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.)

 

 

The Ghosts of Reading First

This week, the Center for American Progress released a new report, “A Look at the Education Crisis: Tests, Standards, and the Future of of American Education.” In it, the researchers at CAP take a look at recent NAEP data to see if the state of public education is as bad as some say or on a rocketing upward trajectory as others say (guess it really depends on who your friends or online trolls are).

USA Today’s Greg Toppo has a great summary of the report here. We’ve all seen that high school graduation rates are at all-time highs. But it is hard to celebrate such a statistic when we still see that only one in five low-income fourth graders achieved reading proficiency on NAEP. Or that only 52 percent of “nonpoor” fourth graders were able to hit that proficient mark.

It doesn’t get better for eighth graders in reading. Only a third of them are proficient in cities like Charlotte, Austin, Miami, and San Diego. Boston comes it at only 28 percent proficient. NYC 27 percent. Chicago 24 percent. Philly 16 percent. Cleveland 11 percent. And Detroit at only 7 percent.

So why do these eighth grade numbers matter so much? Most of the students in the eighth grade NAEP sample never attended school when Reading First was law of the land. Sure, they may have benefited from textbooks that were developed to meet RF requirements years prior. And some of their teachers may have utilized the PD and supports they received during the height of RF. But each of these kids has now gone through eight or so years of public school where scientifically based reading instruction was not demanded nor expected.

These latest NAEP numbers, and the analysis from CAP make one thing very clear. We need scientifically based reading instruction in the classroom. Our teachers need to be prepared for it. Our elementary schools need to be based around it. Our students need to be instructed in it. And our families need to know it when they see it (and know when they aren’t seeing it in their community schools).

Yes, Reading First had implementation issues. Yes, at times it was more steel hammer than velvet glove. But can we really say we shouldn’t be using what is known to be effective in teaching kids to read? Can we really say, with all the data that we have, that early reading instruction based on phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension isn’t the correct path? Can we really say a a philosophical approach to reading trumps and research-based instructional approach? And can we really say we should’t be using what is proven effective in the classroom?

For those who condemn the Common Core’s emphasis on non-fiction texts, it is ridiculous to assume that a low-income eighth grader can read the rich literature sought when only a third of them are reading proficient in the first place.

When scientifically based reading instruction became the law of the land in 2002, it was an approach that was embraced by all comers. The teachers unions. The principals groups. The superintendents. The teacher education community. The business community. All saw the value in using proven-effective approaches to instruction. All saw the need to do something to improve literacy, particularly with low-income learners. All embraced SBRR.

We need to find that solidarity again. The most recent eighth grade NAEP scores show us that taking a different path has failed too many kids … again. We need to remember that literacy is not, or at least shouldn’t be, a political issue. Whether we want all kids to pass a high-stakes, state-based, standards-aligned exam or we want all children to find a love for learning and literature, the ability to read is a non-negotiable.

While Reading First has now been relegated to the history books for the past decade, we cannot and should not ignore the hundreds of thousands of research studies that showed the effectiveness of scientifically based instruction. We cannot and should not ignore the reality that, when SBRR was in full effect in the early to mid 2000s, reading proficiency rates were on the rise, both with the low-income students the program targeted and other learners who benefited from the focus on SBRR-based instructional materials and PD. And we cannot and should not ignore that far too many kids — particularly those that are black, brown, or low-income — are struggling when it comes to reading … and we know just what should be done to help them.

 

Yes, We Need a Literacy Discussion at #SXSWEdu. Vote Now!

Last year, Eduflack had the honor of speaking at SXSWEdu, preaching on the importance of active, involved parents in the educational process. The talk came out of my award-winning Dadprovement book, a work I am particularly proud of.

This year, I am hoping to get back to SXSWEdu to talk about a topic that has been the central driver of my professional edu-career for nearly two decades. That subject? How best to teach children to read.

Earlier this year, Rowman & Littlefield published Teaching Children to Read: Continuing to Challenge the Status Quo in Education, a work I put together with two of my professional mentors, Reid Lyon and Phyllis Blaunstein. In the book, we look at some both the research and some very personal experiences regarding reading instruction, and what parents can do to ensure their kids are getting the very best, proven literacy approaches in their own classrooms.

To give you a little sense of what the book seeks to do, check out what Education Trust’s Karin Chenoweth wrote about it early this year on Huffington Post.

But I digress. From the SXSWedu Panel Picker, here is the description of what I want to talk about:

Despite the adoption of Common Core and the strengthening of learning standards, nearly a third of fourth graders unable to read proficiently. Too many kids can’t read, and we know why. Moreover, we know what we should be doing about it.

This session will provide an overview of what we know is most effective in teaching young children to read, while providing a specific path for teachers and parents on how best to get it into our classrooms.

By challenging the status quo in education, we can ensure that Johnny can read. And in doing so, we can shift from being a nation at risk to one where every child is truly college and career ready. (Spoiler, it requires literacy skills.)

– See more at: http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/47957#sthash.mjDp3v0Z.dpuf

Please vote for my session, Johnny Can’t Read, So We Remain a Nation at Risk. It takes just a moment to go to the SXSWedu picker and give my session a thumbs up (literally, you click on the up thumb and it goes green). And if you are so moved, write a brief comment on how brilliant and pithy I am, and how such a session is needed.

Thanks for your support. And as they say in Chicago, vote early and often.