Reading in America

Reading in America

Our schools are currently preparing our children for technology jobs that do not now exist. Global competition will continue to escalate. Highly populated countries like India and China have more intellectually-gifted children than America has children. How can functionally illiterate, poorly educated Americans compete in a complex technology-driven society in a country without a domestic industrial base?

Basic Facts:

  • Humans have an intrinsic capacity for spoken language but not for written language.
  • By comparison to spoken language, writing is a relatively modern human invention. The English alphabetic system has evolved over the last 1400 years into a complex writing system.
  • The structure of this alphabetic system must be understood before developing instructional methods for teaching reading.
  • All of the familiar reading techniques were developed before we developed a scientific understanding of reading.
  • Those methods are based on theories that are now known to be scientifically incorrect.
  • Since reading does not develop naturally, it has to be taught. As with all codes, the decryption algorithm must mirror the encryption algorithm.

On teaching reading: The English language uses an alphabetic writing system based on the phoneme. This alphabetic writing system is a human invention that must be carefully taught beginning with the phonemes that are the basis for the system. The pronunciation of the phonemes is critically important and must be carefully modeled by the teachers. After teaching the sounds, we must teach the letters that represent the sounds, beginning with the simplest. A soon as the child begins to decode (read) words, she (he) must then begin to encode and write words, and, begin working on reading comprehension . This exposes the child to one of the most important features of the code...reversibility. At this point and throughout this process, spelling word lists should mirror the sound/letter relationships that the child has mastered in reading. “Sight words” should be avoided whenever possible in the early stages. As the child progresses, all phonemes of the language must be taught. Most phonemes can be spelled differently; this variation must also be taught. Rule-based phonics should be avoided as these systems do not work because there are no consistently correct rules to explain the irregularity of English spellings. Instead children should be taught that the sounds of English can be spelled in different ways; this variation must be systematically taught preferably using a probability-based model. Decoding must be developed to the point that it is automatic; automatic decoding frees up the child’s cognitive processing to focus on comprehension. The preceding is a brief operational definition of phonemically-driven linguistic phonics instruction. Any reading instruction program that carefully follows these guidelines will be successful. Unfortunately, most of the commercially-available reading programs available today do not meet these criteria.

We can use US census data (2003) to estimate how many children (5-17 years of age) cannot read; the number is a staggering 16 million children (using 30% failure rate).

National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP)

NAEP (2002) 38% of American 4th graders were functionally illiterate (S=140,000)

Reading failure affects every other academic area. The numbers are immense as are the human and economic costs.

$70-80 billion spent annually on special education.

80-90% of students are in Special Education because they cannot read.

Reading problems are NOT related to intelligence.

In economically-disadvantaged schools, the incidence of reading failure rises to 70% Magic Penny’s success rate is 99%.

“Magic Penny Reading is the great equalizer because it breaks the cycle of poverty.” Alison Caputy, Principal. Pine Hill Primary School. Cheektowaga, NY. Accepting the 2008 International Reading Association’s Exemplary Reading Program Award in Atlanta. Pine Hill Primary has been a Magic Penny school since 2004.

Magic Penny Reading is significantly different and its success rate is 99% when the program is used with fidelity. Since teachers have never been exposed to this Phonemic Reading approach, thorough teacher training is essential. The program takes about 30 minutes per day to implement, requires small group differentiated-instruction, and provides all of the materials that teachers need. It enables pre-K and Kindergarten teachers to target the essential early literacy skills throughout the day...not just during their Magic Penny time. A parent training component also comes with the program and can help involve parents in the process. Staff development is an integral part of any school district’s strategic planning for improvement. However, teachers also need the tools to implement a literacy program. The Magic Penny Early Literacy Institute is available today with the training and materials that are needed to teach every child how to read and write.

Sandy and Dan Schneider each presented well-attended sessions at NAEYC 2009 in Washington D.C. The presentations generated considerable interest both here at home and overseas. That’s how MPR recently spread to Bermuda, Costa Rica and the Virgin Islands. However, most of the foreign interest came from the world’s largest English-speaking country...China. The Schneiders have been invited to Beijing to visit a number of schools and consult on improving English reading instruction . To be upwardly mobile in China, you need to speak English. It’s not surprising that parents want their Children to begin learning English in pre-school. As America’s industrial base shrinks, it is all the more imperative that we give all of our children the tools to succeed in a technology-based society. A 30% reading failure rate is not acceptable. The MPR evidence base also reveals that children who learn how to read fluently do better in all academic, social studies, math, and of course reading and language arts. The axiom that first we “learn to read” and then we “read to learn” is supported by our results. We have the research-supported tools to teach 99% of our children how to read well by the time they finish first grade.

Dan Schneider
Executive Director