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Scientific Gravy-Train? June 2, 2008

So, according to the Institute for Education Services, the federal government's $1 billion-per-year initiative to help our children read has yielded “no statistically significant results”! Mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the Reading First Program set out to promote reading instructional practices that have been “validated by scientific research”. Backed by a $1 billion-per-year gravy train, Reading First grants were awarded to schools to implement the scientifically-validated reading instructional practices to children in Grades 1, 2 and 3. Now we learn that these scientifically-validated instructional practices have yielded no scientifically-validated results. One can only wonder how these scientifically-validated practices were validated if not by scientifically-validated results … which quite clearly they were not!

Reading First funding can be used for:
• Reading curricula and materials that focus on the five essential components of reading instruction as defined in the Reading First legislation: 1) phonemic awareness, 2) phonics, 3) vocabulary, 4) fluency, and 5) comprehension;
• Professional development and coaching for teachers on how to use "scientifically-based" reading practices and how to work with struggling readers;
• Diagnosis and prevention of early reading difficulties through student screening, interventions for struggling readers, and monitoring of student progress.

Reading First funding started in 2002 and this is what the billions of Dollars has yielded :
• Reading First did not improve students' reading comprehension.
• Reading First increased total class time spent on the five essential components of reading instruction promoted by the program. So the extra 45 to 60 minutes a week spent on developing reading skills netted zero results.

Bear in mind that the whole Reading First Program is restricted to improving the reading skills of Grades 1, 2 and 3 only. That's it! After grade 3, you're on your own and are expected to survive with the reading skills you have. Small wonder that teenagers think that reading sucks - they're reading with a skill that's not much better than an 8 year-old.

And so we come to our crop of struggling high-schoolers - the “at-risk” students. Why are they “at risk”? Quite simply because we let science supersede common sense. “A common variable among low performing students is their low reading level. Most of our low test scores are related to reading problems.” says CMS teacher Dr T.

“Unless we give the students diagnostic reading tests such as these (at ExecuRead.com), we may never know their reading entry level. Is it really fair to assign ten pages of reading to a student who reads less than 100 words a minute (it will take that student 4 minutes to read a text-book page of 400 words, or a total of 40 minutes to read ten textbook pages.)?” asks another teacher.

Come on people! Have you ever seen a teenager struggle with the instructions on the latest computer- or Play Station game? Or abandon the sports-page on the eve of the Superbowl? And where were all these scientifically-validated instructional practices 50 years ago? When it comes to human nature, you simply cannot throw science and money at it and expect results. And when it comes to reading, all the science and all the money in the world will not make one iota of difference IF YOU CANNOT CHANGE ATTITUDES.

“Reading will improve when students want to read, when they see the value & enjoyment of reading and what reading will do for them. It’s all motivated by self-interest and self-gratification. And it’s a “sell-job”. We don’t sell Coca-Cola by pushing the product. We sell feelings – refreshment, exhilaration, satisfaction, vibrancy. Similarly we can’t sell reading by telling students to read the books that we want them to read. If we talk fun, excitement, satisfaction, entertainment, reward – the excitement of the destination, with reading merely being the portal – then books are no longer perceived as chores, but rather as tickets to the “theater of the mind”.

And it starts at home. This process of developing attitudes. Parents who have replaced reading-evenings with TV-evenings create an attitude about reading. Parents who complain about having to bring office-reading home and who can't play with the kids because they have office-reading to do, create an attitude about reading. And they end up with kids who prefer TV to books and who see reading as a chore that they'll have to face when they become adults. And it continues at home. With TV it's what they WANT to watch. With reading it's what the teacher WANTS them to read. And if you've ever looked at the erudite literary yawn-stuff that teachers are peddling, you don't need a scientifically-validated process to recognize a disaster in the making.

