So who taught you how to read?

One of the most laughable bumper stickers out there is the one that says “If you can read this, thank a teacher”. Are teachers really responsible for kids learning to read? If so then teachers are also responsible for kids not being able to read. My parents were teachers. Mom taught second grade. Dad taught biology and later became a high school principal. He also worked full time at night at the Post Office. So it might not be a surprise that both my brother and I could read before we stepped inside a school. The same is true for my kids and my brother’s kids. However, even a teacher would be able to teach our children to read. Why? It’s because my brother and I were “A” students with my brother being one of the smartest people that I have known and our children all have advanced degrees.

The inability of teachers to teach kids to read is blamed on the kids. Consider that the head of the Chicago teachers union once said that the increased accountability demanded by the city administration over the dismal performance of the school system was “unfair” because “poor kids can’t learn”! Of course this is nonsense. Consider that virtually all these students can recite every word to the most complicated rap after only three listenings. Indeed, some inner city teachers are using rap as a teaching tool in the classroom. If I were a parent in Chicago I would be on the warpath. My limited experience with local second graders convinced me that all children are able to read at grade level unless they have a learning disability. But most can’t.

A problem is that in the public school education system the students are the only ones without an advocate who holds the schools accountable for its failure. I know, you say “What about the board of education?” Or “what about the PTA?” If these were advocates for the students, then they would not tolerate the miserable reading and math scores in our schools. Lack of achievement is always laid at the feet of the students when the real culprit is the method of instruction utilized. The teachers are taught methods that have demonstrated failure. Sure, there are high achievers but studies show that these students excel regardless of the method employed. The Educational Industrial Complex – textbook authors, textbook publishers, colleges of education, accreditation boards and unions – has an invested interest in traditional methods of instruction and will defend them regardless of outcomes. Yet nontraditional methods such as Direct Instruction have been shown to produce proficiency rates in at-risk students that are equal to and often higher than those for students in high income districts. It’s time that we quit excusing the teachers and blaming the kids for failure for achieve. Although there is considerable merit in changing how we pay teachers whose salaries can be read off a chart that shows years and education, the main culprit is method of instruction. If we want kids to achieve, then we must blow up our current system used by our government schools. Although charter schools and private schools are an improvement, they still may be hampered by inflexible accreditation standards that have little to do with learning. Indeed, Direct instruction was rejected locally on the grounds that it would be rejected by the accreditation board because it required “too much reading”! 

If our schools were a corporation, the stockholders would shake up the board of directors and fire the CEO. Given the poor performance of our schools, especially those in lower income areas, I would reward the superintendent based on performance and terminate him if it did not improve. Surely, that would provide an incentive to do better. I only wish we could unleash American ingenuity and innovation on the school system. I would put out for bid contracts, collect the taxes and turn the school system over to private enterprise. The contracts would be reviewed periodically and if certain metrics were not met, then the contractor would be fired and a new one hired.

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