Groves Literacy

Groves Academy: Where the art of teaching meets the science of learning

Who is to Blame?


As I have mentioned on this literacy blog, we have a reading crisis in this country.  Approximately 30% of our nation’s fourth graders do not read at a basic level (they can’t decode the printed word); over 60% of our nation’s fourth graders can’t read proficiently (with good comprehension).  These dismal scores provide fodder for politicians, the media, and the general public to vociferously criticize teachers.  “For heaven’s sake, why can’t Billy read?”

Do teachers really deserve this blame?  I don’t think so.  The primary blame lies at the feet of two constituencies, higher education–colleges and universities, which prepare teachers and are supposed to be the beacon of scientific inquiry–and state departments of education, which are responsible for teacher licensing and knowledge standards.  As evident by the course requirements for most undergraduate programs, the teaching of reading is not highly valued in the world of education.  I think most of us would contend that learning to read is the most important skill that a child can acquire in school.  Without the ability to read proficiently at a minimum of sixth grade, a child is wandering down a path that will most likely lead to a dark future.

School district administrators–principals, directors of curriculum and instruction, and special education directors–as well as reading specialists and literacy coaches shoulder some of the responsibility for poor reading scores.  Not only should they be providing appropriate professional development for their teachers (especially the kindergarten through third grade teachers), they should also be pressuring higher education and state departments of education for stronger knowledge standards in reading that teachers must demonstrate mastery with in order to receive a teaching license.

Finally, teacher unions share the blame.  Speaking from experience, teacher unions are resistant to change that affects their primary stakeholders, teachers.  Isn’t it ironic that teachers are the primary stakeholders of teacher unions, not students?

There are plenty of constituencies who share the blame for our nation’s literacy crisis.  The question now becomes:  Will anyone step forward and do what is needed to affect meaningful change?  We know how children need to be taught for them to learn to read.  We can do it.  Will we?

John Alexander, Head of School



2 thoughts on “Who is to Blame?

  1. In 1993, I received an undergraduate degree in special education and received licensure to teach all grade levels and all categories of special needs. I had not taken a single reading theory or method class. I could not teach anyone to read. Extensive children’s lit courses had replaced reading methodology classes in higher Ed. That is the shameful truth no one in higher education or state education departments wants to admit.

  2. Every article I read by John Alexander is something I feel should be seen by the entire education community. He is able to address issues that others are silent about. We all want to believe that our education system is working well and we focus our school news on the high achieving students , honors , sports teams and successful students who we can show in the news paper. Yes , we should be proud of those talented students. But , we are not fully supporting the needs of the other students who are struggling. We are afraid to discuss the ” invisible students ” who work hard every day to overcome the daily challenges of learning disabilities – the super heros that put in 3 times the amount of work to survive. These students have not been able to get the services they need even if they have parents going to numerous school meetings to request help. I am not blaming anyone – instead I am agreeing that we as a nation need to step forward and make changes . I feel we need to look at the entire system. Who sells the books to our schools and why are they not decodable text ? What colleges will actually graduate teachers who know how to teach reading , writing and spelling to all learners ? What administrators will do a longitudinal study to see if the struggling elementary student turns into the failing / struggling high school student.? What principal and special educator will do an indepth Educational evaluation on a student before they become a drop out ? What teachers will speak up and say ” we need professional development in dyslexia , literacy , spelling and writing ” ? What school committee will survey the parents of the ” invisible students ” to find out why they are struggling ? We have wonderful teachers who deserve to learn methods to help with literacy . We have wonderful students who deserve to have full access to school life but instead school is about surviving and not thriving .

    What about the students who don’t attend sports or arts after school ? Instead they get after school help , tutoring , or stay late at school trying to make up incomplete work due to their disabilities . Society often thinks that a parent can ask the school for help and the school will provide the help. It does not happen that easily. We have an entire industry of private tutors , special Ed advocates/lawyers , educational consultants and agencies to help parents navigate the very difficult journey of special education . The children are waiting for all the adults to join together to figure out how to improve literacy in the USA. Let us erase the blame ad the shame . Let us join together and have an honest discussion about how to change the system from 2016 forward.

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