University professor selected to serve on National Reading Panel

by Dawn Mitchell

One University professor might have a hand in affecting how instructors across the nation teach children to read.
Dr. S. Jay Samuels, an educational psychology professor, was selected from among nearly 300 nominees to serve on the 15-member congressionally mandated National Reading Panel. The panel is charged with recommending to the Secretary of Education the best approach for teaching children to read.
In March, the National Research Council recommended that teachers use a combination of two hotly debated approaches to reading: whole language, which stresses the meaning of words, and phonics, which focuses on sound and letter relationships. The National Reading Panel will build on the findings of this council when it publishes its report later in the year.
“Teachers become zealots to a particular approach,” Samuels said. The real problem is how to get teachers to alter their instruction once they’ve established a “religious view” of a given approach, he said.
“It is the politicization of reading,” Samuels said of the debates between teaching methods.
The panel, created by the director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in consultation with the Secretary of Education, includes reading researchers, teachers, child development experts, parents and leaders in elementary and higher education.
“Think of it as the Good Housekeeping seal of approval,” Samuels said of the panel’s recommendation for reading instruction. “The panel is an attempt by science to change what’s going on in America’s schools.”
The recommendation by the National Research Council is a “balanced approach,” which Samuels said the National Reading Panel will support.
The panel was mandated because of media attention surrounding high failure rates on graduation tests, Samuels said. The low scores are not because teachers lack knowledge on how to teach reading, but stem from some teachers’ reluctance to try a new approach, he said.
“I have been impressed with the quality of the teachers in the Twin Cities,” Samuels said. “Teachers are faced by insurmountable problems.”
The panel will present its final report to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Secretary of Education and to appropriate congressional committees, according to the NICHD.