On January 8, 2002, President Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind
Act of 2001 (NCLB). This law represents the most sweeping K-12 education
changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) since it
was enacted in 1965. NCLB legislation is based on these reform principles:
• emphasis on teaching methods that have been scientifically proven
• stronger accountability for results;
• increased flexibility and local control; and
• expanded options for parents.
The legislation's mandatory clauses (yearly testing of all students, subsequent
grading of schools with repercussions for failing schools, requirement
that methods be scientifically proven) give the federal government unprecedented
influence over reading programs in local school districts. In actuality,
federal involvement over many decades led to NCLB.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has tracked student
performance with annual testing of students in grades 4, 8, and 12. Reading
and writing scores have remained relatively flat since testing began in
1971. This is particularly disturbing given how low those scores have
been. For example, in 2003, 37 percent of fourth graders could not even
read at basic level, meaning they could barely read a sentence without
difficulty. Only 32 percent had proficient or advanced reading skills.
As a matter of fact, scores over the thirty-year period show fewer than
one-third of the nation's students attaining reading proficiency.
In 1965, the National Institutes of Childhood Health and Human Development
(NICHD) first began funding scientific research focusing on reading and
learning disabilities. Perhaps because of the National Commission on Excellence
in Education’s scathing 1983 report, A Nation at Risk, the 1985
Health Research Extension Act directed NICHD to broaden and improve the
quality of reading research. Dr. Reid Lyon has headed a team of over 100
researchers in education, medicine, and psychology at multiple research
centers (14 to 18), including Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins, the Universities
of Houston and Colorado, and Florida State. A major issue with reading
research had been inconsistency in findings. Reid established detailed
sampling requirements and increased scientific rigor. As a result, NICHD
has amassed a sizeable body of highly replicable and significant data.
Research findings from this agency played a key role in the establishment
of NCLB parameters and guidelines.
The first phase of NCLB is Reading First, an initiative aimed at helping
every child across the nation to become a successful reader by the end
of third grade. The primary grades are the optimum window for teaching
children to read; yet two-thirds of students nationwide have not acquired
adequate reading skills by fourth grade. Over 70 percent of that group
continues to have poor achievement throughout their educations and are
far more likely to drop out of school. For these reasons, the federal
government promised to distribute up to $6 billion over the next several
years to state and local early reading programs; however, this funding
is below expected levels due to growing budget deficits.
The National Reading Panel (NRP) issued a report in 2000 that responded
to a Congressional mandate to help parents, teachers, and policymakers
identify key skills and methods central to reading achievement. The panel
began its work with a thorough analysis of a National Research Council
report, Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children (Snow, Burns,
Griffin, 1998). Then they set up parameters to screen some of the 1000
studies in reading instruction found in public databases since 1966 and
identified methods that consistently related to reading success. NRP established
these definitions and areas of study for skills critical to early reading
success, which must be systematically and explicitly taught:
• phonemic awareness – the ability to hear and identify sounds
in spoken words;
• phonics – the relationship between letters of written language
and sounds of spoken language;
• fluency – the capacity to read text accurately
• vocabulary – the words students must know
to communicate effectively; and
• comprehension – the ability to understand and gain meaning
from what has been read.
How Reading Manipulatives Products
Reading First skill-area summaries are from the Center for the Improvement
of Early Reading Achievement (CIERA) report, The Research Building Blocks
for Teaching Children to Read. Each is followed by specific references
to how Reading Manipulatives products support these objectives. This information
provides the scientific support that districts may require.
1. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate
individual sounds called phonemes in spoken words.
2. Phonemic awareness is important because it improves children's word
reading and reading comprehension and helps children learn to spell.
3. Phonemic awareness can be developed through a number of activities,
including asking children to: identify phonemes, categorize phonemes,
blend phonemes to form words, segment words into phonemes, delete or add
phonemes to form new words, and substitute phonemes to make new words.
