How NCLB is Still Destroying Reading for Children

by | Jan 19, 2020 | Blog

(You can access the links from inside the webpage)

Nancy Bailey’s criticism of the top-down reading mandates of NCLB during the George Bush administration and the similar regime of Race to the Top pushed during Obama’s early years is timely now because the scripted phonics fanatics are still active, with funding from the Gates Foundation, the Zuckerberg Foundation, the Eli Broad Foundation, the Walton Foundation, and a host of other conservative ideological “philanthropists” The right wing-funded Education Week magazine, and the Twitter world are filled with articles by phonics proponents who inaccurately claim that “scientific research” supports the benefits of scripted phonics teaching in early elementary grades, and that as much of 20% of all people are dyslexic, requiring phonics teaching for ALL children.

Nancy Bailey’s Education Website: How NCLB is Still Destroying Reading for Children

Nancy Bailey

Nancy Bailey was a teacher in the area of special education for many years, and has a PhD in educational leadership from Florida State University. She has authored two books, Misguided Education Reform: Debating the Impact on Students (Rowman & Littlefield, 2013) and Losing America’s Schools: The Fight to Reclaim Public Education (Rowman & Littlefield,…

NCLB was a bi-partisan bill signed into law in 2002 during the Bush administration’s push for school reform.

We now recognize how punitive the bill was, its troubling use of one-size-fits-all standardized testing to demonize and close public schools, the punitive AYP and “highly qualified” teacher credentialing changes, the unrealistic predictions that all children would be proficient in reading by 2014, and the push for unproven charters and choice.

NCLB also created terrible changes when it came to reading instruction, and the impacts are still felt today by children across the country.

Many parents and educators have forgotten, or never heard of, Reading First, NCLB’s reading program which was an abysmal failure. Kappan Washington columnist Anne C. Lewis called it “the U.S. Department of Education’s ‘little Enron’ scandal.”

They continue to embrace the recommendations by the same individuals who were connected to failed NCLB policy and the scandalous Reading First initiative!

They subscribe to harmful ideology that claims children must read early, preferably in kindergarten, or they are failures, and that teachers and their education schools don’t know the right way or the “science” to teach reading.

Teachers and their ed. schools are blamed when kindergartners don’t show up in first grade reading. Yet in years past we never expected kindergartners to read.

It is developmentally inappropriate! We have monumental research by early childhood developmental researchers that goes back years. We know what is developmentally important to teach at what times.

It’s important to remember too that students were never doing badly as indicated by NCLB proponents. Poverty was the real culprit when it came to student achievement.

As far as learning to read goes, language develops from the moment a child is born, and there are many wonderful ways to promote the joy of reading.

Some children easily acquire reading skills without formal phonics instruction. They are curious about words and are able to sound letters out as they listen to and enjoy picture books. They may read well before they start school.

Other children learn a little later. And some with disabilities may need extra assistance with a formal phonics program.

Repeatedly testing young children to find out how they read at such an early age would be better spent reading out loud lovely, funny, engaging picture books, and letting children develop their language skills through play!

First grade formal reading might include a combination of sounding out words and reading simple text, but the school curriculum should be well-rounded, including the arts, science, social studies and other subjects that grab a child’s interest.

By the end of first grade if a child is not interested in reading, can’t remember the alphabet, or rhyme, and other developmental milestones they may need extra help. But even then, a child might be a little slower to read.

Early childhood specialists like those at Defending the Early Years (DEY) and the Alliance for Childhood, recognize this and have written a number of reports telling about the dangers of forcing children to read in kindergarten.

Even as a relatively new blogger in 2014, my post “Setting Children Up to Hate Reading” has been my most popular blog post.

Most of us understand that pushing children to read before they are ready is harmful.

But educators and parents still push students to read in kindergarten due to the societal pressure surrounding NCLB!

Race to the Top and Common Core State Standards continued to promote this faulty thinking surrounding NCLB. Common Core State Standards are also developmentally inappropriate for young children. See: “A Tough Critique of Common Core On Early Childhood Education,” Valerie Strauss the Answer Sheet.   

Children, their parents, and teachers have suffered under NCLB because it politicized reading. It promotes the notion that babies and toddlers can be taught how to read with just the right commercial program!

NCLB and Reading First were all about profiting from commercial phonics programs.

The societal shift in the belief that children must read by kindergarten, or they are destined to fail, is forced and misguided.

When children don’t read well by kindergarten, parents panic and believe something is wrong and their child needs remediation.

So they push children harder! This creates a Catch-22 scenario. Children sense something’s wrong. Reading becomes unenjoyable and something to fear.

All of this takes place before a child sees the inside of a first grade classroom!

The feverish pitch of concern about kindergarten reading came to my attention recently on social media.

Parents and educators debated how to get kindergartners reading, and only a few individuals questioned if it was appropriate to insist that children read in kindergarten.

Most interesting were two strategies that parents considered which clearly show that children are not developmentally ready to read in kindergarten.

  • They discussed whether to use “redshirting” (delaying kindergarten). But delaying kindergarten a year means the child is older and better ready to read when they finally get to kindergarten!
  • They also debated retention. But holding children back in kindergarten is also making kindergarten more developmentally appropriate the second year! But retention can be socially defeating for a child.

So, what’s the purpose of forcing children to read earlier and making kindergarten the new first grade?

The complaints about reading should focus on what has been done to reading instruction since 2001 and NCLB! Changes to kindergarten were made at that time.

If they had been good changes, wouldn’t children be excelling at reading today?

Few herald NCLB as successful policy, so why is this country still following the lousy dictates of NCLB when it comes to reading?

This hypervigilant push for children to read before first grade is not working.

Bring back kindergarten! Quit repetitively testing children! Get those play kitchens and sand tables out of the closet!

Don’t only say that kindergarten shouldn’t be the new first grade! Bring back kindergarten! Get rid of NCLB once and for all!


Daphna Bassok, Scott Latham, & Anna Rorem. “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?”AERO Open. 1(4): p.1-31. January-February 2016.

Lewis, Anne C. 2006. “Dramatis Personae.” Phi Delta Kappan 88 (4): 259–60.

Written by<a href="" target="_self">Dr. Pete Farruggio</a>

Written byDr. Pete Farruggio

With 25+ years of experience in bilingual education as a teacher, licensed reading specialist, program evaluator, teacher coach, resource teacher, professional development expert, community outreach coordinator, and teacher educator, all in Northern California, I'm highly motivated to improve the opportunities for students.