Here We Go Again: The Anti-Research Crowd is Back At It

  • National Early Literacy Panel
  • 13 January, 2009

Last week the National Early Literacy Panel released its report synthesizing research on the teaching of literacy and literacy-related skills to young children (preschoolers and kindergartners). The event got some press coverage, and that has given the denouncers a new platform from which to shout that everyone should follow their lead--rather than following the research!

  For example, in an article by Kathleen Manzo:

  former Assistant Education Secretary Susan B. Neuman, is quoted as saying, “The report is all about code because code is what has been studied, but what we know is that code alone is not going to solve our educational problems.” She goes on to complain that the qualitative studies "on effective instruction" were not included.

  But the NELP report is a seven-chapter book with only one chapter about teaching the code. The rest of it is about oral language development, reading to children, parent programs, and so on. In other words, Susan either didn't read the report before weighing in on its deficiencies or she missed 80 percent of the document in that reading. Oops.

  I was puzzled at how qualitative studies could possibly prove instruction to be effective... that's not the kind of mistake Susan makes as an editor or scholar. She knows better.

  Stephen Krashen, the linguist, weighed in, too, with a letter to Kathleen's blog. Krashen complains the panel "did not consider" most of the important outcomes of reading to children that Jim Trelease has proposed. In fact, the panel examined ALL of the outcomes that have been studied in research and that have been linked with children's literacy learning.

  Instead of being upset about Jim Trelease's unsubstantiated claims, Krashen's complaint is with the researchers for not substantiating them without data!

  Krashen finds the oral language findings of NELP to be sound and the code findings to be terrible, even though they are based on the same kinds of data, data analysis, and logic (code studies are bad, according to Krashen, because they are linked only to primary grade reading comprehension tests and the language studies are good because they are linked only to primary grade reading comprehension tests). Oh well, I guess foolish consistency must be the hobgoblin of small minds.

Reading all of this made me wonder if the real complaints aren't that this report might undercut the critics' credibility with the public. After all, the critics have often claimed that their prescriptions follow the research (albeit based on pretty flimsy evidence). Of course, that's the reason the government has supported these research syntheses -- to let the public know which sales routines are based on facts and which ones are, well, just sales routines.


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Here We Go Again: The Anti-Research Crowd is Back At It


One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

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