Solving America’s Education Problem – Back To Basics

First President Obama stated that children in America needed longer school days.

Then Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, stated (per the Philadelphia Inquirer): “Our school calendar’s based on a 19th century agrarian economy. I’m sure there weren’t too many kids in Philadelphia working in their parents’ fields this summer.”

The above statement by Duncan is true; school in America has been based on an agrarian calendar. Summer was a time for children to assist their family in the fields, harvesting, and the like.


Don’t get us wrong; we do not particularly have an issue with children attending school longer.

And it is known that there are researchers who have said that adding even short amounts to of time to a curriculum raises test scores.

What we take exception to is that the root of America’s educational crisis is not a short school day.

Witness, the United States has been on the agrarian calendar for education essentially since schools were formed (circa 1647).

Under this system and schedule, the U.S. did lead the world in education for decades and decades.

Thus, changing the school day schedule or the number of days in school is not the answer. It may help some, but it is not the answer.

What is?

Basics.

Pure and simple, the basics of education.

The Three R’s: reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic.

Youth today have not learned their basics. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

National test scores, as collected and averaged by the National Center for Education Statistics, show slight, only slight, increases in reading and mathematic scores in all grade levels of students tested the last four decades.

Whole word reading displaced phonics as the way to teach students to read. And, despite the fact the National Reading Panel (which reviewed over 100,000 studies on reading) states unequivocally that the use of phonics is the best way to accomplish this task, most of our students are not taught to read using phonics.


Student comprehension is low, as dictionaries, which used to be in classrooms in mass quantities, have all but disappeared from the educational scene.

The problem is not the number of hours a child spends in school.

The problem is what and how our children are being taught while they attend.

And this problem has been staring us in the face for decades.

Our youth need to be taught the basics.

Teaching those basics is the best way to halt student dropout, of which there are 3,000 students who leave school PER DAY.

“In Philadelphia, for instance, about half of all students cannot read or do math on grade level. The dropout rate hovers around 50 percent as well,” states the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Keep in mind that the National Institute of Justice reported that 85% of all juvenile offenders lack basic reading and math skills.

Food for thought.

Reading With Phonics Positively Changes Lives

Reading is the primary tool people use to become educated on virtually any subject. When one cannot capably read one’s potential in any field is diminished.

The Smart Way Reading and Spelling® methodology has successfully assisted thousands of people, young and old alike, to learn to read or to become better readers through remediation of their skills.

The foolproof phonics program is systematic and explicit, following Orton-Gillingham principles and based on the findings and the recommended elements required to effectively teach reading as reported by the National Reading Panel.

The Scope and Sequence is geared to educate a student through the reading gradients, from learning the consonant sounds and reading words with short vowel sounds, through all of the most common English phonetic patterns, up to advanced phonetic concepts such as silent letters and the schwa sound.

Smart Way Reading has been used in scores of cities across the United States with consistent and uniform positive results.

Utilizing the Wide Range Achievement Test for pre- and post-testing, students, on average, increased from the 30th to the 50th Percentile based on their age in typically 30-35 hours of either one-on-one or small group tutoring. That essentially means that they moved from substantially below to reading at their age level.


More information regarding results may be viewed here: Results and Testimonials.

The only proven way for people to learn to read, as well as to eradicate illiteracy through effective remediation, is through utilization of fully researched and evidence-based systematic and explicit phonics programs such as Smart Way Reading.  A study that validates its use and results can be found here: SWRS Research Study.

The multi-sensory Smart Way program has also been converted, as a direct derivative work, for online use showing essentially the same level of student achievement.  A brief overview may be seen at: Overview.

“Thanks to the Smart Way explicit systematic approach to help our students break the codes to reading, writing, speaking and understanding English, our test scores are better in all areas.” VT, Student Learning Coach

Illiteracy in America IS an Epidemic

In a country that has offered and supported free education to the entirety of its population it is seriously criminal that such a huge number of citizens are functionally illiterate.

Reports state that as many as 50 million adult Americans fit that category, costing businesses and taxpayers over two hundred billion dollars annually in remedial education and losses due to crime, unemployment, welfare, and more. Further, over 60% of all prison inmates and 85% of all juvenile offenders have problems with reading, writing and basic math.

In 1997, the United States Congress requested the Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, in consultation with the Secretary of Education, to convene a committee to assess the effectiveness of the various approaches utilized to teach reading skills and to, basically, discover why the country was so illiterate.

The National Reading Panel (NRP), following over two years of exhaustive research, concluded, in The Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read, that there are five key factors that must be present for effective reading instruction.

