National Reading Panel:
The NRP: What went wrong?
the National Reading Panel (NRP),
created and funded by Congress to determine the right and
proper way to teach reading to 50 million children, issued
its report. That report became the foundation stone for
No Child Left Behind,
the Bush administration's prime education program. (The
report can be downloaded as a PDF file by clicking
on the blue icon above right.)
panel originally consisted of 15 people, independent of
each other and without support staff. They included 12
university professors (eight with reading background, two
were administrators, one was a physician), along with a
parent, principal, and middle school language arts teacher.
Missing was anyone who might have actually taught a beginning
the NRP billed its report as completely "research-based" and
"scientific," one of its final 14 members (one
dropped out) wrote a withering rebuttal to the final report,
offering a candid view of the report's creation that portrayed
it as considerably less than "scientific." Writing
in the January 2002 issue of Phi Delta Kappan ("Babes
in the Woods: The Wanderings of the National Reading
Yatvin* (the panel's principal) declared
that despite the best of intentions, and that ". .
. pressured by isolation, time limits, lack of support,
and the political aims of others, we lost our way
and our integrity."
"Thus the phonics report became
part of the full report of the NRP uncorrected, undeliberated,
Yatvin notes that the scientist
professors all came with the same preconceived notion of
what reading was all about and imposed their view/will
on the majority. Only once, early on in the panel's life,
did the members ever vote on anything. They initially listed
32 relevant topics, investigated 13, and ended up reporting
on only eight. The most controversial and most famous of
those topics was "phonics." With five months
remaining before the report was to be turned over to Congress,
"phonics" topic was turned over to an independent
researcher outside the panel. The final phonics report
was dropped in the lap of the NRP four days before press
time. Yatvin writes: "Thus
the phonics report became part of the full report of the
NRP uncorrected, undeliberated, and unapproved." Peer
review, an essential ingredient in scientific research,
appears to be nonexistent for the phonics report.
of the panel's subdivision reports was vetted before classroom
practitioners, Yatvin explained. Only other researchers
reviewed the material before publication. And contrary
to newspaper accounts (and Education Secretary Paige's
claim) that 100,000 studies were analyzed and distilled
for the report, only 428 were actually examined.
perspective on the panel and its report is pretty conclusive:
the panel's makeup was slanted if not biased, its work
was inconclusive and incomplete, and its findings were
far from scientific. Worth noting is the fact that Yatvin's
views were alarming enough for the NICHD (National Institute
of Child Health and Human Development, the panel's parent
funder) to try to stifle her dissenting views. It withheld
travel expense funding for Yatvin but not for other panel
members when they appeared before national conferences.
Yatvin would be sharing some pretty elite scientific
company when it came to accusing the Bush administration
of using less than scientific practices or skewing the
results. On Feb. 19, 2004 (three years after Yatvin's
charges), the following story broke nationally. This
is the lead in The New York Times:
Say Administration Distorts Facts
60 influential scientists, including 20 Nobel
laureates, issued a statement yesterday asserting
that the Bush administration had systematically
distorted scientific fact in the service of policy
goals on the environment, health, biomedical
research and nuclear weaponry at home and abroad.
accusations were later discussed in a conference
call organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists,
an independent organization that focuses on technical
issues and has often taken stands at odds with
administration policy. On Wednesday, the organization
also issued a 38-page report detailing its accusations.
documents accuse the administration of repeatedly
censoring and suppressing reports by its own scientists,
stacking advisory committees with unqualified political
appointees, disbanding government panels that provide
unwanted advice and refusing to seek any independent
scientific expertise in some cases.
"Other administrations have, on
occasion, engaged in such practices, but not so systemically
nor on so wide a front," the statement from
the scientists said, adding that they believed the
administration had "misrepresented scientific
knowledge and misled the public about the implications
of its policies."
The New York Times
report from the scientists can be found
as a PDF file at:
is not alone in her misgivings about the "unscientific"nature
of some of the NRP's findings:
Elaine M. Garan of Cal State-Fresno
has compiled an entire book on the NRP's report,
citing so many inconsistencies that she was
able to build a small handbook on how to circumvent
many of the federal mandates using the
NRP's own words and recommendations: Resisting
L. Allington, a leading reading
researcher for 35 years and a member of the Reading
Hall of Fame, has compiled an entire book on
the erroneous findings of the National Reading
Panel — Big Brother and the National
Reading Curriculum: How Ideology Trumped Evidence.
