Can't read or won't?
Rory over at Parentalcation had an interesting post on reading instruction. The post included a video called Disteachia, in which a number of reading experts ripped the job that American schools are doing when it comes to teaching reading.
The statistics given are that 38% of people in America are at literacy levels below basic, and they say that a majority are below proficient--whatever proficient means. The doctors in this production blame nearly all of it on American schools. I always feel at a disadvantage when discussing teaching methods at the primary grades because this definitely falls out of my area of expertise. I'm a high school teacher, and that is what I understand best. I know very little about teaching the mechanics of reading, but kids are going to have to use whatever skill they have when they come to my class. I don't know what reading program our elementary school has been or is using, but I can say without hesitation that the biggest problem for kids that I deal with is that they won't read, and not that they can't read.
Reading assignments are the most important part of my American History classes. If students consistently do a good job on their reading, it's going to be hard for them to get anything worse than a B in the class. I wrote my own text, so the reading assignments are usually between two and three pages. I did that because high school students are notorious for not doing reading assignments, so I wanted to make mine very doable. I would rather have kids read two or three pages--nearly all of which they will be responsible for knowing, than not read six to eight pages--much of which will never even be discussed in class.
Every year there will be a number of kids for whom I will reach the conclusion that they have a major reading comprehension problem, only to find out that they can do just fine if they try. A student will be going along earning low score after low score on my reading quizzes, and then all of a sudden, he'll ace one. I'll call the kid up, and ask what he did differently this time, and he'll say, "This time I read the assignment." Well, surprise, surprise! This year that happened more often than any other year--when athletes were facing ineligibility, when parents put pressure on their kids, and for one young man, when we told him that we had decided that we would have to move him into my basic class. I can honestly say that the sophomores I've found who really can't read are rare.
I can only speak for my own high school, but I can say with confidence that our problem isn't that kids can't read, it's that too many of them won't read. I'm not saying that the experts on the video are wrong, but based on my experience, I do suspect that they are underestimating the "won't read" problem.