The first two elements are “phonemic awareness” (the ability to notice, think about and work with the individual sounds in spoken words) and “systematic phonics instruction” (teaching the relationships between the letters of written language and the individual sounds of spoken language).

These two factors had, basically, been taught since at least 1500 BC when the Egyptians and Phoenicians developed their alphabets and was the method exclusively used in America for scores of years but seemed to have all but vanished from most reading curricula during the 20th century, replaced by sight-word teaching, known also under a variety of different names (i.e., sight reading, look-say, whole-word, etc.).

As early as 1927, neurologist Dr. Samuel Orton, under a Rockefeller Foundation grant, concluded that children who had been diagnosed with ‘congenital word blindness’ (now called dyslexia) were actually severely harmed by the teaching methods (sight-reading) employed. His findings were reported in a scientific paper entitled “The ‘Sight Reading’ Method of Teaching Reading as a Source of Reading Disability.”

That methodology, and the results that it produces, are nothing less than child abuse, which is a criminal offense.

Three decades later, in 1955, author and Doctor of English Rudolf Flesch isolated the decline of literacy in America with the replacement of phonics instruction by sight-word when he published his best-selling book, Why Johnny Can’t Read.

So, if it wasn’t broken, why “fix” it?

For a partial answer, one must understand the beginnings of the movement. The below quote is from John Dewey, an educator and psychologist who became one of the main forces behind the change, circa 1898:

“It is almost an unquestioned assumption, of educational theory and practice both, that the first three years of a child’s school-life shall be mainly taken up with learning to read and write his own language…It does not follow, however, that because this course was once wise it is so any longer…The plea for the predominance of learning to read in early school life because of the great importance attaching to literature seems to me a perversion.”

Literature, a perversion? Is not the ability to read literature the way to obtain knowledge?

Even in today’s high-tech environment, the vast majority of content on the web is the written word.

Another strong proponent of eliminating phonics was Edward Lee Thorndike, a psychologist who laid the foundation for educational psychology. In 1906, he had this to say about the mission of a teacher:

“The aim of the teacher is to produce desirable and prevent undesirable changes in human beings by producing and preventing certain responses.”

Produce and prevent changes and responses? That sounds more like his own work in animal behavior than in teaching the youth of America.

Perhaps the definition of ‘teach,’ per Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, is more extensively accurate:

“To instruct; to inform; to communicate to another the knowledge of that of which he was before ignorant.”

Teaching has nothing at all to do with behavior modification and everything to do with literature. (Literature, as defined back then was: “comprehends a knowledge of ancient languages, denominated classical, history, grammar, rhetoric, logic, geography, as well as of the sciences.”)

If one looks at American literacy prior to the theories of people such as Dewey and Thorndike becoming paramount in society it becomes abundantly clear that phonics was not broken and should not have been “fixed,” especially with a method that does not, and cannot, produce positive results with all people.

And, in fact, that which was used to replace phonics not only broke, but devastated, a fully functioning and workable education system.

The following link easily proves the point: 1895 8th Grade Final Exam. It is the 1895 8th grade final exam from Salina, Kansas.

Since 2005, Bright Sky Learning employees have had many people, including those who hold a Ph.D. or Ed.D., attempt to pass the test with better than a 50% score. Even allowing credit for answers unique to that period’s lifestyle (such as the question dealing with a bushel of hay), no one has yet accomplished this task.

Another point of proof is Webster’s Elementary Spelling Book (commonly called the Blue-Backed Speller and also published under different titles, such as The American Spelling Book), first published in 1783, and used by luminaries such as Benjamin Franklin, who home-schooled his daughter using the book. It includes words required to be known by students at the time and is especially significant considering the fact that most people only attended school until about the 8th grade level.

There is also this simple fact: there was no such thing thing as “remedial reading” before 1925. Prior to that phonics was in use. After that date public schools were universally “teaching” reading using the whole word method. And, what is used for remediation: phonics!

All the propaganda in the world cannot cover up the fact that what Dr. Seuss said so succinctly in 1981 was correct, “I think killing phonics was one of the greatest causes of illiteracy in the country.”

He is in excellent company.

To all those who fight the good fight, to use phonics instruction to teach or remediate reading skills, keep up the fight.

The “reading wars” are not over and will not be over until our country is 100% back to pure phonics reading instruction, providing access to all information and knowledge that is available to every citizen of the United States.

© 2001-2017 Sue Young & Scott D. Welch. All Rights Reserved. Smart Way Reading-Made in the U.S.A. (727) 734-8483