Public Comment

Commentary: Article Fails to Mention Opposing Views

By Donald Forman
Tuesday October 16, 2007

Your article “Reading Recovery Program Shows Results in Berkeley Schools” (October 5–8) violates several basic journalistic principles. 

It includes no mention of opposing points of view. A reader would not guess that there is profound controversy about this program both within the Berkeley Unified School District and in the broader ranks of U.S. education. One would not guess that last year the district apparently came close to abolishing this expensive and ineffective program. 

The headline is not backed up by the content of the article. Only three paragraphs address the results of Reading Recovery in Berkeley. One paragraph claims that “the program . . . has helped 75 percent of [children in it to] catch up to the classroom average.” No source is cited for this controversial and unlikely claim. One paragraph cites Greg John, the principal of John Muir Elementary School. Mr. John has never taught basic literacy (his teaching experience was at the middle-school level) and has completed no serious training in this area. The principal of one school in the district, he lacks any expertise to evaluate Reading Recovery. The final paragraph quotes Tom Prince, the Reading Recovery teacher-leader. As well-intentioned as he may be, Mr. Prince has a conflict of interest evaluating the program that he leads. This paragraph also states: “Research has shown that Reading Recovery reduces the achievement gap.” In fact, the research on Reading Recovery in the U.S. is mixed at best. Those researchers who are not already affiliated with the program have raised probing doubts about its effectiveness. Reading Recovery as pioneered by Marie Clay in relatively homogeneous communities in New Zealand and Australia may be a successful program, but Berkeley’s program is quite different and violates many of her basic principles. 

The article is filled with incorrect information and misleading claims. 

It refers to “an eight-year hiatus of the program from the district.” The program has been active throughout the last eight years.  

“‘All the children in the reading recovery program have been identified by their kindergarten teachers as being far below basic.’” “Offered to children at [sic] the bottom 20 percent of their kindergarten class.” From the article one might not realize that in fact the program works not with kindergartners but with first-graders. The Reading Recovery teachers cherry-pick which students to take and reject many of the lowest performers because they don’t want to muck up the program’s statistics by working with children who may not succeed. When they have run out of other candidates, they often take students who are doing fine in their first-grade classrooms. They pick children from poor and less educated families, whose parents they believe are unlikely to resist being placed in the program. Mr. John instituted disciplinary action against a classroom teacher for informing the parents of one student that the student was doing well in reading and did not need Reading Recovery. 

“We only train really experienced classroom teachers who have already had successful literacy training.” This claim is false. One Reading Recovery teacher had her classroom career in a private school, working only with children from highly educated literate families, where only minimal instruction in reading was necessary. In 2006 Reading Recovery was used as a transitional job for easing out an incompetent administrator who hadn’t been in the classroom for decades. Berkeley Reading Recovery teachers tend to be quite unaware of other aspects of literacy education and of recent research in literacy techniques. 

“John said that the program had helped kids perform well in reading in the district’s Developmental Reading Assessment.” The DRA is not the district’s assessment, but was written by Joetta Beaver and published by Celebration Press, and is used throughout the nation. Unfortunately, most district teachers, including Reading Recovery teachers, have had limited training in administering the DRA, and the results they report have little uniformity. In addition, Reading Recovery teachers have a conflict of interest. They as individuals, and the program as a whole, must produce good DRA scores to justify their continuation. Classroom teachers often report that children undergoing Reading Recovery experience setbacks, not progress. 

Unfortunately, the Planet regularly prints boosteristic articles about elementary education that make no mention of the controversies and defects of the programs they describe. Berkeley’s elementary schools have serious problems, and the Planet could do good service to the community by investigating them thoroughly and shedding light on possible improvements.  

Your puff piece on Reading Recovery, however, covers up the important issues. 



Donald Forman is Berkeley resident.