The Logic of English and STEM Education

In July Microsoft, Bank of America, and Nike agreed to invest $3.5 billion to increase the effectiveness of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education in our nation's public schools.

The future of these companies and the prosperity of our nation depend upon how well we educate our children and prepare them for jobs in the new economy. Even in the midst of the economic downturn, there are an estimated 3 million unfilled jobs in the U.S. because employers are unable to find qualified employees. (America's Promise Alliance). At the same time unskilled workers are experiencing increasing difficulty in finding employment.

Before investing more money in math and science education, we must consider that 69% of eighth graders read below grade level (National Reading Panel). Poor reading ability limits the ability to excel in all other subjects - even math. The educational crisis begins in our reading classrooms and the solution resides in ensuring that all students learn to read.

Culturally we believe that children learn to read because they love books. In truth, students learn to love books when they learn to read.

Currently, most students are taught to read using a confusing blend of rote memorization of sight words, an approximate phonics which has more exceptions than rule-followers, and by being surrounded by books. As the statistics show, this approach is only working for about 30% of our nation's students.

Many gifted math and science students struggle with reading and spelling skills because they have not been taught in a manner which respects their strengths. These logically minded students thrive in math and science because the answers are clear cut -- one plus one always equals two -- and because they understand the logic.

These same students often struggle with reading and spelling because they are taught rules such as: The vowel says its name because of the E. Then they are asked to read words such as have, live, and give. The abundance of "exceptions" confuses and discourages logically minded students.

There is a simple solution that would improve the ability of our nation's students to read and write. We need to provide students with a complete picture of the complex code of English. For example: rather than teaching one reason for a silent E, we need to teach that there are nine reasons for a silent final E. When students learn that English words do not end in V, they then have a logical answer to the reason for the E in have, live, arrive, and mauve.

By providing students with the tools that explain 98% of English words, we will drastically reduce the number of students in remedial reading classes, increase students' ability to read and comprehend texts, prevent unnecessary discouragement in our nation's gifted students, and free up funds currently used for remedial reading to be used on subject areas vital to our society such as math, science, and technology.

The burden of responsibility does not rest with teachers alone. The first step to reversing our educational crisis is to address the widespread cultural myth that English spelling is illogical and outdated. As a culture we need to begin to search for answers and stop assuming just because we do not know why a word is spelled in a particular manner that it is an exception.

Teaching reading using a logical, systematic approach is consistent with the abundant research reviewed by the National Reading Panel. The science of reading is clear -- we must systematically teach children the logic of the code. To unlock the potential of American students and raise up a generation of mathematicians, scientists, engineers, and doctors, we will need to begin by teaching logically minded students how to read in a manner that respects them. It is time to teach reading logically, systematically, and to answer these gifted students' questions.

To learn more about the logic underlying English spelling and its potential to transform our education system see my latest book: Uncovering the Logic of English: A Common-Sense Solution to America's Literacy Crisis.