Expert hits out at Labour policy

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 07:58 11/09/2012

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An education expert has slammed Labour’s new education policy that would see the Reading Recovery programme rolled out to every school at a cost of $20 million. 

Massey University College of Education pro vice-chancellor Professor James Chapman said children’s literacy levels had declined since the programme was introduced.

Currently two-thirds of New Zealand schools offer the one-on-one reading tutorial programme, and the Labour Party aims to make it universal under the new education policies revealed by Labour leader David Shearer in the weekend.

However, Prof Chapman said Reading Recovery, conceived in the 1960s and 70s, was outdated and not the ‘‘gold standard intervention’’ the Labour leader claimed it to be.

‘‘If the Reading Recovery programme had been successful then literacy achievement among New Zealand children would have improved, not declined over the years. 

‘‘New Zealand’s international literacy ranking for children has declined since Reading Recovery was introduced and the long tail of poor achievement remains.”

Mr Shearer pledged to add 5000 more 6-year-olds to the programme annually at a cost of $20m a year.

He reasoned that the programme had an 80 per cent success rate, although only 59 per cent of low-decile schools offered it, compared with 73 per cent of high-decile schools.

Low-decile schools are located in poorer areas.

‘‘[Mr Shearer] is to be commended for showing determination to do something about the unsatisfactory levels of literacy, especially among Maori and Pasifika children,” Prof Chapman said.

“But he is seriously misguided if he thinks Reading Recovery is the solution.’’

Prof Chapman was behind a Massey University study that a decade ago revealed the Reading Recovery programme was not getting results it claimed.

The study followed the progress of pupils in their first three years at school.

Senior researchers found that children who showed improvement on the Reading Recovery programme were still, on average, one year behind their peers in the year following completion of their tutorials.

The study also found that failure to improve their reading skills hurt children’s self-esteem, and those who made progress as a result of Reading Recovery tended to lose the gains after a few years.

Prof Chapman said the study remained relevant, calling Reading Recovery ‘‘extraordinarily expensive’’ and ignorant of contemporary scientific research on reading.

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He questioned the one-on-one approach, saying research showed working in small groups would be more effective for children’s learning.

Palmerston North’s Terrace End School is among the two in three New Zealand schools using the Reading Recovery programme.

Principal Sue Allomes disagreed with Prof Chapman’s views, and said nationwide adoption of Reading Recovery would be ‘‘fabulous’’.

She said it was  one-on-one and the children had individual needs met. ‘‘We have found it to be successful.’’

Funding raised by the school’s board of trustees helped pay for the programme.Mrs Allomes said the expense of the Reading Recovery  programme would be the key barrier to its universal implementation.

- Manawatu Standard

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