Attack on “Balanced Literacy” Is Attack on Professional Teachers, Research

The allusion in Robert Pondiscio’s Why Johnny won’t learn to read accomplishes something different than intended. Pondiscio’s uninformed swipe at balanced literacy actually reveals that, once again, ideology trumps teacher professionalism and literacy research.

The reading wars are about almost everything except reading, but the most important lesson from this newest version of the same old thing is that if we start with what balanced literacy is, we begin to see just what those who attack balanced literacy believe:

Spiegel 3

Spiegel’s definition shows that the term “balanced literacy” is about the professional autonomy of the teacher, the wide range of research on how children acquire literacy, and honoring individual student needs (those who need direct instruction and those who do not).

Like “whole language,” balanced literacy does not reject any practice that is needed or effective, and does not prescribe practices either.

When Pondiscio and others, then, reject balanced literacy, they reject teacher autonomy and professionalism, research-based practices in literacy, and student needs.

For Further Reading

Teaching Reading and Children: Reading Programs as “Costume Parties”


7 thoughts on “Attack on “Balanced Literacy” Is Attack on Professional Teachers, Research”

  1. Thanks for this Paul and thanks for pointing me to the Pondiscio article which I had not seen while preparing my post on the issue. As you rightly point out, balanced literacy is truly about skilled professionals making informed judgements along the way of bringing children into the literacy club. There is plenty of room for Common Core in balanced literacy, except that the proponents of the Common Core are so unbalanced and so ready to try to remove the teacher from the equation.

  2. Oh, Lord. That’s absolutely an attack on professionalism itself, not on a methodology. Like zero-tolerance and relentless benchmarking, it’s an effort to banish the exercise of judgment from teaching.

    The desire to judgment-proof performance surely began in the legal world and spread throughout vocations, to the point where few professionals have the latitude to exercise their expertise at the level where they (and those they serve) would flourish. The mindset has even infected our private interactions, leading individuals to subscribe more readily than ever to the ideologies of movements and political parties sight-unseen instead of forming their own opinions on individual issues.

    Eliminating all but the most slavish of methodologies from teaching is sadly in step with the trend toward ideology-led intellectual and working life in America.

  3. Thanks for a great article and especially the links – Russ etc
    phonics won ! We spent $6 billion in the US implementing the supposedly “scientific” conclusions of a large meta-analysis, and got zero gains in reading comprehension, but a lot of collateral damage. We need to teach students and address their needs in the context of long term goals of developing a love for reading otherwise the headline will read – Jonny can read , but Jonny does not want to read . Another problem is we help kids put the focus on how well they are doing instead of what they are doing

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