NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

California Goes Back To Phonics

January 20, 1997

What happens in the realm of education in California affects the rest of the nation. This is due, in part, to its vast size and demand for textbooks. What California wants in the way of teaching materials the rest of the nation might also get.

So California Governor Pete Wilson's plan to move away from "whole language" (WL) reading instruction and back to phonics is music to the ears of WL critics, who say that teaching method is responsible for the state's student test scores going through the floor.

WL tries to get children to recognize each word as a whole, and to guess at new ones. Phonics teaches reading by having them sound out new words, syllable by syllable or letter by letter.

  • In the last National Assessment of Educational Progress, the state's fourth-graders tied for last place with students in Louisiana.
  • Some 50 percent of the state's students -- whose overall reading scores are 15 points below the national average -- failed to reach the "basic reading" level.
  • In the California State University system, 49 percent of incoming freshmen need remedial English.
  • Wilson wants $57.5 million to retrain teachers in traditional methods or phonics.

Educational reformers are disappointed, however, that Wilson's plans do nothing to advance vouchers or charter schools -- an idea he has promoted for years but has yet to act on.

Source: Editorial, "School Reform: Mr. Wilson's Opus?" Investor's Business Daily, January 20, 1997.


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