2017 Report on the Activities of The National Right to Read Foundation

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

  • Supported and advised the state of Arkansas on strengthening the standards that undergraduate teachers need to know to be able to teach children to read proficiently.
  • Attended an Education Testing Service(ETS) meeting in DC in January and met with three top officials to discuss the new PRAXIS  We followed up with four NRRF experts to modify the first draft.
  • Reviewed 13 College textbooks on reading instruction, working with the National Center for Teacher Quality (NCTQ).
  • Supported Logic of English; Reading Winning Boost; Superkids Reading; Remediation Plus System Reading programs, among others.
  • Worked with Phoenix University in using the NRRF Website as part of the required course material for undergraduate students studying elementary education.
  • Wrote a review of a reading book proposal submitted to a publisher by author Lyn Stone in Australia,
  • Submitted an article for publication in an Australian Parents magazine on reading.
  • Supported Anne Glennie in Scotland in her quest to continue doing workshops on how reading should be taught, consistent with the findings of reading science.
  • Supported the National Phonics Check in Australia.
  • Was interviewed by Emily Hanford, Senior Editor/Producer of APM Reports on the teaching of reading.
  • Supported desperate parents and teachers who called for help on the teaching of reading.

2017 was a busy year.  In spite of being a bit slowed down in our activity with NRRF because of my illness, we have had a productive year.  Here is a brief summary of some of the projects and activities that have kept this issue alive in 2017.  As you can see, the issue of reading science is a worldwide issue among English speaking nations.  I believe we can learn from the activities of others as we seek to advance the findings of reading science here in the U.S.

In 2016 and early 2017 we advised our NRRF Teacher of the Year, Mary-Margaret Scholtens in her efforts to strengthen and improve the body of knowledge necessary for undergraduate college students to be taught before they become classroom teachers.  This body of knowledge should include the entire alphabetic code and how it works.  We submitted what Mary-Margaret used in Arkansas that list these requirements

As a result, we were approached by top officials from the ETS who had seen this information and asked for a meeting with us in Washington, DC.  We invited a staff member from the NCTQ to join us.  ETS sent three of their top officials to meet with us, and we had a long and productive session discussing the need to strengthen the PRAXIS undergraduate test to ensure that the specific knowledge of how reading should be taught consistent with reading science would be learned before teachers enter the classroom.  At the meeting, we were asked to advise ETS by reviewing the draft PRAXIS test.  We recommended that four experts in teacher preparation participate in this review.  Their recommendations were readily and eagerly accepted, and we are now awaiting the next draft to see if our suggested changes are included.

NCTQ has been conducting a review of what colleges of education include in undergraduate teacher preparation on the findings of reading science.  The result of these first three reviews of more than 800 schools of education concludes that less than 10% include sufficient instructional methodology on the alphabetic principle!  We were asked to review 13 college textbooks currently in use today.  After completing this review, it was evident that these textbooks are a decade or more behind in presenting what reading science has concluded.  Thus, undergraduate teachers do NOT have an understanding of how to teach the alphabetic principle to their students.  Teachers cannot teach what they do not know.

It has been our practice over the years to support reading programs that follow the principles of reading science and emphasize the alphabetic code and how it works explicitly.  Attached is a list of the programs we believe are within the family of elementary school instructional programs that follow these principles.

In 2009 the Sing, Spell, Read and Write (SSRW) program was adopted in the City of Chicago.  The impetus for this adoption came from a senior Chicago education official who had participated in a large-scale study in the city of Memphis, TN some years ago.  The result of that large-scale study concluded that the SSRW program was 8 times more effective than the more widely used whole language reading programs being used in Memphis schools.  SSRW is now owned by the Pearson Publishing company.  A report in November 2017 indicated that Chicago schools are now considered one of the most improved urban school districts in the U.S.  There is no question that the impact of SSRW in that city is a significant factor in this dramatic improvement in the quality of education there.

Sue Dickson and her daughter and colleague Diane Fix have been working with the University of Florida to develop a reading program that specifically targets minority students in 3rd grade and above who have not been adequately taught the alphabetic principle. It has been tested in schools in the St. Petersburg area with great success.  It is due for release in 2018.

In 2017 the Logic of English(LOE) was introduced to a significant number of school districts in the state of Michigan.  Extensive training was conducted this past summer for teachers who would be implementing LOE there, and the enthusiasm that has followed is worthy of note.

LOE is a proven program that is being used in many schools across the U.S.  One specific example is the Estill School System located in the so called “corridor of shame” in South Carolina.  It was so named because of the poor quality of education in this population of primarily minority students.  The result of LOE in that school district has been dramatic.  Unfortunately, the program was cancelled because so many students were learning to read proficiently that the school district would lose funds for special education students!  After a two-year hiatus, the program was restored.

That is one of the problems we are dealing with nationally.  There is a perverse incentive with both federal and state education funding.  The more disadvantaged students a school district has, the more money they get.  That must change.

We know that there are other excellent programs that are also effective learning tools for teachers to use in teaching the alphabetic principle, some not as complete or as extensive, but yet very effective.  We developed an excellent resource guide for any parent or teacher to use if they are looking such a program to use.  It is available free on the NRRF website.  www.nrrf.org.  One such program is Phonics Pathways.  Dolores Hiskes, the author of this program just emailed me to say her program is going strong and is now used worldwide for teaching the foundational alphabetic decoding principles that ALL students need.

Phoenix University is using the National Right to Read website as a resource for what teachers need to know and be able to do in teaching the alphabetic principle.  We are excited that this information is now getting used in such settings.

Our efforts have expanded to the international community as well. Three years ago, I helped establish a new international organization that now has a powerful website and presence in England, New Zealand, Australia, Scotland, Canada and Argentina, among other English-speaking nations.  The website is:  www.iferi.org  It has been my privilege to recommend several U.S. experts to serve on The International Foundation for Effective Reading Instruction (IFERI) Advisory Board.  In addition, many of us are also on an international “computer list serve” of experts in reading instruction in countries where English is an official language. We look forward to the day when ALL students are provided instruction in the alphabetic code and how it works that is consistent with reading science. Reid Lyon, Louisa Moats, Laura Stewart, Margie Gillis, Denise Eide, Mary-Margaret Sholtens, and Chrissy Calabrese are now on the IFERI Advisory Board and are sharing their expertise and communicating with our colleagues around the world.

I was asked to review the proposal for a new book being authored by Lyn Stone from Australia on why it is so difficult to change the approach to reading instruction. Her book will discuss the “impact of belief” and how that prevents a change even when the evidence from science is so overwhelming.  It will be published in 2018.

Anne Glennie is a teacher/trainer in Scotland who was temporarily banned from doing her reading workshops in Scotland by the Education Ministry there.  IFERI provided support for Anne to restore her right to continue her training, and she was able to present her case to the Scottish Parliament. Her petition was warmly received, and it is our understanding that she will now be able to continue her workshops.   They are much in demand.

A paper I wrote on the basic steps to becoming a proficient reader will be published in an Australian Parents magazine sometime soon.

This week I was interviewed by a reporter, Emily Hanford, who has been a participant on two National Public Radio presentations on why children are not learning to read proficiently.  She will be working on another presentation that will air in early 2018. I have been able share information with Emily, and put her in touch with many of my colleagues who I believe will help shape her story.  She is very perceptive and understands the long road many of us have been on to restore the application of reading science and the alphabetic principle to our schools.

As you can see, despite our temporary health setback, Joy and I have been busy. I hope this report will give you some encouragement as we look forward to a better year in 2018.

Thank you for your years of support for our work.  We are a team after all.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to each of you.

Bob and Joy Sweet

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