4. Phonemic awareness instruction is most effective when children are
taught to manipulate phonemes by using the letters of the alphabet and
when instruction focuses on only one or two rather than several types
of phoneme manipulation.
Scientific research clearly demonstrates the benefits of explicit phonics,
and CIERA instructional strategies (3 & 4) appear to suggest explicit
In the Reading Manipulatives Phoneme Songs & Blending program, clever
songs and memorable posters teach isolated phonemes. Once students know
phoneme sounds, they learn to blend them together to form words. Blending
is a difficult task for many. Representing phonemes with pictures prior
to introducing letters facilitates this process. Word families place the
graphemes (letters) over the pictures and are excellent for building blending
proficiency. This multisensory phonemic awareness program meets all CIERA
Once students have basic phonemic awareness concepts, Initial, Final,
and Vowel Phoneme Sorts and give students practice identifying and segmenting
phonemes. As students figure out the names for the pictures, they improving
vocabulary and thinking skills.
1. Phonics helps children learn the relationships between the letters
of written language and the sounds of spoken language.
2. Phonics instruction is important because it leads to an understanding
of the alphabetic principle (the systematic and predictable relationships
between written letters and spoken sounds).
3. Programs of phonics instruction are effective when they are systematic
(the plan of instruction includes a carefully selected set of letter-sound
relationships that are organized into a logical sequence) and explicit
(the programs provide teachers with precise directions for the teaching
of these relationships).
4. Effective phonics programs provide ample opportunities for children
to apply what they are learning about letters and sounds to the reading
of words, sentences, and stories.
5. Systematic and explicit phonics instruction significantly improves
children's word recognition, spelling, and reading comprehension and is
most effective when it begins in kindergarten or first grade.
Reading Manipulatives phonics materials are optimal for meeting these
objectives and assuring that all students learn key phonics skills. Students
today are primarily kinesthetic learners. The game-like feel of manipulatives
motivates students of all ages, so they work at higher levels and accomplish
Fragmented skills instruction in workbooks and black-line masters is
ineffective, and that is a major reason why educators pulled back from
structured phonics during the whole language era. Completeness and continuity
lead to mastery. Our phonics products identify the key phonetic principles
and then teach them systematically and explicitly. Students enjoy the
manipulatives and will gladly repeat them as often as needed.
Knowledge of short/long vowel phonemes and patterns is the most utilitarian
phonics skill. Of the 44 phonemes in the English language, those with
the highest utility are the 5 short vowels. Students should first learn
consonant phonemes. Then, once they master the short and long vowel sounds
and patterns, they can begin to unravel the fascinating puzzle of written
language through the application of key phonetic principles. Thorough
and fun sets of manipulatives enable all students to master decoding and
Next, Reading Manipulatives offers several products to develop orthographic
skills. Our holistic approaches to teaching affixes and syllabication
are amazingly effective. Teachers tell us that they have a better understanding
of how these skills work now that they have used our methodical products.
Last, but not least, Reading Manipulatives phonics materials can be used
for all age levels. The structure and format of these comprehensive products
does not insult older students. They work just as well with adults and
they do with primary students.
1. Fluency is the ability to read a text accurately and quickly.
2. Fluency is important because it frees students to understand what they
3. Reading fluency can be developed by modeling fluent reading by having
students engage in repeated oral reading.
4. Monitoring student progress in reading fluency is useful in evaluating
instruction and setting instructional goals, and it can motivate students.
Since fluency deals with reading text accurately and quickly, it stands
to reason that teaching fluency is not directly developed with manipulatives
or other materials. However, we do have 2 products that deal with sight
Amazingly, knowing short/long vowels and patterns unlocks 50 percent
of the Dolch 220 words. We have combined strategies for teaching sight
vocabulary with Reading Manipulatives phonics materials. This leads to
faster mastery of these high frequency words, thereby improving fluency.
