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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Why so many parents mistrust schools: They didn't teach our kids to read

"When schools fail to teach reading, it harms the public's trust in schools," writes

Kendra Hurley in Slate.

Her children's Brooklyn school, like as many as 1 in 4 elementary schools, used a now-discredited "balanced literacy" curriculum that is "ineffective at best, actively harmful at worst," she writes.

When kids don't learn to read easily, teachers assume it's the parents' fault. Perhaps they didn't read enough to their children or have enough books in their home.

“Balanced literacy” rests "on the fuzzy fantasy that drenching young children in a literacy-rich environment is what gets most kids reading," Hurley writes. The classroom offered "reading nooks stocked with cushions, mats, and an appealing array of books." Children were supposed to sit in those nooks with books of their choosing. But they hadn't been taught phonics, so many couldn't read.

In first grade, these “independent reading” hours were torture for my kids, who, I would eventually learn, were among the roughly half of all children who, research shows, will likely never read well without explicit instruction in sounding out words⁠.

"My son’s teacher took a 'wait and see' approach to the many flailing readers in that class, but my son’s disruptive behavior worried her," writes Hurley. She and her husband paid "a small fortune" for a neuropsychologist, who suspected dyslexia and urged them "to get him systematic tutoring in how to sound out words, and to do so immediately." After second grade, Hurst learned from a deep dive into reading research, interventions are "far less effective."

The city, I soon discovered, was crawling with parents like me, who were knee-deep in trying to learn how kids read and teach their children to do it. On the playground, we swapped emails of tutors like baseball cards . . . Some parents paid for tutoring by taking out loans."

They paid for tutors for their son, and then for their daughter. They supervised reading homework. Hurley begged the school principal to teach phonics, to no avail.

Her son became a reader. Her daughter, who was tutored online, has made slower progress, writes Hurley. "Our family still lives with the aftermath of those frantic years consumed with learning to read."

Of course, many parents can't turn themselves into reading experts and can't afford to pay for tutoring, she writes. Often their children end up in special education -- two-fifths of special-ed students are there for reading issues -- yet their teachers may urge them to guess at words by using pictures or context clues.

The switch to evidence-based teaching and curricula -- the so-called "science of reading" -- has come too late for many floundering readers, Hurley notes. They're still guessing.

Kareem J. Weaver stopped using the term "reading wars," he writes on X, until "an elder said, "It's a war because our children are casualties."

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