Monday, August 30, 2004


Ann Mactier may be the best hope Nebraska’s disadvantaged kids have for a ticket out of hopeless poverty. This past summer, the longtime phonics advocate made another outstanding move in the effort to teach teachers how to teach needy children to read.

Mrs. Mactier, a member of the Nebraska State Board of Education and former member of the board of the Omaha Public Schools, joined with Omaha doctor John Latenser to pay for free phonics training for teachers and parents in two 3-day sessions this past summer. The trainings were held at Fontenelle School, 3905 N. 52nd St.

Throughout her tenure as an elected education official, Mrs. Mactier has advocated a return to traditional phonics instruction in the early grades of school. A generation ago, schools discarded traditional methods in favor of whole language reading instruction, which is far less structured. Today’s teachers colleges don’t teach phonics any more, and the number of teachers who know the method is dwindling as they retire. Those few who do know how to teach it are stuck with whole-language curriculum and materials, which don’t fit. So it’s a huge problem.

Although phonics advocates say children in all income groups are hurt by the instructional deficiencies of whole language, it is thought that kids in poverty with less enrichment and supplementation at home, and less-educated parents, are hurt more. Test scores bear that out; when everybody was taught to read with phonics, there wasn’t such a huge gap between rich kids and poor kids in standardized tests.

But how to convince schools of this? You’ve got to show them what they’ve been missing, Mrs. Mactier concluded.

Previously, she paid for all of the teachers at Belvedere and Fontenelle Schools in Omaha’s inner city to receive the training; test scores and reading achievement have improved and teachers and parents are enthusiastic.

For this summer’s training, Mrs. Mactier brought in former Omahan Sharon Goetz, now of St. Louis, to teach the phonics code and the method of explicit, systematic, intensive phonics that has been proven time and time again to be the best way to teach children to read.

Ms. Goetz’s workbook, “Forward Phonics – Forward Readers” was given free to each participant. It is based on the work of well-known phonics gurus Oma Riggs and Romalda Spalding. Omaha Public Schools employees received staff development credit for attending the sessions. There were teachers in public and private schools citywide in attendance, as well as parents, Mrs. Mactier said.

According to a brochure advertising the training;

n 50 percent of Omaha’s disadvantaged population cannot read adequately.
n Nationwide, 75 percent of penitentiary inmates are functionally illiterate – unable to read a job want ad or bus schedule – despite many years of taxpayer-provided schooling.
n Recidivism rates for prisoners who have been taught to read average 35 percent, compared to the 65 percent of illiterate prisoners who return to crime upon release.

“A child’s frustration at being unable to understand reading and writing is devastating,” according to the brochure. “It can shatter confidence. It can permanently handicap. It is an avoidable tragedy. Phonics helps break the code to reading and writing.”

Want to help Ann Mactier fight for literacy for all kids, not just in the inner city? Then help get proper phonics instruction in our schools. If you’re a Nebraska taxpayer, call your school district and ask that the person in charge of reading instruction contact her: mactier@starband.net

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