With my kids I find that the best way of getting them to do something, is to find out what they want to do and then suggest it! I didn't force them to read Tolstoy, Conrad, Joyce, Twain and Poe, but when they begged to go to the library or book-store to get the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, there was no resistance from my side. Neither did I have to enforce reading time. More often than not, I have to physically remove the book at 2am on a school-night, in spite of the pleas of “Oh Dad, I'm almost finished the book!” Once I had instilled in them a passion for reading, a realization that reading can be as exciting and rewarding as TV and movies, then came the process of gently manipulating their interests and once there is interest, there is a motive for wanting to read. And this is all a lot easier in a home where there is a culture of reading.

The bottom line is that attitudes are built at home and in the absence of a positive attitude about reading, all the money in the world spent on “scientifically-validated” instructional practices will continue to yield “statistically insignificant results”.

Recession-Proof Yourself & your Organization June 2, 2008

Trying to survive a recession? Make yourself indispensible. That’s it. And this applies to both the individual and to the organization itself.

For the individual, a recession means cut-backs. Organizations need to trim overheads in order to remain profitable with smaller volumes. So they reduce expenditure - and one area for reducing expenditure is the payroll. The first to go are those people with an unfavorable payroll-cost to work-product benefit ratio. The solution is to be pro-active – change the ratio – make yourself indispensible to the organization by increasing your productivity and output at no additional cost to the organization. Become versatile - acquire new skills and improve your existing skills – empower yourself to adapt to new challenges and additional responsibilities. No organization off-loads valuable employees when the value of the worker outweighs the savings in payroll-cost.

To achieve this, learn to read faster and more efficiently. It will save you time and increase your productivity. By increasing productivity, you’ll get more done in less time. With time saved, you’ll be able to increase your work-load. Think about it – how much time do you spend each day on work-related reading? Two hours? Well, if you simply double your reading / comprehension speed, you’ll have an additional hour a day, 5 hours a week, to do additional things – acquire new skills, pick up additional responsibilities, offer assistance to someone else. You’ll be delivering work-product at a lower rate per Dollar than your competitors and this increases your value to your organization.

For organizations, a recession means budget-cuts and your customers start shopping around, looking for the best service and quality but at a cheaper price. Customer-loyalty is superseded by the need for Dollar-savings. To stay in the market, organizations need to reduce overheads while increasing work-product. Some organizations resort to expenditure cut-backs - expenditure on payroll, capital investment, marketing, promotional and training activities. Others endeavor to increase work-product, customer service and quality of output.

In most organizations, the payroll is the biggest single overhead – the process of buying human work-product at a Dollar-cost per hour. It’s been said that the only cost that exceeds the cost of training your work-force is the cost of not training your work-force. A better-skilled, versatile, more-productive work-force is able to deliver better and more work-product, in less time and at a lower cost per hour. Train your work-force in their weakest skill – that of reading. Think about it - reading education stops at age 6 and yet reading is the key to knowledge and information.

And here are some numbers : 10 managers costing you $100k each in salary, benefits and overheads and working a 40-hr week with 2 weeks annual leave and spending 2 hours a day on work-related reading – email, newspapers, reports, journals, manuals, correspondence. That’s a cost to you of $50 per work-hour. And a cost to you of $100 per day, per manager, in reading time. If these 10 managers learn to process information just twice as fast, a very conservative increase, they’ll free up an hour of reading time every day – that’s 10 hours per day, 2500 hours per year – a savings of $125k in reading-time-cost in the first year alone. And the cost to train these 10 managers to read at least twice as fast, without losing comprehension & recall? $3000!

Do the math. In a time of recession, effective and productive information management training for your work-force is a no-brainer.

We’ve witnessed the trends, worldwide, for the past 30 years. As economies head into a recession phase, smart people and smart companies commission speed-reading training courses to increase productivity and to reduce the hourly cost of work-product. Similarly, as the economy enters a revival, speed-reading training enables workers to manage increased work-loads and activity-levels, thus increasing work-product at the same hourly cost to the organization.