Monday, February 26, 2007

Illiteracy and Teachers' Pay

Here is an article slamming teachers' unions for demanding more money when so many illiterates are being churned out by our public schools. As the article states (quoting The Washington Post)
† Low health literacy affects up to 90 million Americans, according to a 2004 report by the Institute of Medicine. These adults are unable to “obtain and understand basic health information and services needed to make informed decisions.” … [A] surprisingly large number of adults were perplexed by the meaning of the term “orally,” didn’t know the difference between a teaspoon and tablespoon and were unable to calculate the proper dose of medicine.

† Forty-three percent of adults have basic or below-basic reading skills – reading at roughly a fifth-grade level or lower - according to a nationwide assessment of adult literacy conducted by the US Department of Education in 2003.

† Fifty-five percent of adults have basic or below-basic quantitative abilities; many are unable to solve simple arithmetic problems, including addition. … [M]any Americans could not determine the difference between two prices using a calculator or were unable to write a brief letter explaining a credit card billing error.
As a public school teacher of many years, the problem I'm having with this article is that I agree with it. We are turning out an inexcusable number of illiterate students. The big reason Americans currently have such low reading skills is because there is no mandated reading curriculum that begins with explicit phonetic instruction.

By beginning phonetically, students begin at the beginning of reading, and if taught correctly, they are given the code to unlocking the English language. For some reason though, those in charge of teacher education have discounted the continuous and overwhelming evidence to the contrary and have convinced themselves that their non-phonetic methods work. I've taught both ways, and I can say unequivocably that explicit phonics instruction in the best method for beginning reading instruction. For more information, visit The Riggs Institute.

I'm mentoring a student teacher this term. Fortunately she gets it, and we are able to work past all of the B.S. that is expected from her college. On her midterm evaluation, which I was required to fill out, her university is concerned with things like,
The intern teacher understands and appreciates the liberal arts as demonstrated by/through . . .

C. Using global and international perspectives in planning, teaching, and reflecting on practice.

D. Respecting individual differences, including those of culture, race, gender, religion, and ethnicity.

E. Respecting individual rights and values.
Later on there is,
Planning instruction to accomodate diversity.
The other important area is technology. I won't reprint those standards. They don't matter. After all, teachers teach, techology is appropriate after students have learned enough to use it correctly. You can do much more in the beginning, with paper and pencil than with a computer.

Some of the standards do apply to teaching, but there is no standard for content knowledge. Modern teachers' guides are written to be idiot-proof so teachers really have to know very little. Is it any wonder students graduate knowing nothing?


At 9:21 AM, Blogger Rancher said...

I agree with all you’ve said, I’m a huge fan of vouchers and bet you are too. However don’t discount the parent’s responsibility to see that their kids are learning. My wife is an elementary teacher and is constantly fighting to hold kids back that are behind. What we used to call flunking. The parent’s main concern is poor Johnny being left behind his friends and the stigma that will be attached to him rather than whether he learns. Child abuse plain and simple, Mom and Dad don’t want to be parents they want to be buds with their kids. Or just don’t care. Again I’m sure I’m not saying anything you don’t already know.

At 5:09 AM, Blogger Harry said...

I'm a fan of both vouchers and charter schools, but don't tell my union.

As for retaining kids who spend the year doing nothing, it's been a constant battle with parents for all of the years I've been in teaching. There are a few pieces to the school improvement puzzle, but I think the current dumbed-downcurriculum is the big one.

At 4:59 PM, Blogger Jungle Mom said...

I taught all my children to read using phonics. They are all avid readers and writers. I have one child who is dyslexic but functions above grade level anyway. And is trilingual.

At 9:14 PM, Blogger Harry said...

jungle mom,
You must be one of those "extremist" moms who actually expected things from your children. Fortunately I do deal with some of those, but there are also the ones who help their children polish their excuses. And then there is the insistence from some in my profession to label any children out of the ordinary as "special ed".

Which phonics program did you use?

At 7:45 AM, Blogger Jungle Mom said...

I used a Christian home curriculum, aBeka Books. Out of Pensacola. And a lot of practice!!! But, 3 of my children were reading Spanish at the age of 4. Spanish is very phonetic. They taught themselves! They did observe their parents reading all the time and enjoying it.

At 10:08 PM, Blogger Harry said...

When I was researching phonics methods, I looked at aBeka. Since it's Christian I knew it would never pass muster in a public school.


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