1. Vocabulary refers to the words we must know to communicate effectively.
Oral vocabulary refers to words that we use in speaking or recognize in
listening. Reading vocabulary refers to words we recognize or use in print.
2. Vocabulary is important because beginning readers use their oral vocabulary
to make sense of the words they see in print. Readers must know what most
of the words mean before they can understand what they are reading.
3. Vocabulary can be developed indirectly, when students engage daily
in oral language, listen to adults read to them, and read extensively
on their own. It is developed directly, when students are explicitly taught
both individual words and word learning strategies.
Reading Manipulatives has effective, multilevel vocabulary products. These
materials cleverly combine manipulatives with usage checks. Levels are
available for students of all ages and abilities. Levels have a similar
appearance, taking away much of the stigma that is often attached to materials
used with below-grade-level students.
Our holistic approach to studying affixes builds genuine understanding
of the function of prefixes, suffixes, and Latin root words. Students
build words, study functions, and match cloze sentences to verify understanding
of the vocabulary words.
Our synonym material paves the way for synonym substitution, a powerful
writing strategy. Analogies are excellent for building vocabulary and
reasoning abilities. Both familiarize students with common testing formats.
Reading Manipulatives vocabulary materials are challenging, valuable
activities. Older students enjoy manipulatives and work at higher levels
because of this.
1. Text comprehension is important because it is the reason for reading.
2. Text comprehension is purposeful and active.
3. Text comprehension can be developed by teaching comprehension strategies.
4. Text comprehension strategies can be taught through explicit instruction,
through cooperative learning, and by helping readers use strategies flexibly
and in combination.
Manipulatives are ideal for developing many comprehension and usage skills.
What better way to teach sequencing or word order than with movable pieces?
Comprehension strategies are taught in a structured manner, and abundant
practice leads to mastery. Concepts learned from the manipulatives transfer
readily from reading to writing.
Activities in comprehensive sets of manipulatives contain fascinating
facts to engage students. As they improving reading and language arts
skills, students learn about the world and its inhabitants.
The materials also foster student accountability. They are coded and
have checklists to track completed work. Teachers familiarize students
with the skills and materials format. Then, in most sets, students can
select, complete, correct, and record their activities. Students are accountable
for choices and progress. They are more motivated, and they always have
worthwhile choices of things to do in their spare time.
NCLB’s Impact & Future
The NCLB legislation expanded the role of the federal government in education and affected every public school in the United States. Major mandates included: improve the education of disadvantaged students by targeting more Title I funding to districts with poor students; use annual testing to hold states and schools more accountable for student progress; assure that teachers are “highly qualified” in subjects taught; and issue annual report cards for schools and districts.
While districts with large populations of poor students got funding boosts due to NCLB, most districts did not receive adequate funding for the implementation of the mandates. Then the financial collapse of 2009 further decimated funding for education at every level of government. The U.S. Department of Education took funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, as well as subsequent appropriations, and tied them to a program called Race to the Top, a contest to spur educational innovation and reform. States applied for grants by submitting proposals and objectives, and the federal government allocated money based on program evaluations. Despite widespread criticism, most states competed because they needed the money being awarded. Additionally, states have made commitments in return for the funds.
As the NCLB target date of 2013-14 for schools reaching 100 percent proficiency came closer, concerns about the law grew. At the end of the 2010-2011 school year, several states saw failure rates above 50 percent. Congress has yet to reach any agreement on reauthorization of the law. In 2012, the Obama administration began to grant waivers from NCLB requirements to states. In exchange, states had to agree to raise standards, improve accountability, and undertake essential reforms to improve teacher effectiveness.
Increased global competitiveness and economic instability worldwide have heightened concerns about the public education system in the United States. In early 2009, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers launched the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The hope is that with national standards, the gamesmanship NCLB led to among states, which led to wide discrepancies, will be eliminated. Local teachers and administration must lead the implementation. Since almost all states have signed on, these standards are to become the next hurdle facing educators and students nationwide.