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Archive for Monday, December 20, 1999

SCHOOLS GIVES PHONICS PLAN COLD SHOULDER

December 20, 1999

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The state's director of the National Right to Read Foundation has urged the Lawrence school district to try an explicit phonics program to help students with reading.

Linda Weinmaster moved to Lawrence and decided she had enough time to volunteer at an elementary school.

Weinmaster, director of the Kansas and Nebraska division of the National Right to Read Foundation, offered to assist students at Sunflower School who had difficulty reading. She would use the "intensive, systematic and explicit" phonics instruction that had served her children well in Omaha, Neb.

The district denied permission, Weinmaster said.

"It's frustrating," she said. "I just wanted to help nonreaders. The losers in this are the kids."

Supt. Kathleen Williams said it would be inappropriate for anyone to bring a reading approach into district classrooms that wasn't approved by the school board.

"She can't teach her program," she said. "Our curriculum is phonics rich."

Weinmaster said about 90 percent of public schools teach children to read with a strategy that relied on whole-word memorization and some implicit phonics instruction. She said Lawrence schools were in this category.

"It's not the teachers' fault," she said. "I want them to be given the best curriculum that helps all kids."

But that requires the district to be open to alternatives, Weinmaster said. She suggested the district experiment with Spalding Phonics.

Weinmaster said Omaha schools found that teaching that form of phonics to beginning and young readers led to improvement on standardized reading tests.

If embraced in Lawrence, Weinmaster said, "our reading test scores wouldn't be so flat."

Under the Spalding approach, students isolate sounds of letters and combinations of letters that make up the spelling of the 44 sounds of English speech.

Weinmaster said a five-year-old child could decode more than one million words if taught the alphabet along with 70 phonograms (spellings of those sounds) commonly used in English spelling.

"It's not a method," she said. "It's a body of knowledge."

The result of an intensive phonics program is students who can read, spell and write well, she said.

"A sprinkle of phonics taught unsystematically, erratically and implicitly will not cure the current growing epidemic of reading failure," Weinmaster said.

-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is tcarpenter@ljworld.com.

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