Why Jaydon can’t read: a forum on fixing literacy

Literacy Australia

This collection of speeches makes the case that students are not being provided with the most effective evidence-based reading instruction in the early years of school.

Executive summary: This collection of edited speeches is from a CIS policy forum held on 14 November 2013 to discuss the article ‘Why Jaydon Can’t Read: The Triumph of Ideology over Evidence in Teaching Reading’ published in the Spring 2013 issue of Policy.

Jennifer Buckingham, Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies and co-author of ‘Why Jaydon Can’t Read’:

  • Billions of dollars of public money have been spent trying to improve literacy levels of school students over the last decade in Australia, and yet hundreds of thousands of students are barely literate.
  • Almost all children can learn to read with effective, evidence-based reading instruction. Unfortunately, many teachers still use unproven methods based on whole-language philosophy or ad hoc ‘balanced literacy’ programs.
  • Pre-service teacher education has not prepared teachers in effective reading instruction strategies, and government policy has not promoted the use of evidence-based teaching methods.

Justine Ferrari, National Education Correspondent, The Australian:

  • The reading or literacy wars have been waging inside the teaching profession for the best part of three decades.
  • Rather than examine the reasons thousands of teenagers can go through school barely able to read, defenders of the existing system continue arguing about what is reading. Or they focus on the children who can read—the 90% plus. If doctors were losing 10% or 20% of their patients each year, they would re-examine their practice, rethink their treatment plans, and change the medicine.
  • In Australia, any observer would recognise that there’s a defensive, evangelistic zeal among many literacy educators and an ideological blindness that makes them cling to their beliefs in the face of the evidence of what is NOT working and what is.

Tom Alegounarias, President of the NSW Board of Studies:

  • The ‘research to practice’ gap in reading instruction is due to a lack of engagement with evidence and data in the teaching profession and a lack of confidence in dealing with empirical research. Moreover, ideologies, belief systems, and entrenched practices often overwhelm evidence of what works for particular students in particular circumstances.
  • This disconnection between research and teaching practice is not a result of a recalcitrant, self-serving, wilful and ideological teaching workforce. Rather, it is a lack of professional, policy and academic leadership. Too often, bureaucrats have found a safe place at the side of the reading wars and watched with detached curiosity.
  • The days of generic constructivist homilies masquerading as teaching techniques for reading are over. With regard to reading, the teaching profession needs to evolve to place the responsibility of direct instruction and its contingent relationship to learning at its heart.
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