David C. Berliner -
Today may actually be worse for poor children in the
Data show that changes in the time allocated for teaching reading and mathematics in elementary schools were quite dramatic between 2002 and 2007. These are the years of the NCLB act and mandated high-stakes testing. The time allocated to reading has been increased, on average, over two and a third hours a week, while mathematics time has been increased, on average, about an hour and a half a week. What needs to be kept in mind when interpreting this table is that the "average" masks relevant information. It is likely that many school districts increased time in these subjects a great deal more than the average, because the average includes districts serving high-income children, who typically score well on the tests used to satisfy NCLB requirements. Those districts probably changed their time allocations very little. On the other hand those serving low-income students probably changed their time allocations a lot. . .
If reading and English language arts consists of too much phonics practice; too much drill and test preparation; too many worksheets for practicing reading skills; not enough writing to express complex thoughts; not enough reading for enjoyment; and not enough reading of academic material to increase vocabulary in order to aid comprehension; then the reading is more to foster the goal of basic literacy and not literacy for its pleasure, or for its value in exploring the arts, the sciences and the humanities. . .
Sadly, evidence exists to support the hypothesis that the increased time spent on reading and mathematics is not helping us make better readers and mathematicians.
A second look at reading achievement and the effects of greatly increased reading instruction on the performance of the various
The evidence is that the schools with the poorest children, and therefore the schools with the greatest likelihood of being sanctioned under NCLB, are those where the reading curriculum in now often of the most basic type. While such a level of literacy might have been good enough at the beginning of the 20th century, it is hard at the beginning of the 21st century to defend the forms of instruction used and the kinds of literacy attained by the children in many of our poorest schools.
We now know that for many children the motive to engage in activities found pleasurable for their own sake is diminished when those same tasks are rewarded. This suggests that a significant number of poor and minority children who really do enjoy reading for pleasure and edification are much more likely to be turned off of reading because reading has become a task governed by extrinsic rewards. In many schools with the poorest students stars are awarded for rather trivial multiple-choice questions answered correctly about books just completed. . . Other schools have class parties for high numbers of books read collectively per unit of time. None of these approaches is wrong from a behaviorist theory, yet all of these short-term motivational strategies are likely to have a negative influence on continuing motivation to read. We don't know this, of course, because we usually do not study the long-term effects of these programs. But there is good reason to believe that continuing motivation to read will suffer under some of these instructional programs.
There is another theory in our field that comes to mind when looking at these data. It is related to time and learning. I did some of that research myself. From all the research, and from the common sense that is found in the humblest of homes, we have been able to derive a sound educational law, namely, that the more time students spend studying in some area of the curriculum, the more likely they will have learned more in that area. Time and learning are believed to be, and are empirically found to be, causally related. But this principle of learning is directly challenged by the reading data we have. Significantly more time spent in reading is leading to less improvement on the high quality assessments of reading that are used, the NAEP tests. This suggests that students may be studying the wrong things, or that their motivation is being undermined, or both. This is not good.