Spelling Bees? Dubitable

(AP / CBS)
A long time ago in a school district far, far away (okay, it was a tiny Catholic school in Maryland), I entered the local spelling bee and didn't make it past the first round. So, of course, I now make a living in a job that requires better-than-average spelling skills. Or, at least, the ability to know how to use spell-check.

Now comes word that maybe bees, despite their buzz, also sting.

To wit:

Don't expect to find a spelling bee in Sue Ann Gleason's first-grade classroom at Cedar Grove Elementary School in Loudoun County. She doesn't think much of them.

"They honor the children who already know how to spell, but they do little to support those who need explicit instruction," she said.

As popular as spelling bees have become, academic researchers say many schools are giving spelling short shrift. That, they say, is because some teachers don't believe great spelling is necessary to pass the high-stakes standardized tests that drive public education. And because many don't know how to teach it.

Some wind up substituting spelling competitions for real instruction and insist that students memorize lists of words for a weekly test. That is no way to help students understand what words mean, experts say.

"Most teachers -- unfortunately -- think of spelling as a rote visual memory skill, and it's much richer than that," said Marcia Invernizzi, an education professor at the University of Virginia and a spelling researcher who has written textbooks on the topic.

Spelling bee afficianados, though, will undoubtedly be obdurate.