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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

It's 'our fault' Johnny and Juanita can't read, says NYC chancellor

New York City's public schools have been teaching reading badly for decades, ignoring research on how children learn to read, said Chancellor David C. Banks this week, reports Troy Closson in the New York Times.

About half of city children in grades three through eight are not proficient in reading, with Black, Latino and low-income children doing even worse, said Banks. “It’s not your fault. It’s not your child’s fault. It was our fault,” he said. “This is the beginning of a massive turnaround.”

As part of a "massive turnaround," schools will use one of three “science of reading” curriculums, writes Closson. All three "use evidence-supported practices, including phonics — which teaches children how to decode letter sounds — and avoid strategies many reading experts say are flawed, like teaching children to use picture clues to guess words."

Wit & Wisdom, "known for its robust focus on knowledge building," is being used in Baltimore with some success, writes Closson. It's paired with Fundations for phonics.

Expeditionary Learning includes readings that cover social studies and other subjects, as well as a "robust writing component." Detroit "has seen some progress" with the program.

Into Reading is a “basal” program that uses texts written specifically to teach reading.

The teachers' union is on board. Teachers are tired of being blamed for students' failures, said Banks. "Nearly 20 states have prioritized phonics alongside work to expand student’s background knowledge, vocabulary and oral language skills, which research shows most children need to grasp how to decode words and understand what they read," writes Closson.

However, a new curriculum won't be effective, unless teachers -- some of them "balanced literacy" true believers -- are willing to change their teaching and get the training and coaching they need to do so. Furthermore, phonics alone, without knowledge building, won't be a game changer.

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