• Joanne Jacobs

Following the reading science: It's not easy

If Mississippi can "follow the science" of reading, retrain teachers, provide teaching coaches and switch to effective curricula -- and improve students' reading -- there's not much excuse for other states.


Other states are trying to adopt the "Mississippi model," writes Dale Chu. But we've been here before: Is this time for real -- or another swing of the pendulum?



Photo: Josh Applegate/Unsplash

There's been a lot of excellent reporting on the push to use research to improve reading instruction.


The Science of Reading: Where Rhetoric Meets Reality, an Education Week series by Sarah Schwartz, explains how difficult it is to change "hearts, minds, and practices among teachers, administrators, and policymakers," as Chu puts it.


Schwartz focuses on North Carolina's literacy reform. Kindergarten teacher Raul Olivares Jr. was trained to rely on three-cueing -- educated guesses -- rather than phonics to help students read unfamiliar words. Now he's a science of reading believer. “I almost feel like I need to say ‘I’m sorry’ to some of the kids I taught before,” he told Schwartz. But many of his colleagues don't want to change or don't know how to turn their training into lessons.


Reading scores are up in Tennessee, another high-poverty state, writes Holly Korbey. The state "established Reading 360, which brought all its teachers online and in-person training, improved literacy coaching, and high-quality reading curricula supported by scientific research."


In rural Haywood County, almost 26 percent of third graders scored as "proficient" on a state test. It may not sound like much, but was 8 percent last year.


Tennessee also "invested in free decodable books families can read with students at home— more than 70,000 books in families’ hands so far," writes Korbey.


California Superintendent Tony Thurmond has launched a literacy initiative to get all third-grade students reading by 2026 (how well?), writes Karen D'Souza on EdSource. However, Thurmond "does not support a comprehensive statewide strategy," calling it “a one-size-fits-all approach.”


D'Souza nails it:

Without clear guidance, schools and districts often pivot from one approach to another, experts say, creating confusion for students and teachers alike. Oakland and New York City have both flipped back and forth in recent years.Note that the superintendent will not pick a winner.

It's not enough to teach phonics, notes the Knowledge Matters Campaign. Students need to understand the words they decode.


Six English language arts curricula build students' knowledge, avoid "fluff" and motivate students, according to the campaign. These are: ARC Core, Bookworms, Core Knowledge/Amplify, EL Education, Fishtank EL and Wit & Wisdom.

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