student transportation, food, testing, data processing, legal advice, and several other matters.
The list of 27 private sector organizations that train reading teachers is needed since no other inventory of its kind exists. Many public and private school teachers and the general public are unaware of the existence of these organizations and the nature of their offerings in teacher education. During the conduct of this study, which led to the identification of these organizations, it became clear that even state and federal department of education officials were ignorant of their existence. A common answer from such officials to my query as to whether they knew of any independent, non-tax-supported organization anywhere that provided training in how to teach reading was, “No, I do not.”
Some state officials wrongly maintain that the only means for preparation of reading teachers is coursework in a university or college department of education. The slowness with which information about private sector organizations that train teachers of reading comes to such officials’ awareness seems exemplified by the Virginia case. State department of education officials in Virginia indicated to me they know of no such organization in their state. Previous to this time, however, the Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction had congratulated the director of the Sing, Spell, Read and Write program for the successes of her program in Virginia school districts and jails (Davis, 1986). The need for private sector organizations to make themselves well known to all levels of state and federal department of education officialdom thus is readily apparent.
The dissemination of the following compendium of profiles of 27 private sector organizations that offer training to reading teachers can help improve the awareness of these officials in this respect. This compendium will also help apprise teachers, school administrators, schools boards, and the general public of the availability of and the opportunity to gain this training. Moreover, this compendium makes available information about the advantages and benefits that these organizations provide for substantially improving the acquisition of reading skills, as well as information about the cost- effectiveness of these services.
Competition Is Needed
Although the present discussion has been negatively critical of departments of education in our colleges and universities, it is not the goal of this discussion to try to abolish the functions of these departments. There are those who would “remove all education courses from all certification requirements, and close down departments and schools of education” (Damerell, 1985, p. 284). Some universities have discontinued their departments of education. Such a radical reform is both highly unlikely to occur on a broad scale, however, and is essentially unwarranted (Bok, 1987). There is room in America for the training of reading teachers by both departments of education in our colleges and universities and by private sector organizations. In fact, competition between these two groups will improve the quality of service they each offer, and reduce costs to the taxpayer.
As the use of private sector sources for this training of teachers grows, departments of education will be stimulated from the force of this competition to make needed changes consistent with the findings of research in how to train reading teachers, and will become more cost-effective. A swelling rivalry between private sector organizations and departments of reading instruction in training of reading teachers will help defuse the illiteracy bomb that now threatens the nation-while at the same time saving money for our schools.
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The following list of conclusions from academic surveys of what the experimental research says about the significance of phonics in the acquisition of reading is a representative sample of such reviews. A comprehensive collection of over 125 of these reviews is found in P. Groff (1987). Preventing Reading Failure: An Examination of the Myths of Reading Instruction. Portland, OR: National Book.
The reviews of the empirical research on the place of phonics in reading development give overwhelming support to the heavy emphasis on the intensive teaching of phonics that private sector organizations usually give in their instruction to reading teachers. This research fully substantiates their position on this matter. On the other hand, the research on phonics does not confirm the general practice by departments of education to advise teachers to teach phonics in an indirect, unsystematic, incidental, and delayed manner, and to replace the teaching of phonics with instruction on sight words and context cues.
Anderson, R.C., et al. (1985). Becoming a Nation of Readers: The Report of The Commission on Reading. Washington, DC: National Institute of Education, U.S. Department of Education. “Classroom research shows that, on the average, children who are taught phonics get off to a better start in learning to read than children who are not taught phonics. The advantage is most apparent on tests of word identification, though children in programs in which phonics gets a heavy stress also do better on tests of sentence and story comprehension, particularly in the early grades” (p. 37). “The picture that emerges from the research is that phonics facilitates word identification and that fast, accurate word identification is a necessary but not sufficient condition for comprehension” (p. 37).
Balmuth, M. (1982). The Roots of Phonics. New York: McGraw-Hill. “The simple fact is that, for those who are learning to read and spell, phonics is the inescapable essence of every word” (p. 2).
Baron, J. (1977). “Mechanisms for Pronouncing Printed Words: Use and Acquisition,” in D. LaBerge & S.J. Samuels (Eds)., Basic Processes in Reading: Perception and Comprehension. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. “Orthographic rules are important in fluent reading. Their availability is helpful in reading words out loud. Given this, it is likely that they are just as helpful in converting print into the kind of surface phonological representation that seems useful when short-term memory is required.” “We have shown so far only that he [the child] must learn [phonics rules] eventually if he is to have a full battery of reading skills” (p. 204). “Aside from such empirical evidence, there are practical arguments for the importance of [phonics] rules in early learning. The most convincing of these is the fact that the beginning reader who knows the rules can in essence teach himself to read” (p. 205).