Click on Big
Brother for more information here.
about the NRP's findings on SSR?
One of the first red flags
to be raised about the panel's findings was that involving
Sustained Silent Reading (SSR). In spite of ample
research throughout the last three decades, including
the U.S. Department of Education's 1985 report Becoming
a Nation of Readers, that supported the use of SSR,
the NRP was unable to endorse it, finding instead:
research evidence is available currently to confirm
that instructional time spent on silent, independent
reading with minimal guidance and feedback improves
reading fluency and overall reading achievement.
of the major differences between good and poor
readers is the amount of time they spend reading.
Many studies have found a strong relationship
between reading ability and how much a student
reads. On the basis of this evidence, teachers
have long been encouraged to promote voluntary
reading in the classroom. Teacher-education and
reading-education literature often recommends
in-class procedures for encouraging students
to read on their own, such as Silent Sustained
Reading (SSR) or Drop Everything and Read (DEAR).
however, has not yet confirmed whether independent
silent reading with minimal guidance or feedback
improves reading achievement and fluency. Neither
has it proven that more silent reading in the classroom
cannot work its effectiveness without guidance
or feedback is as yet unproven. The research suggests
that there are more beneficial ways to spend reading
instructional time than to have students read independently
in the classroom without reading instruction."
Of course advocates
for SSR like Stephen Krashen were
not going to take a report like that lying down. His
response appeared almost immediately in an Education
Week letter to the editor (May
10, 2000), including this rebuttal of the report
and its SSR findings:
NRP report missed a number of important studies.
Power of Reading, I found a total of 41 studies
of the value of sustained silent reading in school.
In 38 out of the 41 comparisons, readers in sustained
silent reading did as well or better on tests of
reading than children who spent an equivalent amount
of time in traditional instruction. I found nine
studies which lasted longer than one year; sustained
silent reading was a winner in eight of them, and
in one there was no difference. The NRP did not cite
any of these studies, even though some appeared in
very important, widely read journals. Some spectacular
omissions include Elley and Mangubhai's Fiji
study, published in the Reading Research Quarterly (1983),
and Elley's Singapore study, in Language Learning (1991).
The latter contains a review of several other successful
SSR studies that the NRP failed to mention."
Krashen rebuttal, "The
National Reading Panel: Errors and Omissions," can
be found by clicking on the article title here.) Timothy
Shanahan, a prominent member of the NRP, offered
a response to Krashen's criticism in a letter to Education
Week on May 31, 2000. In May of 2003, Krashen offered
his most comprehensive rebuttal of the No Child Left Behind legislation
and its "faulty"
findings on phonics and recreational reading at the No
Child Left Web site; the paper was entitled: "False
Claims About Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Skills vs.
Whole Language, and Recreational Reading." Excerpts
from that paper were published in Educational Leadership (Mar.
2004) and can be read online at Ed-Leadership. The full article
can be found at NoChildLeft.com.
See also: Is
In-School Free Reading Good for Children? Why the National
Reading Panel Report is (Still) Wrong.
The latest research
on "summer setback," the loss of reading skills
experienced my most children during the summer months when
they do little or no reading, adds even more reinforcement
to Krashen's arguments. A summary of that summer reading
research from Richard Allington, Anne McGill-Franzen,
Denise Malach, Robert Rutter, and Jimmy
S. Kim can be found here at Summer
of my favorite responses to the NRP's finding on independent
reading was that of a middle school teacher in Oregon.
When an education consultant addressed the Oregon state Reading
Summit" and cited the NRP finding on SSR, the
middle school teacher confronted the speaker afterward
with this question: "Based on what you said in
your speech, do you think it would OK if we sent a
notice home to parents announcing there is no research
to validate their child's independent reading at home
for pleasure, that it might not be doing him or her
speaker immediately denied saying anything close to that
but the teacher's colleague immediately supported him
and confirmed that that is exactly what the
consultant had said or implied by her remarks. The consultant
backtracked and would not endorse such a note to parents.
the followers of the NRP favor a double-set of standards:
reading for pleasure is appropriate for the home but not
for the classroom. No scientific standards need be applied
to home procedures, only to classroom practices. And, judging
from Joanne Yatvin's insider report on the National Reading
Panel, scientific practices weren't all that necessary
in the panel's procedures either. Apparently many others
have similar concerns with the "scientific" procedures
used by the current administration in Washington (see above).
of this makes me wonder if perhaps we're misreading National
Reading Panel's findings. Consider this statement by
|The research suggests that
there are more beneficial ways to spend reading instructional
time than to have students read independently in the
classroom without reading instruction.
just for the sake of including an alternate viewpoint,
that in using the words "more beneficial" the
panel was not referring to benefits to the students but
rather to the textbook and curriculum companies that
would be losing money if students sat around improving
their scores by reading trade books instead of textbooks. .
