Teaching the teachers Reading by 9: Schools of education spend far too little time on instilling the nuts and bolts of reading instruction.

November 08, 1997

IT'S TRUE that teachers today face problems in the classroom their own teachers could never have predicted. Weapons in school, the need for rubber gloves for dealing with a first-grader's nosebleed or even coping with the effects of crime or drugs on students' lives -- teachers have to be prepared for all these situations.

Even so, none of these issues should crowd out the meat of what teachers-in-training need to know. For early elementary teachers, the "meat" should include hefty portions of instruction in teaching reading.

The Sun's four-part series on the problems of many children in learning to read explored a number of reasons for low reading xTC scores. The fall-out from an ideological, either-or war waged between phonics and whole language proponents has played a role, as have other factors. But surely nothing is quite as sobering as the fact that schools of education provide so little emphasis on reading instruction of any kind.

At Towson University, the state's largest producer of teachers, only about 10 percent of required courses for elementary education majors focus on "language arts" like reading and speaking. That's not enough. Reading is the single most important academic skill a child must learn during the early elementary years. If a teacher fails at that, none of her other successes with a student can overcome the deficit. But when she succeeds, she has paved the way for a student to achieve in other areas as well.

Some schools of education apparently feel caught in a bind -- trying to prepare their stu- dents for employment in school systems that swing back and forth between the latest in structional fads. But that is no excuse for slighting either the necessity for teachers to have a sound understanding of the keys to decoding words (phonics) or, for that matter, the necessity for a language-rich classroom that surrounds students with encouragement to read, write and express ideas.

Schools of education throughout the country need to re-think their approach to reading instruction. If it takes more than four years to prepare elementary education majors to be good reading instructors, then policy makers should revisit proposals for revamping the certification program. The current approach, which leaves most of the training of new teachers to the school systems that hire them, is not working. We all pay too high a cost.

Pub Date: 11/08/97

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