Dropping Out of School Every 26 Seconds

In 2007, at the National Governor’s Association Summit it was stated that one student drops out of a US school every 29 seconds.

Three years later it was reported by CNN that the statistic is every 26 seconds.

The following year, NBA All Star LeBron James and State Farm Insurance decided to bring this startling news to more people’s attention through their “26 Second” program.


What will it take before America implements exactly what needs to be done to tackle the problem? That problem being illiteracy.

With illiteracy a major cause of juvenile delinquency and crime, as reported on many fronts, it seems only natural that the primary emphasis should be to ensure that every American knows how to read proficiently.

And the most proven method to accomplish that very worthwhile goal, whether it be beginning reading instruction or remediation, is through systematic and explicit phonics instruction.

Instead of illiteracy costing taxpayers and businesses over $225 billion annually in crime, welfare payments, lost taxes, job incompetence and remedial education is it not better to increase production and income through literacy?

In 2003, the Alliance for Excellent Education stated in their report, “If literacy levels in the United States were the same as those in Sweden, the U.S. GDP (Gross Domestic Product) would rise by approximately $463 billion and tax revenues would increase by approximately $162 billion.


It is time for change. It is time to Wake Up and not only address but handle the problem.

Phonics reading methodology can, and does, change lives. But, only if it is used.

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.

Preparing Students for the 21st Century

Preparing students for the 21st century is, quite frankly, like preparing them for any other.

They must know how to read.


If a person graduating high school does not know how to read proficiently, not at a 4th grade level, they will be unable to master most any job, let alone their life.

Reading is so fundamental to life, from being able to read a job advertisement to a car or home contract, from banking paperwork to past-due notices and more, that until America begins to properly educate students how to read all other methods of “education reform” are doomed to dismal failure, regardless of the amount of money spent in that sector.

The statistics that are continually gathered regarding how functional illiteracy affects all of society are staggering. The three worst are:

  • In the U.S. prison system over 60% of all inmates read at or below 4th grade level
  • Approximately 85% of juvenile offenders are functionally illiterate
  • Illiteracy costs taxpayers and companies over $225 billion annually in crime, welfare payments, lost taxes, job incompetence and remedial education

The solution to the problem is not rocket science, or even close.

The solution is simple. Teach students how to read, effectively and competently, through the use of systematic and explicit phonics.

Get America back to basics.

Teach children their ABC’s and their 123’s.

Then, and only then, will they be armed with the correct tools to complete their education and to forge a life in the 21st century and beyond.

As Frederick Douglass said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

School House ‘Pork’ Does Not Cure The Illiteracy Epidemic

There have been many articles written the past several years about earmarks for education.

While it might be argued that some may be worthwhile it appears that a majority of them could have been eliminated without any harm to educating youth in America.

Especially when one considers the epidemic of illiteracy that persists with 85% of all juvenile offenders lacking basic reading and math skills and one high school student dropping out every 29 seconds.

Does it make sense to, in one year, fund zoos in the amount of $2.7 million in the name of “education?” Do Hall of Fames for Rock and Roll, Baseball and Aviation deserve to garner over one million dollars instead of teaching students how to read?

The fact that both parties deem it worthwhile to attach billions of dollars annually in education earmarks without addressing the vital need to get American students back to basics with systematic and explicit phonics so that they are able to read proficiently is criminal.

Factually, it would cost a fraction of what “image pork” besets taxpayers.

What is meant by Image Pork?  How about Congress passing an earmark, using taxpayer dollars, in the amount of $1.9 million for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service or $19 million for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the Senate or $2.4 million for the Lott Leadership Institute or $10 million for the Strom Thurmond Fitness and Wellness Center.

Why would any reasonable person sitting on Capitol Hill believe that their name is worth more than properly educating children in America how to read?

Education “reform” is not needed.  Political reform definitely is required.

It is time to eliminate earmarks of all nature as they are special interest in nature and burden each and every citizen with a pricetag to pay.

More importantly, it is time to ensure students in America are properly educated how to read because, as Frederick Douglass said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

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

The Nonsense Of Whole Word Reading

The early advocates of whole word reading methodology (which has changed identities using various other names) sold their education-destroying concepts via absolute nonsense.

Consider one of the first arguments against phonics: memorization is rote and tedious.

Factually, for a person to learn to read using phonics they must master the 54 sounds that the 26 letters and certain letter combinations make. Then they must remember the various exceptions to these sounds.

Compare that to a person, keeping in mind that most people start learning to read at a very young age before their mind is fully developed, having to memorize thousands upon thousands of words and how they sound by where each of the letters, both upper and lower case, are located in the word.

One of the major problems (among many other issues) with whole word reading is that there are many words spelled very similar to each other. And yet others are spelled quite differently that sound exactly the same. What that does to a child learning to read by looking at a string of letters is cause confusion.

Witness this fact.

Assume that little Johnny looks at the letters t h r o u g h and is told that the word sounds the way the instructor tells him. Ok, good. Johnny knows that t h r o u g h sounds like through. The instructor also informs him that through means “in at one end out out of the other.”

Johnny, now possessing the knowledge of how through sounds and what it means, a little later comes across the word thorough. To Johnny that word looks like through so he, in most cases, automatically assumes that the word is one and the same. Then he sees the word thought. And the word though. Same result.

To top it off, Johnny then learns that t h r e w sounds exactly the same as through but has a different definition. Add some more confusion to poor Johnny.

Proponents of whole word (look-say, sight word, sight read, etc.) will laugh this off as simplistic, that it does not occur and if it does the student must have a learning disability.

But they are wrong. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

Back in 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 methods that had been used to teach them to read (sight-reading).

However, that is not the point of this mind-numbing whole word example of “teaching.”

The accusation that phonics is rote memorization and has too many exceptions to the rules and thus should not be used falls totally flat on its face when one considers that there are over 500,000 words in the English language and these experts expect a person to “memorize” (which is what whole word is) half a million words!

How can anyone memorize that many different letter combinations and their equivalent sound? Aside from the obvious fact that whole wordies are demanding that poor Johnny memorize all of them (or at least tens of thousands) when their argument against phonics was that it was not good because it demanded memorization of 54 letter and letter combination sounds and a handful of exceptions.

Systematic and explicit phonics is THE most effective method to teach reading. And it is far easier to learn the sounds and exceptions than to attempt learning the sounds made by letter combinations made in over half a million words.

End note: student Johnny is used as a tribute to Rudolf Flesch for his early fight supporting phonics in his best-selling book Why Johnny Can’t Read, originally published in 1955. Anyone who has not read it should do themselves a favor and get a copy. It can be ordered here: Amazon.

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