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Educator Panel Assails Old-Fashioned Reading Techniques

March 21, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Cheaper and more effective methods of teaching reading are being ignored by textbook publishers and college educators with stakes in the current system, a panel of educators said Thursday.

″The publishers are in this to make money. And the college personnel are not going to say ‘I’ve been doing it wrong all these years,’ because they’ll be out of a job,″ said Charles J. Micciche, superintendent of schools in Groveton, N.H.

″Too many vested interests oppose phonics,″ Micciche told the House subcommittee on elementary, secondary and vocational education. He urged the subcommittee to study teaching methods.

Micciche and three other educators contended that the deeply entrenched ″whole-word″ or ″look-say″ method, in which children memorize whole words by sight, is a major problem.

They said phonics - reading and pronouncing words by learning the sounds of letters, letter groups and syllables - is the key to teaching almost all children to read. The 70 sounds taught by most phonics methods apply to 85 percent of the English language, they said.

Incentives against using phonics include ″protection of turf, saving of jobs, and having to prepare a whole new curriculum for masses of children who read well in the third grade,″ said Ann Mactier, a member of the Omaha, Neb., board of education.

Dorothy Strickland, an education professor at Columbia Teachers College, said no one, including textbook publishers, benefits from bad reading instruction. ″Theoretically, if we were all avid readers, we’d be buying books instead of hamburgers,″ she said.

Matthew Jordan, 16, told the subcommittee he could not read until he switched to a school that used the phonetic method. ″You’ve got to be able to comprehend what you’re reading, but first you’ve got to be able to read and spell,″ said the Omaha teen-ager.

Reading scores rose and per-student costs dropped from $16 to $2.25 when poverty-stricken Coos County, N.H. adopted phonics and discarded expensive ″look-say″ packages ″with their self-serving dependency, their built-in obsolescency of materials, their addiction to mediocrity,″ Micciche said.

A group of angry, frustrated and illiterate adolescents were thrilled when a new phonics program enabled them to read something on the first day it was used, said Sally Queal, a special education teacher from Blytheville, Ark.

″I, too, was thrilled. I finally knew a process that could really help,″ said Ms. Queal. She said the method took her four hours to learn.

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