Something to think about there. especially in light of
the U.S. department of
education inspector general's report on
rampant conflicts of interest at Reading
First where they were implementing
the NRP's findings.
of the NRP report is that school time should be spent
"mechanics," the instructional part of reading.
Home time should be spent on pleasure reading. The fallacy
in such thinking is that the most at-risk students come
from the homes where there is the least opportunity to
read for pleasure. More than two decades of NAEP research
funded by the U.S. Department of Education, clearly shows
these students have the fewest books, magazines, and newspapers,
and their families watch the most hours of television per
day. They are more apt to have televisions in their bedrooms,
rooms they share with more than one sibling. They also
come from the neighborhoods where their libraries are the
worst funded, have the most meager collections, and are
open the fewest hours.
the unthinkable: What if . . .
premise of the NCLB Act is based upon the "scientific
research," a kind of intelligence report from highly
trained specialists. But what if . . . Suppose for a minute
that all of the testing and high expectations and standards
don't work? Suppose the critics are right and the hundreds
of millions of dollars' worth of reform efforts don't raise
the scores or narrow the gap between top and bottom students.
What if, and this may be hard for some to swallow, what
if "the science-based research" was flawed? What
if "Reading First" turns out not to
be a weapon of mass instruction?
would be tantamount to having Dr. David Kay,
the chief weapons inspector, return from Iraq and declare
that "We were all wrong," that there were no
weapons of mass destruction after all. Wednesday, January
28, 2004, to be exact.
the largest and most expensive intelligence system in
the world ($40 billion a
year) could have been so seriously mistaken in assessing
Iraq's weaponry, then the NCLB folks could be wrong, too.
But by the time they found this out, even if they admitted
the fact, it would be too late to undo the damage done
with years and years of NCLB testing and measuring that
changed nothing, too late to retrieve the hundreds of
millions of tax dollars that did no good for children
but may have done much harm to both children and the
decent teachers driven out of the profession by methodology
they knew to be inappropriate for young children.
If that were to
happen, the at-risk children would have been failed yet
again, thousands of dedicated senior teachers would have
been driven out of the system because they chose not to
teach in a way they knew was wrong, parents would have
lost faith in the system yet again, and citizens would
have lost millions in tax dollars that went for tests that
changed nothing. So in the end, everyone would have lost,
except the test-makers — the billion-dollar corporations
who produce the millions of textbooks and "test bubbles"
that support NCLB. The test-makers — think of the
Bush administration's friends at McGraw-Hill/Open
Court — they'd still have the bundle they
made from being one of the "approved programs"
for school reform. Just like Halliburton (NY
Times or NPR),
the "approved no-bid contractor" in Iraq.
is not be the first time in recent history that government
miscalculated in its assessments of what works in school.
Think back to 1983 and the release of "A
Nation at Risk" and the chorus
of CEO's who decried the sorry state of the American economy
versus that of Japan. The root cause of
our woes and Japan's envy-of-the-world economy? Our dreadful
schools and their world-class schools, said the critics.
The Lou Gerstners demanded immediate reform
before it was too late, backed by a chorus of calls to
make American schools more like Japan's, including an increase
in the school year to mimic theirs. How accurate were these
education "experts"? Within 10 years, Japan's
economy was in the tank and America's was the best it had
been in almost a century. For the next 10 years, Japan's
stock market would be only one-quarter of what it was in
the 80's and its banks would be holding a trillion dollars
in nonperforming loans.
the U.S. and Japanese economies were mirrors of their
schools, the question one must ask today is: How did
the Japanese schools get so bad so fast and
ours get good so fast?
And, if the longer school year is an education ideal, how
come Japan just lopped 20 days off its school
year, bringing them back toward us? For more on Nation
at Risk twenty years later, see Bracey.
|INDEX for all NCLB, NRP, and Reading First essays and articles