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Re OPINION: “A call for rejecting the newest reading war” (Nov. 18, 2022)

For decades, parents like us have witnessed how our children were not successfully taught to read or write within education systems using curriculums written and supported by signers of the Nov. 18 letter to the editor.

Our cries for content-rich curriculum firmly seated in how the brain learns to read and write, as evidenced by decades of scientific research, fell on deaf ears.

After the parent outcries were finally acknowledged in Emily Hanford’s reporting, as part of her “Sold a Story” podcast, proponents of these methods responded by stating that their research was ignored. Yet these so-called literacy experts do not provide links to any scientific studies; instead, what they present is emotional blustering that their work, and the work of people like Marie Clay, an originator of the now-debunked “three-cueing” method, is ignored and defamed.

In their dismissal of the evidence, they choose, yet again, to dismiss our pleas as misinformed, misdirected, divisive and irresponsible.

We are forced to send our children to schools where these faulty products and methods are imposed on them. When our children do not learn, we are forced to seek alternative solutions, but few of us can afford tutors or private schools with curriculums seated in the science of reading, and fewer still can afford to homeschool. 

Yet the authors of the letter to the editor choose to focus on the age-old strawman argument that this is solely about phonics. They not only dismiss us, they blame us for creating a pretend war between those who believe in phonics and those who do not. Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve either missed the entire point or are blatantly choosing to ignore the cries of parents who are begging you to do better.

This has never been just about phonics. “Science of reading” proponents have never claimed this “pretend” war is just about phonics; neither have the neuroscientists who have mapped how the brain learns to read. Rather, we have simply asked for the balanced literacy advocates to willingly align their thinking to what science has empirically proven.

The signatories to the letter proclaim that teaching phonics is a settled issue, yet their curriculums only have a smattering of phonics instruction while still promoting three-cueing. They claim to support comprehension strategy instruction, knowledge building, vocabulary acquisition, language development, writing process, culturally responsive teaching, emotional well-being and attention to educational equity, but they fail to understand that we are advocating for those things as well, but done sequentially and with explicit instruction, aligned to the science at all times. By dismissing our dissension as being purely about phonics, these authors place themselves in an ivory tower, claiming they are the only ones invested in the entire reading process.

Further, they throw educators under the bus by claiming that Hanford’s reporting reveals that educators are naively inadequate. Parents have always supported educators, but the pedagogy of these curriculum authors encourages educators to dismiss parents as hapless and unknowing while defending the righteousness of their work.

So-called literacy experts like Lucy Calkins have held sway for decades. They’ve had more than ample opportunity to prove their research. Their side of the story has been heard, and the evidence of their failure is overwhelming. The 2022 NAEP scores are out and reading in fourth and eighth graders fell since 2019 by three points; some 68 percent of public school fourth graders can’t read at a proficient level. This is evidence that their curriculum failure is not being oversimplified or polarized. 

Parents care about coming together and moving forward in a productive way, but these literacy experts have proven they are not invested in change or admitting that their curriculums are damaging. Their continued efforts to dismiss parents begging for change is the real waste of time. We are here to focus on what matters most – our children.

Don’t brush us aside as “just parents.” That dismissal isn’t going to work anymore. We all possess Ph.D.s in our children, and we see their struggle. We are raising our voices so that these curriculum supporters can see with their own eyes that parents are the ones demanding change for the sake of all children. We are not going to let them off the hook as they attempt to PR spin their way out of this. We are informed, we are watching, invested, and paying attention to what they do next. We are also openly advocating for change at our school boards, and in our state legislatures.

Prove to us that you are collectively dedicated to the hard work of change for the sake of all children’s ability to read and write, or do us all a favor and retire.

(Disclosure: The Hechinger Report is an independent unit of Teachers College, Columbia University, where Lucy Calkins and several other signatories to the Nov. 18 letter to the editor serve as professors.)

Ashley Roberts, MBA

Parent of a dyslexic & dysgraphic child, advocate, founder of The Dyslexia Initiative, on behalf of more than 1300 parents, educators and children

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Letters to the Editor

1 Letter

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  1. Open Letter in support of Emily Hanford’s reporting

    “We need to stop wasting time and, instead, follow the science.”

    Recently, a group of 58 educators signed a letter responding to Emily Hanford’s latest podcast, Sold a Story, saying it “is irresponsible to reduce the teaching of reading to phonics instruction and nothing more.”
    We reject this gross misrepresentation of both Hanford’s reporting and the extensive body of research known as the science of reading.
    Who are we? We are teachers, pre-service teachers, tutors, researchers, parents, and advocates who have devoted our lives to helping all children learn to read. We see Hanford’s work as not just beneficial, but essential for anyone who believes literacy is a civil right.
    The letter criticizing Sold a Story never asks: why are so many children not learning to read, and what can we do about it?
    Over the pandemic, America’s longtime literacy crisis exploded into a full-blown emergency. In 2022, only 32% of 4th graders were proficient in reading. In 2019, it was only 34%. When we look at the numbers based on race/ethnicity and socio-economic status, we see a mirror of societal inequalities, with reading proficiency rates even lower for most students of color and those eligible for school lunch programs.
    Illiteracy has lifelong impacts: more than 80% of students who fail to earn a high school degree were struggling readers in third grade. Of children involved with the juvenile justice system, 85% are struggling readers. Two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in prison or on government assistance. These statistics are even more appalling because these young people are capable of reading.
    Research shows that 95% of children, regardless of background, are cognitively capable of learning to read when they receive sufficient direct instruction on the foundational skills of reading. Sold a Story asks why other methods that may be ineffective and even detrimental to reading development have been adopted by so many districts.
    Emily Hanford has been reporting on literacy for over five years and has provided coverage on many aspects of the science of reading. Contrary to what detractors say, the science of reading is not only “phonics,” but rather a body of research that has emerged from multiple disciplines, including cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and linguistics. Thousands of research studies over the last 40-plus years have helped us understand how the brain learns to read and provided us with guidance on how to teach reading.
    Hanford’s reporting is not part of “a new reading war.” Science is not about fighting, but about presenting evidence and changing your mind and practices when the evidence demands it. Research has shown us the best methods to teach reading. Most schools are not using these methods.
    We thank Emily Hanford for challenging us all to stop wasting time and, instead, follow the science. Millions of kids – who have been failed by our educational system for decades – can’t wait any longer.

    Jennifer Schuberth, Ph.D., Oregon Kids Read
    Angela Uherbelau, founder of Oregon Kids Read
    Lisa Lyon, Decoding Dyslexia, Oregon
    The above letter was signed by over 880 educators, advocates, and parents.

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