Tag Archives: Dana Goldstein

The Science of Profits and Propaganda

28 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/28/2022

The Orwellian labeled science of reading (SoR) is not based on sound science. It more accurately should be called “How to Use Anecdotes to Sell Reading Products.” In 1997, congress passed legislation calling for a reading study. From Jump Street, the establishment of the National Reading Panel (NRP) was a doomed effort. The panel was given limited time for the study (18 months) which was a massive undertaking conducted by twenty-one unpaid volunteers. The NRP fundamentally did a meta-analysis in five reading domains while ignoring 10 other important reading domains. In other words, they did not review everything and there was no new research. They simply searched for reading studies and averaged the results to give us “the science of reading.”

It has been said that “analysis is to meta-analysis as physics is to meta-physics.”

Setting up the Sale

Nancy Bailey is an expert in special education and early reading instruction. In a recent posting she shared,

“A troubling feature of the Science of Reading (SoR) is the connection between those who believe in the power of phonemes (and more) and those who want to privatize public schools. The old NCLB crowd has been rejuvenated and seems onboard with digital instruction replacing public schools and teachers.

“For example, former gov Jeb Bush has been crusading for the Science of Reading, praising Emily Hanford for her advocacy for the SoR, implying teachers haven’t understood how to teach reading.”

Also in the post by Bailey are links to about 30 companies who sponsored Bush’s reading summit. They are all looking to cash in on the SoR.

Professor Paul Thomas has a deep background in teaching and education research. He spent 20 years in high school English classrooms and another 20 years at Furman University teaching teachers. Thomas recently wrote,

“Those of us in literacy, specifically the field of reading, have been highlighting since 2018 that APM Reports (specifically the work of Emily Hanford) has been misrepresenting both the problems around reading achievement and how to teach reading.

“Hanford and APM Reports are ground zero for the deeply flawed “science of reading” (SoR) movement that now pervades mainstream media.”

Hanford’s status as a reporter at American Public Media (APM) makes her work very damaging. APM is a sister organization to the Public Broad Casting system which has a well earned reputation for being unbiased and accurate.

Hanford is not an expert in education or reading.  In 1994 she earned a BA in English from Amherst College and in 1996 she took a job as a reporter at Chicago’s public media station WBEZ. She has been in the public broadcasting system ever since.

Professor Thomas points out that Hanford’s reporting is biased toward SoR claims that she agrees with and ignores all other evidence. He states,

“As I have pointed out numerous times, there is a singular message to Hanford’s work; she has never covered research that contradicts that singular message.

“For example, not a peep about the major study out of England that found the country’s systematic phonics-first policy to be flawed, suggesting a balanced approach instead.

“And not a peep about schools having success with one of Hanford’s favorite reading programs to demonize.”

Hanford is a glaring symptom of the journalism plague that is infecting public education but hardly the only one. Dana Goldstein continues to write problematic articles for the New York Times. Her writing is also biased towards the privatization agenda as salve for reading education. Her degree from Brown University in European intellectual and cultural history does not make her an expert in education, none-the-less, she regularly gets many inches in the Times to pontificate about it.

Maren Aukerman is an education expert. Professor Aukerman is currently a Werklund Research Professor at the University of Calgary who focuses on literacy education and democratic citizenship. She previously served on the faculty at Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania. Her recently published paper in the Literary Research Association focuses on the work of Goldstein, Hanford and others promoting the SoR movement. Aukerman outlined the fundamental message they’re selling,

“a) science has proved that there is just one way of teaching reading effectively to all kids – using a systematic, highly structured approach to teaching phonics;

“b) most teachers rely instead on an approach called balanced literacy, spurred on by shoddy teacher education programs;

“c) therefore, teachers incorporate very little phonics and encourage kids to guess at words;

“d) balanced literacy and teacher education are thus at fault for large numbers of children not learning to read well.

“The problem is not with recognizing that teaching phonics can play a facilitative role in having children learn to read; that insight is, indeed, important, if not particularly new. The problem is that this narrative distorts the picture to the point that readers are easily left with a highly inaccurate understanding of the so-called ‘science of reading.”’

Aukerman points to four fundamental flaws in their journalism: (1) Lack of Balance in Reporting , (2) Sensationalistic “Straw Man” Arguments, (3) A Myopic Lens Fetishizing Phonics Instruction and (4) Logical Fallacies. She gives examples for each of these claims. For example, a Logical Fallacy is not reporting research that shows students taught to read without systematic phonics “read more fluently.”

