Let’s Put Reading First Again!

We need to make sure we are investing in all five of the core components of the science of reading, particularly vocabulary and comprehension. We need to invest in our teachers, ensuring they have the data, knowledge, and skills to be effective literacy instructors to all students, regardless of age or current reading level. And we need to hold our K-12 schools accountable for reading proficiency.

Literacy is not mastered in the fourth grade. Those who are proficient at that stage still have a lot of work to do. Those who do need extra work, extra attention, and extra intervention. The science of reading has a lifetime of application. It has been proven effective. And we have waited far, far too long to make it a priority. The science of reading needs to be our new national literacy plan.

From Eduflack’s inaugural essay for Educate

Better Reading Teacher Prep in NJ

“If we can all agree on the importance of following the science when it comes to reopening our schools, why does New Jersey so solidly reject the idea of following the science when it comes to teaching our youngest learners to read? Why do we reject the science when it comes to doing what is proven effective in equipping virtually all students with the literacy skills necessary to succeed in middle school, high school, post secondary, and life?”

Eduflack’s latest for the NJ Education Report

Embracing the Science of Reading

These approaches work. They have worked in schools and classrooms throughout the nation for generations. They can produce the most extraordinary results in student learning and make those results ordinary, expected, and predictable. The evidence about how students learn to read bears this out. Our struggle remains in that far too few classrooms are using these approaches and far too few education schools are preparing teacher candidates in science. This research only needs to be put to work to provide every child with a good start in reading.

From Eduflack’s latest from The Faculty, Using the Science of Reading as a Roadmap to Student Success

No, “Balanced Literacy” Doesn’t Work

“No, we don’t need to rebalance balanced literacy. Whole language was discredited because it didn’t work. It was a philosophy, an approach, to literacy that lacked a proven curriculum that actually taught kids to read. Rebranding it as balanced literacy may have ensured sales and boosted the number of school districts enrolling their teachers in workshops, but it has similarly done nothing to teach kids to read. Balanced literacy needs to be cast aside, not rebalanced.

“With all we know about research and cognitive science, with all of the data we now hold on effective teaching and learning, with what we know about learning disabilities and English language learning, it borders on educational malpractice if we are focusing classroom instruction on approaches that lack evidence. Too much is at stake – for both our learners and our society – to waste our time and instructional dollars on snake oil and well-intentioned, yet unsuccessful, philosophies or beliefs.”

From Eduflack’s latest for Project Forever Free, Lucy, We Told You So

Literacy as a Constitutional, Civil Right

Earlier this year, the federal courts ruled that learning to read was a Constitutional right. For decades now, those (including dear ol’ Eduflack) who have advocated for scientifically based literacy instruction and who believe that virtually all learners can be taught how to read with proven instructional approaches have discussed literacy skills as a civil right.

With those declarations – and with decades of research clearly articulating how to teach reading and how to learn literacy skills – why are we still struggling to get learners reading at grade level by fourth grade?

On the latest episode of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network, we explore the issue. Give it a listen here!

 

Of Reading Proficiency and Civil Rights

“Literacy is an educational right. Every learner needs to be reading at grade level by fourth grade. The science is clear on how to best teach young children to read. Our educators and the teacher education programs that prepare them must adapt and transform to embrace both these obligations and the science on effective instruction.”

From dear ol’ Eduflack’s latest commentary on Project Forever Free, detailing the latest court ruling declaring Detroit students are constitutionally guaranteed a basic education, including literacy.

Give it a read! And give Project Forever Free a follow.

It’s Time for Reading Rights

“Producing a strong research study that collects dust on the shelf can hardly win the day. For generations now, we have fought ideological skirmishes over literacy instruction, watching the pendulum swing as classroom educators simply waited it out until the latest “hot” thing lost favor and classrooms returned to what they were previously doing. If we truly want to declare a reading victory and tout our collective instructional successes, we need to commit to some basic truths.”

From Eduflack’s latest for The 74 Million

When It Comes To Reading Test Score Failures, Blame the Adults

We should be furious with the state of student literacy performance, as evidenced by the most recent NAEP scores. But we our anger should be directed at those adults who still aren’t prioritizing evidence-based reading instruction.

We explore the topic on the latest episode of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen.

Finally, a Research Requirement?

Earlier this year, President Donald J. Trump signed into a law a new requirement that education policymakers at the federal level needed to use research, data, and evidence when making decisions about all things education.

