Reading research: Do you believe in magic?

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The National Council of Teachers of English has published a rebuttal to NCTQ's report on the dismal quality of teacher preparation in reading instruction in the nation's education schools. Well, we guess it's a rebuttal. It's hard to know what to make of a "critical policy analysis and response" that finds our support of the science of reading to consist of "magical beliefs". If the scientific evidence about how children most effectively can be taught to read is "magical", what then is the fantastic notion--clearly supported by the authors of this paper--that children learn to read naturally, through mere exposure to books and print?

In our report What Education Schools Aren't Teaching about Reading and What Elementary Teachers Aren't Learning, NCTQ found that only 15 percent of the reviewed education schools appeared to be providing teachers with even minimal exposure to the science of reading. The authors of the response do not offer any new evidence to suggest that education schools are doing a better job in this area than what our study found. Instead, the major criticism offered is that NCTQ "takes for granted the autonomous model of reading implicit in the [National Reading Panel report]." While we recognize that there have certainly been dissenting opinions, the NRP remains the prevailing body of work on effective reading instruction. Data -- including data released by the U.S. Department of Education last week --continues to show that instruction aligned with the NRP's findings improves student achievement.

The response takes exception to the fact that our study was based on reviews of course syllabi and texts. We agree that course syllabi are only a proxy for actual course content--but they are a very meaningful proxy. We found that course after course explicitly listed reading methods on their syllabi that run precisely contrary to what the scientific findings would have teachers do. The authors also claim that our findings were not supported by a third party review. This is simply not true. We took a formal, scholarly approach to this study, including independent peer review. The criticism we received from the peer reviewers--both positive and negative--was incorporated into the final report and resulted in a better finished product.

Reading instruction is not magic, it's science. Sadly, it's the millions of children whose teachers have not been well prepared to teach them how to read that are being tricked.