• Joanne Jacobs

Finally, schools are following the 'science of reading'


Phonics is back in classrooms and it's helping young children learn to read, writes Bella DiMarco, a FutureEd policy analyst, in the New York Times. After lost decades "where dubious theories led educators to abandon the phonics method, . . . a growing number of states and districts are right back where they started."


She visited a school in Richmond.

The student in Cassie Gilboy’s first-grade class stumbled over the word ‘pig.’ Instead of looking at a picture for clues, she tapped out the sound of each letter with her fingers to break the word apart—/p/ /i/ /g/. She then exclaimed “pig” with a big smile.

Richmond is spending a big chunk of its federal Covid dollars on training teachers and hiring literacy coaches to help them improve.


Only a third of students nationwide read proficiently by fourth grade. It seems crazy that so much time has been wasted on "dubious theories." Many teachers were not taught in ed school about how children learn to read: They don't just "pick it up;" it's not like learning to speak.

"Mississippi, the first state to pass legislation in 2013, saw its fourth-grade reading scores jump strikingly over the past decade, moving the state to 29th in the nation by 2019, from 49th in 2013," DiMarco writes. "North Carolina, which has trained thousands of teachers on the instructional approach, recently released scores showing students in the primary grades made gains greater in reading proficiency than those in other states."


A lot of hard work went into the "Mississippi miracle," writes David Kaufman, also in the New York Times. "Adjusted for variables such as race and overall English-language proficiency, Mississippi fourth-graders were actually among the top readers nationwide, according to the Urban Institute."

The Literacy-Based Promotion Act in 2013 "required third-grade students to demonstrate basic reading proficiency levels to progress onto fourth grade," he writes. The act set clear standards and expectations, authorized new charter schools and funded pre-K collaboratives.


The state also worked with outside agencies to train teachers in “the science of reading.”

As part of this effort, literacy coaches were hired by the state to improve teacher performance levels, particularly in classrooms struggling the most. . . . the coaches are embedded directly into the classroom, shadowing teachers to help with everything from day-to-day lesson planning to long-term literacy strategies.

It's worked so well the state has added coaching for teachers in mathematics, special education and digital learning, said Carey Wright, who led the literacy effort as state superintendent of education .



In California, EdSource looks at how four high-poverty, very low-performing schools have changed reading instruction for the youngest students. Yes, teachers are learning how to use the science of reading.


In 2019, before schools closed, less than half of California's third graders read at grade level; two-thirds of black third-graders and 61 percent of Hispanics were below grade level.


Despite this, California's Department of Education doesn't track which curricula districts are using, reports EdSource. The California Reading Coalition, which advocates for phonics-based reading instruction, reports that only five of the state's 331 largest districts have adopted core curricula aligned with the "science of reading" movement.


The first grader I'm tutoring is reading more fluently. I asked if he was doing something differently. He said he started using Starfall, which is a phonics program.

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