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Is Phonics Instruction Necessary?
Subj:      [Mpls] K-12 Education: Is phonics instruction necessary?
Date:     11/4/2001 10:32:08 AM Central Standard Time

Again with the phonics.

Advocates of the look-say / whole language method say that kids will learn
the phonetic rules of the language without any explicit instruction, provided
that they get enough exposure to good literature, and so forth.  

However, it is pretty clear that advocates of the look-say / whole language
method are wrong.  It hasn't worked in the Minneapolis Public Schools.  At
any rate, that seemed to be the consensus at the regular meeting of the
Minneapolis Board of Education on September 29, 1999.  High school
teachers who spoke at the meeting reported that a lot of the kids who
didn't pass the reading section of the Minnesota Basic Standards test were
unlikely to pass it unless they received some phonics instruction and practice.   

According to a newspaper article under the heading "Less than a third of 4th
graders can read well," it is noted "Numerous government-sponsored studies
over the last decade have found that explicit instruction in sound-letter
relationships and phonics practice, combined with exposure to rich
literature, produce the best results (St. Paul Pioneer Press, 7 April 2001)."
[The preceding passage was lifted from my school board platform]

It's not enough for the district to ask Houghton Mifflin to expand the
"phonics component" of its English language curriculum product.  We need to
introduce phonics instruction to K-4 classrooms as a regular part of the
curriculum: Phonics instruction accompanied by classroom activities that will
help kids learn the skills, like blending letter sounds; Phonics instruction
and practice that is integrated with and reinforced by the rest of the
English language curriculum.  Not an add on.  Not another "phonics piece."

Why does the look-say / whole language method retain a lot of support within
the educational establishment?  Diane Ravitch, author of "Left Back: a
century of failed school reforms," says you can blame "progressive" social
engineers, and that the look-say method is a method of dumbing-down the curriculum
for the not-college-bound.  I agree with Ravitch that it is a method of
dumbing-down the curriculum.  But I don't buy the "progressive" conspiracy
theory that is woven into her history lesson.  Ravitch supports a
neo-conservative school reform agenda and has been a policy advisor to
presidents Bush and Bush. I wrote a brief review of "Left Back: " by Diane
Ravitch, and a few other books, which can be found at my web site

It's easy to dismiss advocates of phonics instruction as right-wing wackos
(Republicans), but those "right-wing wackos" are in charge of a lot of
suburban school districts that have an effective reading curriculum.  

-Doug Mann, King Field  
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