The push to improve reading instruction will benefit our children...

The push to improve reading instruction will benefit our children and our country. Credit: Getty Images/Klaus Vedfelt

When people read for fun, they look for the good stuff — a bestseller or a friend’s favorite. Lately, I’ve read a lot of texts my friends send my way — specifically, their kids’ school literacy newsletters. These pieces often start similarly: “This year in Room 201, we will focus on improving as readers!” Unfortunately, those inspiring openings often devolve into frightening fiction, outlining approaches to reading instruction that have proved ineffective — the three-cueing method, whole language strategies, kinesthetic instruction, i.e., the “bad stuff.”

In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul is pushing to improve literacy instruction, including a $10 million investment in literacy. I’m grateful, for we will need major resources to revamp reading instruction. State lawmakers also must pass pending legislation requiring that all institutions of higher education in the state undergo an audit on literacy instruction to inform how we improve.

This will be a huge push, but one that will benefit our children and our country. We don’t only need to implement new and improved curriculum for teachers in training, we also need to retrain current teachers so every educator has the proper tools to teach kids to read. As New York’s budget negotiations continue, we need to ensure this priority doesn’t get cut.

As the leader of an institution of higher education, a once-and-future English teacher, and mother of two learning-to-read kids, I see how we teach kids to read in our country, and it’s too often ineffective. There are plenty of reasons why school districts, educators, and parents stand by methods of reading instruction that don’t work.

School districts are beset by publishers who spend a lot of time and money pushing their approach to reading instruction, regardless of its efficacy. Principals and teachers can become “brand loyal” to reading programs and instructional approaches that we learned early in our careers. Parents don’t know what fluent, grade-level reading sounds like, so we don’t know to do extra reading at home, find a tutor, or raise hell when our kids aren’t reading well, and most of our kids aren’t; two-thirds of American fourth-graders cannot read at grade level.

What should we be doing? Reading research has demonstrated — for several decades — that early reading instruction needs to include systematic phonics. Kindergartners, first-graders, and second-graders (and arguably beyond) should have this as part of their daily literacy instruction. This needs to be embedded every day, for many years. Great teachers and strong curriculum make this a fun and easy portion of reading instruction.

An additional challenge is preparing teachers — both current and new — to teach reading well. A National Council on Teacher Quality analysis last year of more than 700 teacher prep programs found that only 25% present a research-based approach to reading instruction, and 40% still use debunked methods. Only a quarter of the programs earned an ‘A’ on the evaluation; 50% received a failing grade.

How do we change this? We need to pass laws that prioritize kids learning to read above publishers’ profits and education schools’ preferences. As a professional community, we teacher-prep leaders need to hold ourselves and our institutions to higher standards. In sum, we need to ensure school districts can only adopt research-based reading programs and that teachers — current and new — are well prepared and using research-based approaches to reading instruction. This is what many teachers want, and what all kids deserve.

We need to ensure teachers and kids are only getting the “good stuff.”

  

This guest essay reflects the views of Mayme Hostetter, president of New York City-based Relay Graduate School of Education.

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