New standards with a balance


THE SCIENCE of reading instruction is getting tougher in Maryland colleges and universities.

On Monday, the organization that accredits the state's 22 teacher-training institutions announced a new set of standards, shifting emphasis from what is to be "covered" to what is to be learned. That should cut the number of teacher education graduates who have barely a clue about reading.

To be licensed by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education - Maryland schools are required to be NCATE-licensed under a new state law - a college must "demonstrate to us that each candidate can, in fact, cause children to learn," said Arthur E. Wise, council president.

In a rewrite of its standards, the council made them much more specific. Graduates of elementary-school programs must demonstrate they can teach children to read "with a balanced instructional program that includes an emphasis on the use of letter/sound relationships [phonics]."

That will be a change for some schools that had all but jettisoned phonics in the belief that kids learn to read naturally, just as they learn to speak.

Good news is associated with NCATE's new standards. All major Maryland schools seeking NCATE accreditation are revamping curriculums to include a balanced reading program, though they could be "grandfathered" under the old NCATE standards. The new standards go into effect in fall 2001.

The state's largest educator of teachers, Towson University, is chief among these schools. Towson is nervously preparing for an NCATE inspection in the early fall, and officials are well aware that the organization is no pushover - about a fifth of applicants are told to try again.

Accredited by NCATE in Maryland are Bowie State University, Coppin State College, Morgan State University, Salisbury State University and the University of Maryland campuses in Baltimore County and College Park.

While NCATE is applying pressure from one source, the colleges will be pushed in the same direction by Donald N. Langenberg, chancellor of the University System of Maryland.

Langenberg got religion as chairman of the National Reading Panel, which was charged by Congress to examine the quality of reading research in the United States since the early 1960s.

Appointed because he is a physicist and university administrator with no bias in the "reading wars," Langenberg was appalled during the two-year study.

Teacher educators and university officials, he found, had little knowledge of - or regard for - scientifically derived reading research, and the vast majority of research in reading is of poor quality.

When the reading panel issued its report this spring, Langenberg vowed to spread the word among schools he oversees. "I've been noodling several ideas," he said last week, "though I can't order anybody to do anything."

Reading research should be more interdisciplinary he said, and textbook publishers should be forced to subject their materials to clinical trials similar to those performed on experimental drugs. "Anybody making a claim as to the effectiveness of textbooks or materials ought to do clinical trials to see that the claims are true," he said. "There ought to be an analog to the FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] for textbook publishers."As a physicist," Langenberg said earlier, "I looked at reading with a different set of eyes. I came to realize that teaching reading is actually harder than rocket science."

Online store asks teachers about summer reading, an online store, surveyed 900 teachers across the country about kids' summer reading habits. Here are some findings:

Sixty-three percent of children do their summer reading before bedtime. Only 3 percent do it on vacation away from home.

Parents have the most influence on what kids read during the summer (60 percent), followed by teachers (23 percent) and friends (13 percent).

Almost half the teachers - 46 percent - recommend parents set aside a half-hour a day for reading.

Seventy-seven percent of the teachers say students return after break reading at levels worse or the same as when they left.

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