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Letters to the Editor

Educators should nix memorization practices

I filed a complaint with the state this past month because teachers continue to have students memorize whole words instead of using phonics rules that cover all words. If everyone did this, perhaps it would bring needed change faster. 

For several years, I took a dictionary to school board meetings to show them there are phonetic pronunciations for each of the sight words teachers were having students memorize in the false belief there were no phonics rules for those words. I also typed up the phonetic pronunciations for each of the grade lists of sight words, using Microsoft Word — because the Microsoft programmers put all of the phonics rules into that program, just like in the dictionary.  Recently, I talked with the Iowa rep for McGraw-Hill, asking if their materials included sight words to memorize. The rep told me their materials use phonics rules that cover all words, but Iowa teachers rarely asked about them.

Memorization continues to add students to Special Ed unnecessarily by failing to educate them, and it also increases the achievement gap, so why do Iowa educators use it 17 years after the national government told them they had to return to the concepts they abandoned 60 years ago? Why does Iowa’s ESSA plan lower standards instead of improving education?

The Iowa Department of Education has posted a version of their alternative assessment manual (as of Feb. 15). The first paragraph lays out the information that will be collected from students to determine if they have a learning disability; nowhere in the manual is there an assessment of the teaching methods being used that likely created the situation. 

Businesses and the military went to Congress for assistance in getting schools to change away from their adopted system of memorization because there were too few workers with in-depth problem-solving skills. The states that are actually achieving results along these lines provide more workers and military thinkers than states like Iowa, whose educators lack the ability to figure out why they have students memorize words when phonetic rules are readily available.

How can Iowa’s financial situation improve when it cannot graduate a sufficient number of students with higher-level thinking skills? Isn’t it time the state allows licensed teachers from states out-educating us to teach online classes for Iowa students so Iowa educators can see what real competition is? Perhaps they would then give up their system of memorization.

Sue Atkinson

Baxter

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