'Reading Rainbow' Turns Its Last Page

The demise of the beloved children's show might have more to do with philosophy than with money.

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Can you name this tune?

Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high,

Take a look, it's in a book a reading r ainbow ... . If you guessed the theme song of Reading Rainbow—the PBS television show that has brought books to life for two generations of children—you would be right. But you might not hear it anymore. It recently was announced that the show is ending after a 26-year run. The show is the third-longest-running children's program in PBS history—behind only Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

Media reports say Reading Rainbow is ending because no one is stepping forward to put up the several hundred thousand dollars needed to renew the broadcasting rights—not PBS, not the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, not the show's home station of WNED in Buffalo.

In an NPR interview, John Grant, who is in charge of WNED's content, said the funding crunch is partially to blame, but the decision to end Reading Rainbow also can be traced to a shift in the philosophy of educational television programming. That is, the Department of Education is now funding literacy programs that teach kids how to read, not why to read, as Reading Rainbow did.

The format for each episode of the show had the same basic elements: A featured children's book was introduced that inspired an adventure with host LeVar Burton, and kids would give their own book reviews at the end. It operated on the assumption that kids already had basic reading skills and what they needed was a push to dive into the book and explore other worlds.

But Grant says a heavier focus on the basic tools of reading, such as phonics and spelling, began under the second Bush administration. When the federal No Child Left Behind law was enacted in 2002, it established the "Reading First" and "Early Reading First" grants programs, which have provided funds to low-income schools that use "proven methods" of reading instruction in kindergarten through third grade, such as phonemic awareness, phonics, and vocabulary. And the law itself mandates that all districts use "scientifically proven" instructional methods to make their students proficient in math and reading by 2014. PBS and CPB have since put significant funding toward programming that teaches reading fundamentals and mechanics, which are seen as the front line of the literacy fight, NPR reports.

Linda Simensky, vice president for children's programming at PBS, says that teaching the mechanics of reading should now be the network's priority. If that's the case, perhaps a new jingle is in order:

I can sound out butterfly, but I don't quite know why,

I must decode , so here I go to achieve proficiency ...

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  • TAGS:
    K-12 education