our everyday life

Pros and Cons of Reading Recovery Programs

by Christopher Cascio

Reading Recovery is a short-term, tutoring-based intervention program designed to help first-graders who struggle with reading -- specifically, the lowest one-third of their class -- to achieve grade-level reading ability. Supporters of the program claim overwhelming success for it, while opponents claim it is costly, takes valuable time away from regular class instruction, and is an ineffective rehashing of the discredited whole language model.

Improved Student Reading Ability

The Reading Recovery Council of North America claims a 75-percent success rate among students who complete the program. Furthermore, their follow-up studies state that students who have completed the program maintain their grade-level reading ability for years to come. Reading Recovery teacher Sharon Dukes says she has witnessed overwhelming improvements in her students' reading abilities, and cites one-on-one tutoring as a major contributor to the program's effectiveness. She says, "They gain so much from the individualized instruction."

Time out of Class

Reading Recovery provides half an hour daily of private instruction for 12 to 20 weeks, which ends whenever the student reaches grade-level ability. These half-hour sessions occur during school hours, so students in the program are taken out of class for their tutoring sessions. In her book, "Whole-Language High Jinks: How to Tell When 'Scientifically-Based Reading Instruction,' Isn't," reading expert Louisa Moats asserts that full-class instruction, augmented with small-group, in-class work is a more effective approach to reading instruction. Sharon Dukes acknowledges this out-of-class time as an unfortunate drawback of the program as well.

Cost of The Program

School districts that wish to implement Reading Recovery must pay for teacher training, materials and additional expenses that can include travel expenses and data analysis fees. The Reading Recovery Council estimates a cost of $2,500 in materials for students, plus roughly $400 in additional fees. This figure does not include the graduate teacher training, which varies from institution to institution. The New Jersey Reading Recovery Network lists the cost of teacher training at Rutgers University as $4,450, materials at $3,550 and fees at $6,400 for a total of $14,400. Furthermore, an article by Lee Colvin for the School Superintendents Association cited an estimated cost to school districts of more than $9,000 per student. Some grants are available, but the program is still costly.

Scientific Ilegitimacy

According to Moats, Reading Recovery is based on the whole language approach that reading is an organic activity for children: that they learn primarily by exposure. This idea contradicts scientifically-based reading research, which asserts that children learn to read by systematically mastering skill sets, beginning with speech sounds and letters, otherwise known as phonics. An independent study found that, when distinct phonics lessons were added to the program, students completed the program in about 30 percent less time. Moats continues that Reading Recovery's research lauding its own success has ignored an alarming point of data, one that is also remarked upon in research entitled "Reading Recovery: Distinguishing Myth from Reality," by Dr. William E. Tunmer and Dr. James W. Chapman: The 25 to 40 percent of their students who could not complete the program have been left out of their cited data.

About the Author

Christopher Cascio is a memoirist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and literature from Southampton Arts at Stony Brook Southampton, and a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in the rhetoric of fiction from Pennsylvania State University. His literary work has appeared in "The Southampton Review," "Feathertale," "Kalliope" and "The Rose and Thorn Journal."

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images