More than 15 years before the Trumpers arrived in DC to initiate the latest "back to basic stupidity" era in all things social, cultural, economic, and intellectual, there was another Republican, George W. Bush, who had his own particular backwards fixation, which found its way into education policy in general and K-3 reading instruction in particular.
Following his appointment to the Presidency by the Supreme Court in December 2000, Bush's first big initiative was No Child Left Behind, and reading instruction was the centerpiece of that legislation.
In shaping NCLB reading policy, Bush leaned heavily on NIH neuropsychologist and self-declared reading guru, Reid Lyon, who viewed learning to read "the right way" as important for neural wiring as it was for academic success. In a 2002 speech, Lyon told a group of Maryland teachers that "[w]e have to realize that education has to take on the same importance as medicine. . . . Teachers are the best brain surgeons around, the best at developing the nervous system."
Lyon's enthusiasm for regimented phonics instruction as the best way to hard-wire receptive, convergent learners was matched by his animosity toward professional teacher preparation and research-based methods for teaching reading that go beyond . Just two months after Lyon spoke to Maryland teachers about the importance of their craft, he said this at a national policy forum: "If there was any piece of legislation that I could pass it would be to blow up colleges of education."
Five years later, however, Lyon was helping to launch a for-profit college of education focused on preparing reading teachers the way God and Reid Lyon intended (my bolds):
What I learned at NIH and what guides our course development at American College of Education is that children's brains can literally be molded, changed, by the teaching they receive. Our goal now is to close the gap between our science tells us about learning and what our teachers apply in the classroom. A graduate degree from American College of Education means that teachers know the science behind how children learn.
Despite five years and over $5 billion spent on Reading First federal discretionary grants that were used to cajole, pressure, and bribe school systems to adopt and implement direct phonics instruction methods, DOE's own research, in both the interim and final reports, showed that Reading First was a big flop. From the NCEE Final Report Summary:
The findings presented in this report are generally consistent with findings presented in the study's Interim Report, which found statistically significant impacts on instructional time spent on the five essential components of reading instruction promoted by the program (phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension) in grades one and two, and which found no statistically significant impact on reading comprehension as measured by the SAT 10.
To add insult to Lyon's injury, a 2007 study by the federal "What Works Clearinghouse" found that the only reading program to pass muster in all reading domains was one that Reid Lyon and the Reading First goons had excluded for its lack of fidelity to the reductionist catechism preferred by right-wing code breakers. From Education Week:
Just one program was found to have positive effects or potentially positive effects across all four of the domains in the review—alphabetics, fluency, comprehension, and general reading achievement. That program, Reading Recovery, an intensive, one-on-one tutoring program, has drawn criticism over the past few years from prominent researchers and federal officials who claimed it was not scientifically based.
Federal officials and contractors tried to discourage states and districts from using Reading Recovery in schools participating in the federal Reading First program, citing a lack of evidence that it helps struggling readers.
The bankruptcy of current education reform initiatives is evident in ongoing attempts to resuscitate explicit, phonics-based methods that seeks to convert learners into compliant code breakers and rule followers, thus using neurological and behavioral patterning to influence children's brain functions. Phonics fanatics believe this can be done "during the reading initiation phase."
Part 3 will examine the latest efforts to impose the antiquarian science of reading in South Carolina and Tennessee.