The PBS NewsHour & Education Week Report About Dyslexia: Biased & Short on Facts


The PBS NewsHour & Education Week Report About Dyslexia: Biased & Short on Facts

By Nancy Bailey | Originally published on Nancy Bailey’s Education Website | | Twitter: @NancyEBailey1

By Nancy Bailey

Schools must provide adequate reading programs and reading remediation for students who need more assistance. But the recent report on dyslexia recommending intensive phonics for all children by the PBS News Hour, through Education Week, is irresponsible, short on facts, and presents biased reporting.

Education Week receives grants from philanthropic groups that favor school privatization. Here are the funders:

  • The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

  • The Carnegie Corporation of New York

  • The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation

  • The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust

  • The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation

  • The Joyce Foundation

  • The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation

  • The NoVo Foundation

  • The Noyce Foundation

  • The Raikes Foundation

  • The Schott Foundation

  • The Wallace Foundation

  • The Walton Family

  • The Chan Zuckerberg

This report took place in Arkansas, heavily influenced by the Waltons, who seek to privatize public education. Arkansas funds Teach for America. The state is anti-teachers and does not support teachers unions.

In the report, parents claim: We absolutely know that this is the best way to teach children to read! This approach works well for all students not just those with dyslexia. We know without a doubt that reading is not a natural process.

Numerous opinion pieces and articles have flooded the media recently, often through Education Week, about reading failure. Most are entrenched in misconceptions and refer to discredited sources like the 2000 National Reading Panel, and the astroturf National Council on Teacher Quality (an organization funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). This threatens to damage how children learn to read, how teachers learn to teach reading, and public schooling.

How teachers have been teaching reading is wrongly blamed for low test scores in reading. There’s no consideration of other factors. 

The PBS report, like most of these reports about reading, blame how teachers teach reading for low test scores. We repeatedly hear that teachers don’t know how to teach reading.

They usually refer to reading scores on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), also known as the nation’s report card.

Jill Barshay recently described in  The Hechinger Report reasons scholars and policymakers believe student reading scores have stagnated on the NAEP.

Here are the variables they consider:

  • The 2008 recession and the decreasing lack of funding of U.S. schools.

  • An increase in poverty among students.

  • Demographic shifts in the U.S.

  • Testing more Hispanic children who come from non-English-speaking homes.

  • Policy changes since 2001 that include more annual testing.

  • Less time for classroom instruction due to more testing.

  • More demanding standards.

  • Testing on computers.

  • Common Core State Standards and curriculum.

They never emphasize teachers and how they teach reading!

Phonics is not new!

The claim is that teachers don’t know how to teach phonics.

But phonics isn’t new. I learned how to teach phonics in the ’70s while student teaching!

I taught third grade. My supervising teacher and the other third grade teachers placed students into groups according to the sounds students needed to learn. No student felt bad about the group they were in because students worked on skills. The groups often rotated. Teachers met and discussed individual students and their progress. Most students read fairly well. Some needed extra help with spelling. This was a public school near Detroit. The school closed years ago.

Later, as a reading resource teacher for students with disabilities (I have a M.Ed to teach students with learning disabilities), phonics programs were always part of our program.

Even if a university does not emphasize intensive phonics, district professional development can pick up the slack, especially for students who need more phonics.

It’s difficult to understand why teachers would say they never learned how to teach phonics.

Parents feel sad when a child has reading difficulties, but what are the other variables?

Children come to school with all kinds of reading backgrounds. In the PBS Program we are not told of the specific difficulties the children face.

Having taught students with reading disabilities the report raised many questions.

For example, one teacher says towards the end of the video “We are sending better readers to first grade now.” Are teachers and parents expecting kindergartners to learn how to read?

Here are my questions.

  • When was formal reading introduced?

  • Are children pushed to read too early?

  • What are the reading expectations for each grade level?

  • Why did the school not address dyslexia or reading disabilities originally?

  • Who diagnosed the dyslexia? Who are the outside evaluators?

  • Do these students have IEPs?

  • Why were parents unhappy with the school evaluations?

  • Does the school have a reading resource class?

  • What kind of special education or remedial reading programs does the school offer?

  • How large are the classes?

  • Is there a gap between I.Q. scores and achievement scores?

  • Is the child motivated to read?

  • Are teachers getting the resources they need to teach reading?

  • Does the school have a good library and a qualified librarian?

  • What programs are they already using?

  • Why do teachers say they never learned how to teach reading?

  • What college did the teacher attend?

  • Is reading instruction being standardized? 

Teachers who have worked with children who exhibit reading difficulties understand that there are no easy answers when it comes to reading disabilities or dyslexia.

But insisting that all children learn to read the same way with intensive phonics is problematic for several reasons.

  • Children who already read and write might become bored or discouraged.

  • Children with dyslexia or reading disabilities might be lost in the crowd and not get the individual attention they need.

  • When one way of teaching is pushed, other helpful approaches are discarded.

Children who have difficulty with sounds and phonics might be lost.

Usually children who learn to read need some phonics, but not intensive phonics. Children with dyslexia or reading disabilities usually need more phonics and lots of opportunities to read reading material they can master.

I’d ask more questions and look beyond the PBS News Hour and Education Weekreporting on this issue.