Beck, I.L. (1981). “Reading Problems and Instructional Practices,” in T.G. Waller & G .E. Mackinnon (Eds.), Reading Research: Advances in Theory and Practice, Volume 2. New York: Academic. The independent conclusions of prominent research are remarkably similar as they point out that “(1) there is evidence that a code-emphasis approach teaches the word recognition aspect of reading more effectively, and (2)…there is no evidence that it inhibits comprehension” (p. 74).
Bryant, P.L. & Bradley L. (1985). Children’s Reading Problems. New York: Basil Blackwell. Finds the research to say that “sensitivity to the sounds in words plays an important part in most children’s success or failure in reading. Any child’s skill with sounds will play a significant part in deciding whether he reads better or worse than would be expected” (p. 153). Thus, “backward readers are bad at dealing with the sounds imbedded in speech” (p. 74).
Calfee, R.C. & Drum, P.A. (1978). “Learning to Read: Theory, Research and Practice,” Curriculum Inquiry, 8, 183-249. “We have examined typical research put forward in support of the ‘decoding but not comprehending’ position, and found it actually supports the opposite position.” “We have yet to encounter a student who could decode fluently but failed to comprehend” (p. 238).
Chall, J.S. (1967). Learning to Read: The Great Debate. New York: McGraw-Hill. The phonics approach (code-emphasis) “produces better results, at least up to the point where sufficient evidence seems to be available, the end of the third grade. The results are better, not only in terms of the mechanical aspects of literacy alone, as was once supposed, but also in terms of the ultimate goals of reading instruction-comprehension and even speed of reading” (p. 307). “The research evidence from the classroom, the clinic, and the laboratory is also stronger now  for a code-emphasis than it was in 1967” (p. 37, Second edition, 1983).
Downing, J. & Leong, C.K. (1982). Psychology of Reading. New York: Macmillan. “The complimentary findings suggest that facility in decoding and extraction of word meaning are related. Less skilled comprehenders are deficient or inefficient in the utilization of decoding skills” (p. 313).
Farnham-Diggory, S. (1986). “Introduction to the Third Revised Edition,” in R.B. Spalding & W.T. Spalding, The Writing Road to Reading. New York: William Morrow. “Children can easily learn isolated phonemes, and once they have learned them, they can easily identify them in words. Once they understand what they are supposed to be listening for, they can readily categorize a wide range of /p/ sounds as all being represented by the same letter p. The research evidence on this point is absolutely beyond dispute” (p. 12).
Finn, C.E. (1986). What Works: Research About Teaching and Learning. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. “Recent research indicates that, on the average, children who are taught phonics get off to a better start in learning to read than children who are not taught phonics” (p. 21).
Fowler, C.A. (1981). “Some Aspects of Language Perception by Eye,” in O.J .L. Tzeng & H. Singer (Eds.), Perception of Print. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. “Studies suggest that children do exploit the spelling-to-sound route of access to the lexicon in their reading” (p. 188). Research also verifies that, “the sound system must be critically involved in the reading process independently of level of reading skill” (p. 184). Thus, “holistic association of a written word to a spoken word would seem to have little to recommend it” (p. 185). Studies also show that “phonetic or phonological units are normally involved in the procedures surrounding the memory and comprehension of text” (p. 193).
Groff, P. & Seymour, D.Z. (1987). Word Recognition. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas. “The research indicates we cannot merely say that children should learn phonics. To the contrary, the indications are they must learn it if they are to recognize words” (p. xii).
Gurren, L. & Hughes, A. (1983). “Intensive Phonics vs. Gradual Phonics in Beginning Reading: A Review,” In L.M. Gentile; M.L. Kamil & J .S. Blanchard (Eds.), Reading Research Revisited. Columbus, OR: Charles E. Merrill. “Since the results of this comprehensive and objective review of rigorously controlled research indicate that a gradual phonics approach is significantly less effective than an intensive phonics approach in beginning reading instruction, the authors recommend that an intensive ‘phonetic’ approach be generally accepted as one of the most essential components of a good reading program” (p. 92).
