NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Reading Recovery" Programs Ineffective

April 1, 1999

Critics say that an education fad known as Reading Recovery is a failed experiment that borrows from the discredited whole language theory. Nevertheless, it is used in 49 states and Canada and has spread to more than 2,500 districts in North America.

Recently, schools in its home city, Columbus, Ohio, dropped it and turned to the private Sylvan Learning Systems to teach phonics instruction to teachers there.

  • Reading Recovery was invented by New Zealand researcher Marie Clay and is supposed to be a remedial reading program.
  • Yet an April 1998 study by the New Zealand Ministry of Education declared Reading Recovery "an ineffective intervention program for transforming early failing readers into independent readers."
  • Fully 96 percent of children who completed the program were not "recovered" and were about a year behind their fellow students.
  • Including the cost of all the students who enter the program -- not just those who graduate -- the price of every long-term success equates to about $9,211 per student, according to the Wake County Public School System in North Carolina.

Clay says that 30 percent to 50 percent of children in whole language instruction "will not be making good progress at the end of their first year of instruction." Yet critics charge that Reading Recovery draws from the same pool of education dogma that spawned whole language instruction. They say that many school districts which adopted Reading Recovery tipped the instruction in favor of whole language techniques at the expense of phonics.

In addition to Columbus, cities such as Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis have turned to the for-profit Sylvan Learning Systems to teach their teachers how to teach reading.

Source: Editorial, "When Education Theories Go Bad," Investor's Business Daily, April 1, 1999.


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