by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Terry Stoops writes for the Martin Center about problems associated with the way public school teachers approach reading instruction.
No cliché is more ubiquitous at teacher protests than signs that read, “if you can read this sign, thank a teacher.” That is, unless you disregard variations on the theme of “pay us more.” And yet, student performance on national and international tests suggest that the reading comprehension of most American students does not extend far beyond an understanding of nine-word sentences and basic signage.
In the United States, only a fortunate few acquire reading proficiency. Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have barely budged since 2002. On the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), the U.S. average reading score for fourth-grade students trailed 12 education systems and was not significantly different than 15 others. PIRLS test scores have also seen no measurable improvement since 2001. Similarly, the average score of 15-year-old students on the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) reading test was lower than 14 education systems and was not measurably different than the international average—or from the 2003 average score.
In Language at the Speed of Sight: How We Read, Why So Many Can’t, And What Can Be Done About It, Mark Seidenberg, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, takes these test results and other indicators of functional illiteracy seriously. Rather than dismiss the scores from reputable reading tests, he argues that they indicate deeply embedded and systematic shortcomings in how college teacher training programs prepare prospective educators.