DOE Pushes Return To Phonics, Citing A Crisis That Shows Half Of Kids Not Proficient In Reading

The old reading methods used to teach reading will be tossed, replaced with a new phonics-based system that will start rolling out this fall. Full implementation will happen by the start of the 2024-2025 school year. New York City Schools Chancellor David C. Banks labeled current reading proficiency problems a “crisis” that needs to be addressed immediately.

| 15 May 2023 | 02:53

With more than half of the city’s elementary students reading below proficiency levels, the department of education is rolling out a sweeping overhaul of the elementary school reading curriculum called “New York City Reads” that will mark a return to a system that pushes phonics.

“Fifty one percent of NYC elementary school students are not reading proficiently,” top education officials including Schools Chancellor David C. Banks, Deputy Chancellor Kara Ahmed, Deputy Chancellor Carolyne Quintana, and Deputy Chancellor Danika Rux noted as they kicked off a PowerPoint presentation on what they termed a “crisis” that needs to be addressed.

“They aren’t reading because we’ve been giving our schools and our educators a flawed plan,” Banks said during the announcement at Brooklyn’s P.S. 156, according to Chalkbeat NYC. He added: “It is really an indictment on the work that we do.”

The sweeping overhaul has the support of the United Federation of Teachers.

Under the new program, elementary school kids will be taught one of three curriculums using phonics, where they will learn how to decode letter sounds instead of more recently used methods like using picture clues or guessing at words.

Chalkbeat, a not-for-profit news service that covers education, said that the city’s 700 elementary schools will be required to pick one of the following programs: Wit & Wisdom from the company Great Minds, Into Reading from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, or EL Education.

A presentation by Brown and other top education officials on May 11 noted racial disparities in reading caused by what the education officials said was antiquated curricula. They revealed stark numbers that found that sixty-three percent of Latino students and sixty-four percent of Black students in NYC were not meeting proficiency standards. In contrast, only thirty-three percent of white students failed to meet the same standards.

Chancellor Banks noted that 30 percent of the nation’s students–not just NYC’s–aren’t reading at proficiency standards, stating: “This is a national issue. A crisis.” In other words, the panel of top education officials on May 11 said they hoped to lay out a vanguard program that could be a model for reducing reading disparities everywhere.

Banks laid out the consequences that would follow from staying the course with outdated reading methodologies (such as the Lucy Calkins “balanced literacy” model that dominated the past decade, which involves tenets such as an emphasis on independent and shared reading), noting that “so many of these young people quit reading” by the time they’re in high-school. Poor reading instruction starting in early grades carries over into later grades, and the damage is cumulative.

According to the panel, other macroeconomic issues inevitably follow, such as $2.2 trillion of lost national income per year. Banks claims this can be attributed to a lack of reading skills as the students enter the workforce in later years. The forecast solution? The five pillars of “The Science of Reading”: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Vocabulary, Fluency, and Comprehension. This phonemic part is key–phonics will play a resurgent role in defining the overhauled system. Banks highlighted that for every one percent increase in literacy, a projected $240 billion dollars would be pumped into the New York economy.

Deputy Chancellor Rux laid out what will essentially be a two-part implementation strategy, with Phase 1 occurring from 2023-2024. The common curriculum will be rolled out in a “learn to launch” soft release in 29 districts with students ranging from birth to 5 years-of-age, and in 15 districts for students in K-5 schools.

“This is something we wanted to do with a sense of urgency, because this is critically important and we knew that this was going to change outcomes for students,” Rux said. Community engagement with the new mandated curriculum is integral to the first phase. Phase 2 will be the finalized and city-wide rollout, and will take place from 2024-2025.

As for the technological elements of the program? “I am a really big fan of generative AI,” Deputy Chancellor Quintana proclaimed in response to a question about the burgeoning software ChatGPT. She noted that it wouldn’t replace the brunt of comprehensive reading work, but that “we want kids to actually produce, to solve problems and to generate data.”

In other words, the science of writing would have a new-school assisted-learning sheen enabled by Silicon Valley. The four officials closed out the PowerPoint presentation with a quote by Frederick Douglass: “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”