As someone who has spent decades fighting for evidence-based approaches to instruction, it was somewhat nice to see. But it also raised a huge question for me. What exactly have we been using all these years that we are just now, in 2019, getting around to requiring that evidence and data should be made regarding education decisions?

We explore the topic on the latest episode of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen. I promise we can prove some value.

Reading Should Be a Civil, Constitutional Right

Twenty years ago, I formally enlisted in the “Reading Wars.” As one of the original staffers of the National Reading Panel, I really had no idea what I was getting into. Entering the process, literacy instruction seemed pretty simple to me. I thought English teachers knew how to teach kids to read. It went without saying that those proven-effective methods were what we were using in the classroom.

Boy, was I wrong. I quickly learned that what were scientifically proven instructional methods were often ignored, replaced by an embrace of an unproven philosophy of “whole language.” Ed schools were often preparing prospective teachers in the philosophy as their professors were the advocates of such a belief. Misguided philosophy was trumping fact when it came to literacy instruction.

The National Reading Panel culled through decades of research to determine the most effective methods for teaching young children to read. The Panel’s report became the research cornerstone for the Reading First program, a multi-billion-dollar federal investment in K-12 literacy instruction. This research-based emphasis resulted in an uptick in student literacy rates … until the Reading First program ended as No Child Left Behind faced increased attacks. As a result, reading instruction started returning to where it once was, well-intentioned philosophy over research-based practice.

While some thought of Reading First as a “drill and kill” approach to literacy, the program was addressing its goals. The National Reading Panel had noted that more than a third of fourth graders were unable to read at grade level. Those struggling readers were largely students of color attending high-need schools. And at the time, many of them were on the path to attend high schools affectionately referred to as “drop-out factories.” By refusing to use what we knew worked in teaching young kids to read, we were failing those students for a lifetime. By embracing scientifically based reading instruction, we were strengthening the academic paths for every child to have a chance at success.

I fought those Reading Wars for a decade, and have the intellectual battle scars to show for it. Advocating for better instructional materials. Building new graduate schools of education that were research based. Empowering parents to demand what works in their kids’ classrooms. Highlighting the differences between proven instruction and philosophy. And yes, promoting the notion that literacy skills are indeed a civil right.

After all of those years and all of those fights, I had hoped that things had finally changed. While the dollars from Reading First have long dried up, the impact the policies left on instructional materials and instructional materials lasted. Or so I thought, until reading of a recent court case in Michigan.

In Motown, Detroit Public Schools students have filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the state was denying them their constitutional right to learn. In hearing the case, a federal judge earlier this summer asked and answered an important question: “But the Court is faced with a discrete question: does the Due Process Clause demand that a State affirmatively provide each child with a defined, minimum level of education by which the child can attain literacy? The answer to the question is no.”

The judge based the argument on the fact that the Constitution does not actually include the words “education” or “school.” As a result, while the students’ argument may be morally persuasive, the legal argument just isn’t there. In response, the students’ lawyers are now charging that the failure to teach students to read in essence prevents students from pursuing their constitutional rights, including the right to vote or the right to participate in the civic process.

It is offensive that so many students today complete public school lacking the necessary literacy skills to succeed. It is offensive that government – be it legislatures or the courts – don’t see the lack of student reading resources as the crisis it truly is. And at a time when most states require students be educated (with some states demanding they remain in school until their 18th birthday) that we are unable to provide students the literacy skills they need, deserve, and demand.

Two decades ago, we were fighting the Reading Wars to determine whether whole language or a phonics-based approach was the most effective instructional strategy. Sadly, today we are now fighting over whether young people even have a right to literacy skills and the very basics in public education.

Decades of research is clear on what is most effective when it comes to teaching most young people to read. We know what works, and we have the data to prove it. A former mentor of mine once declared that it was “educational malpractice” for our schools not to use scientifically-based reading instruction in the classroom. He was ridiculed for using such language, but he was correct, then and now.

When our fourth graders can’t read, it is near impossible for them to learn content when they hit middle and high school. When they graduate functionally illiterate in this digital, information age, it is near impossible for them to get a good job or truly participate in the great American citizenry. When we fail to teach our young people to read, we are literally denying them their rightful place in our democratic republic.

Literacy skills are indeed a civil right. And as we pay federal, state, and local taxes each year to fund our local schools, effectively teaching reading should be a constitutional right as well.

(This essay also appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.)