With half its students unable to pass reading tests, the City of New York has decided to change the way it teaches reading.
Starting this fall in some schools and in the fall of 2024 in others, “the science of reading” will ground all reading instruction. This means that students will focus on learning sounds associated with letters (phonemes) and on joining those letter sounds (phonics) to form words.
Chancellor David C. Banks will announce the change today (May 9, 2023). He hopes the new approach will change the current outcome in reading instruction in which half the city’s third through eighth graders are not proficient in reading.
The city’s schools are divided into 32 local districts. Each district can choose one of three acceptable reading programs, all of which focus–to varying degrees–on phonics. Research has shown that a phonics-based approach to learning to read produces the best results for primary grade students.
The city’s principals’ union is opposed to a one-size fits all approach in the city’s 700 elementary schools. Teachers say they need training.
Local school districts within the city will have some choice in how to proceed. They must choose one of three reading programs: Into Reading, Expeditionary Learning, and Wit & Wisdom. They can and in some cases must supplement these programs with more systematic phonics instruction.
One advantage of the unified approach is to provide students who transfer from one New York school to another a single reading curriculum. Another is to follow the mandate of New York’s Mayor Eric Adams, who has dyslexia, to teach reading using a phonics-based approach. Still another is to provide teachers with materials that have been shown to work, so each teacher doesn’t need to seek materials independently.
The change will start this fall in city school districts showing the least proficiency in reading.
New York is the latest and biggest school district to show dissatisfaction with the way reading has been taught and to turn to a research-supported approach. Poor student performance on reading tests, parents’ demanding change after Covid 19 educational losses, and a growing cohort of students who cannot read are propelling changes in reading instruction throughout the US.