According to the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress, 68 percent of the nation’s fourth-graders are reading below proficiency level. And they’re not outgrowing the problem: In March, the American College Testing Program reported that an astonishing 49 percent of the 1.2 million students who took its college admissions test lack college-level reading skills. Minorities and the poor fare worse: Only 21 percent of blacks, 33 percent of Hispanics, and 33 percent of students from families with annual incomes below $30,000 can master the “complex” reading tasks required for college success. Not counted, of course, are the 30 percent of high-schoolers who drop out.
O’Neal calls out the reading courses in education schools for particular blame:
The public assumes that colleges of education are preparing aspiring teachers to teach kids how to read by requiring rigorous courses in how to do so. To test that assumption, the Washington, D.C.–based National Council on Teacher Quality recently launched a sweeping examination of reading courses and textbooks at the nation’s colleges of education. The results are appalling. What masquerades as reading pedagogy is, with few exceptions, a soggy confection of political correctness, collectivist social indoctrination, diversity training, and fluff courses that make basket weaving sound like advanced biophysics.
[…] Here’s an assignment worth 20 percent of the grade in a college course in reading instruction: “After reading the book, design an original cover for it. . . .Make a commercial that convinces others to buy and read the book. Make a diorama of the book.”
[…] These are teachers in training, captive to professors who in many instances owe their sinecures to taxpayers. They’re going to be your kids’ reading teachers, armed only with dioramas, posters, and puppet shows—and perhaps the ability to strum “Yellow Submarine” on the ukulele.
It’s difficult to overestimate the importance of reading. The ability to read — to extract, evaluate, and use information from a text source — literally makes or breaks the future lives of every human being. I’ve said repeatedly here that the number one obstruction to mastering mathematical subjects is the ability to read and write — not one’s algebra skills, although those are important.
The negative effects of such soft-minded approaches to teaching reading — and training teachers to teach reading — may be incalculable. And my kids’ teachers better prepare for serious parental badgering should their reading instruction get this soft.
O’Neal also mentions that per-student spending has quadrupled over the last 50 years, even after adjusting for inflation, and if anything students’ reading performances have gotten worse. So throwing more money at public schools isn’t going to solve the problem.