Mandating Dyslexia Testing and Structured Literacy

In January 2021, California State Senator Anthony Portantino a New Jersey transplant to the San Fernando Valley introduced SB237 which stipulates dyslexia testing for all students, kindergarten through third grade. The legislation also calls on local school districts to use “structured literacy instruction.” Although the bill was not adopted the concepts are still being actively pursued in Sacramento.

Today, forty states mandate dyslexia screening even though there is no consensus on how to define dyslexia. Some researchers even question its existence. Ball State University and University of Texas researchers have joined the chorus of scientists stating, “There are no universally employed measures or procedures for identifying dyslexia.” Commercially available tests misidentify both those that have a disability and those that don’t. Screening expert Dr. Amanda M. Vanderheyden reported that tools like The Shaywitz Dyslexia Screen have error rates of more than 50%. Vanderheyden also stated, “Readers may be surprised to learn that there is not a direct positive relationship between screening assessments and improved reading outcomes.”

Professor Rachael Gabriel makes this important observation about the screening tool Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS), “Just like a 20-minute consult with a doctor is always better than health advice from an online calculator, a one-on-one conference with a teacher or reading specialist will always be better than DIBELS at diagnosing and understanding reading difficulty, ability and progress.”

Politicians in a growing number of states are mandating “structured literacy.” It is a systematic phonics approach to reading instruction based on the 1930s theories of Anna Gillingham and Samuel Orton. The advantage of this approach is that it can be easily packaged into commercial products. Both the Department of Education’s clearing house and the International Literacy Association state that this approach is not supported by research.

The Cynical Use of Dyslexia

In their studies, the research teams from Ball State University and the University of Texas noticed that an intricately linked closed circle of organizations are driving dyslexia discourse. The International Dyslexia Association (IDA), the Academic Language Therapy Association (ALTA), the International Multisensory Language Education Council (IMSLEC) and Decoding Dyslexia (DD) are the major players. The study states,

“… IMSLEC started as an IDA committee, and ALTA certifies dyslexia specialists in the multisensory language approach, which in turn is consistent with IDA’s standards for educator preparation in reading (Knowledge and Practice Standards, n.d.). The IDA began certifying teachers in 2016, in addition to accrediting dyslexia teacher training programs.”

DD has parent chapters in every state in the union and they all employ the same language from IMSLEC and IDA in their lobbying materials and mission statements. DD’s parent chapters are able to drive many people out to legislative hearings to testify on behalf of structured literacy programs and commercial dyslexia testing.

Associate Professor of Literacy Education at the University of Connecticut Rachael Gabriel has been studying parent engagement with reading issues. In her report, she shares several extracts from the oral and written testimonies given at various legislative sessions on special education. The testimonies are often emotionally delivered anecdotes that support the privatization agenda. In this typical statement, a student claims,

“I have dyslexia. Reading and math are really hard for me. I’ve had too many teachers that don’t understand how to teach me. Finally, this year I went to Lindamood Bell training and reading is getting easier.”

In her paper, Professor Gabriel also noted how parents are told that the public school teachers do not know how to teach reading especially to students with dyslexia. They are informed that dyslexia is often associated with other giftedness, a claim with no evidence other than anecdotal undocumented claims about Einstein and other famous people who are said to have been dyslexic. Those testifying regularly call for the five point DD agenda:

  1. “A universal definition and understanding of ‘dyslexia’ in the state education code.
  2. Mandatory teacher training on dyslexia, its warning signs and appropriate intervention strategies.
  3. Mandatory early screening tests for dyslexia.
  4. Mandatory dyslexia remediation programs, which can be accessed by both general and special education populations.
  5. Access to appropriate ‘assistive technologies’ in the public school setting for students with dyslexia.”

Some of what DD is calling for has been standard practice addressed in teacher education programs for decades. Some of it looks like a call to sell technology which often is worse than useless. Unfortunately, the screening tests will misidentify and harm many students. The call for a universal definition of dyslexia by political edict in education code is anti-science and bizarre.

Conclusions

The SoR movement is another example of oligarch spending diminishing professionalism in education. The combination of arrogance and too much money in a few hands is a disaster. The people who were on the NRP were dedicated professionals and the last thing they wanted was to harm reading education yet their report is being used for just that purpose.

It is probably true that many students with issues learning to read are not being well served, but turning to products from private companies to save the day is a mistake. School districts in most of the nation are starved for cash and administrators look for any way to cut spending. This is the root of the poor service for struggling students.

The answer is to drive more money into early education and insure that teachers are provided with extensive training in reading education. It should be the purview of these trained professionals to screen their students one-on-one for learning problems. Once those evaluations are made, the school staff should be charged with deciding on the appropriate response.

Stop the incessant neoliberal agenda of monetizing everything.