Guthrie, J.T., et al. (1976). A Study of the Locus and Nature of Reading Problems in the Elementary School. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Survey of “first grade studies illustrated that skill-based instruction which emphasizes decoding had an edge in efficiency over language-based approaches” (p. 120). “Low achievers [in reading] seem to be inferior to higher achievers on: decoding accuracy, decoding speed” (p. 130). Accordingly, “acquisition of proficient decoding represents the major problem in early stages of reading” (p. 117).
Henderson, L. (1982). Orthography and Word Recognition in Reading. New York: Academic. Studies indicate, “that look-say methods lead to an early acquisition of a small sight vocabulary and then little progress beyond this” (p. 166).
Hume, C. (1981). Reading Retardation and Multi-Sensory Teaching. London: Routledge & Kegan, Paul. Research in the field suggests that “an application of phonics enables a child to utilize this knowledge by supplying a strategy for translating written language into its spoken form. This allows new words to be deciphered; self-instruction may take place.” Without phonics “each new word must be learnt as a unique entity, greatly increasing the load on memory” (p. 36). “An impairment in accessing the lexicon via a phonological route may provide an explanation for the retarded reader’s problem” (p. 169).
Johnson, D.D. & Baumann, J.F. (1984). “Word Identification,” in P.D. Pearson (Ed.), Handbook of Reading Research. New York: Longman. The research indicates that, “programs emphasizing early, reasonably intensive phonics instruction produce readers who are more proficient at word pronunciation than programs emphasizing meaning.” “The message is clear: if you want to improve word-identification ability, teach phonics” (p. 594).
Jorm, A.F. & Share, D.L. (1983). “An Invited Article: Phonological Recoding and Reading Acquisition,” Applied Psycholinguistics, 4, 103-147. “Our review of the available evidence leads us to conclude that phonological recoding plays a critical role in helping the child become a skilled reader” (p. 137). “Phonological recoding is vital to the acquisition of reading skill, because it acts as a self-teaching mechanism which enables the child to learn to identify words visually” (p. 139). “The evidence from classroom and laboratory research favours initial instructional programs which emphasize the acquisition of the alphabetic code” (p. 139). “We propose that such programs give children a self-teaching mechanism which permits them to decode new words independently” (p. 138).
Levy, B.A. (1978). “Speech Processing During Reading,” in A.M. Lesgold; J. W. Pellegrino; S.D. Fokkema & R. Glaser (Eds), Cognitive Psychology and Instruction. New York: Plenum. An examination of the research indicates that “phonemic representation is important in reading, largely because it acts as a good memory representation from which message comprehension can occur” (p. 127). “Speech recoding is useful when details of the presented message must be held in memory to complete a comprehension task . . . or when memory for detail is required” (p. 143).
Lieberman, I. Y. & Shankweiler, D. (1985). “Phonology and Problems of Learning to Read and Write,” Remedial and Special Education, 6, 8-17. The research suggests that “difficulties in the phonological domain are sufficient to cause problems in sentence understanding” since phonics ability helps the reader “retain the words in the sentence and their order, briefly, while the information is processed through the several levels from sound to meaning” (p. 18).
Massaro, D.W. (1974). “Primary and Secondary Recognition in Reading,” in D.W. Massaro (Ed.), Understanding Language. New York: Academic. Models of reading that propose that the reader can go from visual features directly to meaning “simply do not have the machinery to describe what is known about reading” (p. 278). “We are not aware of any support for the notion that a phrase can be recognized before any of its component words” (p. 276).
McGuinness, D. (1985). When Children Don’t Learn. New York: Basic Books. Finds that research indicates that, “phonemic decoding and encoding is the central problem in the mastery of any phonetic writing system” (p. 58). “A system based on phonetic and orthographic rules is far more efficient than memorizing each word separately” (pp. 58-59).
Miles, E. (1981). A Study of Dyslexic Weaknesses and the Consequences for Teaching,” in G.T. Pavlidis & T.R. Miles (Eds.), Dyslexia Research and its Applications. New York: John Wiley. Research with the dyslexic child suggests that “the risk [from teaching phonics] that he will be merely ‘barking at print’-that is, reading accurately without understanding is minimal since typically he is a child of good comprehension but inaccurate word attack. If, therefore, he is reading without understanding it is probably because the phonic difficulties of that particular text are so great that he cannot consider the meaning as well as make the right sounds” (p. 260).
