Moriarty response to Investor’s Business Daily editorial

April 6,1999

Investor’s Business Daily

Referring to your editorial “When Education Theories Go Bad,” I am the first to admit, as an educator, that I have much to learn from the private sector. But according to your misinformed editorial on Reading Recovery, you have much to learn from the field of education. The Reading Recovery you describe, I never heard of, so where did you uncover your facts?

Reading Recovery is “hot” in the United States – no question. It is celebrating its 15th anniversary – some staying power for a “fad.” And it is definitely not remedial reading; it is an intervention, not a program, designed to teach to read and write the bottom 20% (the hardest to teach) of a first grade class, and it does that amazingly well. Columbus, Detroit, St. Louis, and Chicago all have the right to turn to Sylvan – and hopefully collect some data that is based on scientific inquiry – research – since Sylvan has no research background at this time (could it be that Sylvan is a fad?!). Chicago, as one example, has tried just about everything else, every fad available for both regular and special education. Perhaps Sylvan can finally do it for Chicago.

In just the past month, Maine topped the nation in reading scores. Connecticut also achieved within the top tier. Maine identified three key components within its 15-year struggle for literacy, one of which is Reading Recovery; and John Rowland, the governor of Connecticut, identified the state-wide implementation of Reading Recovery as implicit to Connecticut’s success.

One of Reading Recovery’s most effective traits is its function as a first pre-referral for special education. If we can help “children” avert the “learning disabled” label through short term, intensive, highly skilled intervention, then do this for “children” by using Reading Recovery or a similar program as the intervention strategy so that a high percentage of “children” show no further need for intervention, as demonstrated by innumerable longitudinal studies (Slavin, 1989; Pinnell, 1990 and 1991; Lyons, 1995; Clay, 1992, 1993). Why maintain inequality when Reading Recovery has the potential to equalize almost all children? To continue the inequality verges on neglect.

Your implication that Reading Recovery lacks systematic instruction and word level strategies is categorically incorrect. Reading Recovery teachers give specific and explicit attention to letters, sounds, and words, both while reading and writing extended text and as direct instruction. Marilyn Adams, in her comprehensive review of research on beginning reading instruction (1990), and referring to Reading Recovery, acknowledged that the “importance of phonological and linguistic awareness is explicitly recognized.” She also stated that Reading Recovery, along with several other programs, is “designed to develop thorough appreciation of phonics.” Consistent with Adams’ analysis, Stahl, Stahl, and McKenna (under review) report that “all students in the Reading Recovery group made gains in letter identification, phonemic awareness, and dictation tests, … and all made significantly greater improvement in phonological processing tasks than unserved ‘at-risk’ students.” Reading Recovery encourages meaning-making and problem solving with print. Decoding is purposeful.

Therefore, a Reading Recovery professional understands phonemic awareness and its importance in beginning reading and writing; the alphabetic principle and orthographic knowledge and their importance in beginning reading and writing; and they understand that a child needs to hear phonemes in words, associate letters with sounds, recognize and use spelling patterns, apply this knowledge in reading and writing, and expand this knowledge to all the purposes for which it can be used in all levels of literacy processing (Askew, Fountas, Lyons, Pinnell, Schmitt, 1998).

Your comment that “Reading Recovery is expensive” is an old, now disproven argument. The Fall River, MA, study showed a net saving of $1.3 million over five years with Reading Recovery. Compare the cost of 20 weeks of Reading Recovery intervention to 12 years of special education services. Compare it to the savings of just one out-of-district special education placement ($40,000 to $60,000). Within my own school district, we found that out of 70 successful readers from Reading Recovery, only 2.8% were referred to special education. Four years ago, the Massachusetts legislature completed an in-depth seven month study, and it determined that for every $3 invested in Reading Recovery, a school district saves $5. Even in the private sector, that is cost effective. These are not the traits of a “fad.”

Please, visit Massachusetts where success rates – and sustained gains – of over 90% are routine. The largest urban district outside of Boston posts a 94% success rate (data that is two weeks old). This is hardly a failure. This is “children first” at its best.

Dewey said, “Education is not a preparation for life; it is life itself,” and watching first grade non-readers, we know how they can “miss out” on life. Reading Recovery proves every day that the world can be different for kids struggling to read and write. Reading Recovery takes on the most difficult cases, and over and over again, we see the light go on in their eyes when they discover, “I can do it.”

Finally, as we witness the reading debates ebb and flow (unfortunately fueled by editorials such as yours), Reading Recovery will remain a non-participant in the combat, but Reading Recovery will administer to the casualties, regardless of the classroom program. As Reading Recovery celebrates its 15th anniversary in the United States, be aware that Reading Recovery has never moved from one extreme to another. Reading Recovery steps into a child’s life at a critical time – before the cycle of failure begins. It remains world wide as an example of the most powerful, effective staff development program available, yielding the best trained teachers of reading in their districts, and compared to other programs that go on for years and never get children reading on grade level, Reading Recovery is a bargain.

Very truly yours,
David J. Moriarty, Ed.D.
Director of Language Arts K-12
Medford Public Schools, MA
TEL: 781-393-2320
FAX: 781-395-1468