Mosse, H.L. (1982). The Complete Handbook of Children’s Reading Disorders, Volume 1. New York: Human Science. Agrees that the research says that “teachers who used a method that the new anti-phonics movement would recommend found that the pupils they so instructed developed significantly less ability in reading than pupils of teachers who gave early, intensive phonics to their beginning readers” (p. 122).
National Advisory Council on Adult Education. (1986). Illiteracy in America: Extent, Causes, and Suggested Solutions. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. “Since 1911, a total of 124 studies have compared the look-say/eclectic approach with phonics-first programs. Not one found look-say superior.” “These major reviews. . . 124 in all-revealed the superiority of the phonics method” (p. 23).
Perfetti, C.A. (1985). Reading Ability. New York: Oxford University. Concludes that the research says that, “learning to read is learning associations between print stimuli and oral language responses” (p. 216). “In learning to read an alphabetic language, a major factor is the abstractness of the phonemes onto which letters are to be mapped” (p. 230). “Successful readers . . . advance, with practice at reading, to a stage of facility that is characterized by speeded word processes.” This “word-processing efficiency leads to better comprehension, rather than being a byproduct of comprehension” (p. 231).
Resnick, L.B. (1979). Theories and prescriptions for early reading instruction. In L.B. Resnick & P .A. Weaver (Eds.), Theory and Practice of Early Reading, Volume 2. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. “The review of field research in reading has suggested an advantage for code-oriented teaching roughly through the primary school years.” “We need to include systematic, code-oriented instruction in the primary grades, no matter what else is also done.” “The charge-that too early or too much emphasis on the code depresses comprehension finds no support in the empirical data” (p. 329). “Empirical evidence appears to support the code-first position. Initial emphasis on the code in a direct instruction program produces initial advantages and no long-term disadvantages” (p. 333).
Samuels, S.J. & Schachter, S.W. (1978). Controversial issues in beginning reading instruction: Meaning versus subskill emphasis. In S. Pflaum-Connor (Ed.), Aspects of Reading Education. Berkeley, CA: McCutchan. Research indicates that, “one important prerequisite is the development of decoding skills. These skills must be brought beyond the level of mere accuracy to the level of automaticity. When these skills become automatic, the student is able to decode the printed symbols without the aid of attention, thereby freeing attention for the all-important task of processing meaning” (p. 60).
Stanovich, K.E. (1982). Word recognition skill and reading ability. In M.H. Singer (Ed.), Competent Reader, Disabled Reader: Research and Application. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. “The bulk of the research evidence suggests that word recognition ability represents a causal factor in the development of reading skill” (p. 86). “Most children with reading difficulties have problems decoding words” (p. 87). Experimental results “indicate that skilled readers, but not unskilled readers exploit a phonological code” (p. 88). “There is a strong relationship between word recognition speed and reading ability, particularly in early grades” (p. 83). So, “in order to get started, to begin to attain the levels of practice that make fluent reading possible, the child must engage in an effort to break the spelling-to-sound code” (p. 90). That is, the “evidence suggests that phoneme segmentation skill is a prerequisite or facilitator of reading ability” (p. 92).
Weaver, P. (Ed.). (1978). Research Within Reach: A Research-guided Response to Concerns of Reading Educators. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. “We suggest that decoding be a primary objective of early reading instruction” (p. 59). “We recommend for teaching purposes that reading be viewed as a set of subskills that can be taught and integrated” (p. 7). “Research has demonstrated the importance of word recognition skill for overall reading performance” (p. 19). It shows that “there are some skills that seem very important for learning to read.” Among those are “being able to manipulate phonemes in words and understanding the conventions of printed language” (p. 32). The research “results tend to favor early and systematic code instruction over a whole word approach” (p. 65). “Consequently, we recommend that expert and automatic decoding be a primary goal of early grades reading instruction” (p. 60).
Williams, J. (1979). The ABC’s of reading: A program for the learning disabled. In L. B. Resnick & P. A. Weaver (Eds.), Theory and Practice of Early Reading, Volume 3. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. “More and more studies have corroborated this point of view”: an “instructional program which develops word analysis skills to a high level of proficiency shows some transfer of these skills to the reading task.” Thus, “it is clear that progress in beginning reading is related to proficiency in those auditory skills that can be identified as components of the decoding process” (p. 183).