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The Schoolhouse Revolution
Even the New York Times is Recognizing A Shift in the Education Scene
Typically, The New York Times is not the place to find breaking news about education policy. Schools aren’t the priority for its editors, so coverage tends to be cautious and overly deferential to groups that really need some hard questions. It took them years to publish even an opinion piece about the detrimental impact of school closures during Covid on student learning.
So, when the New York Times questions the status quo in schools, I pay attention.
Today, I’m going to highlight some recent pieces about schools in the New York Times. Yes, these topics have been covered extensively elsewhere, including by me in this newsletter, but the recognition of these issues by the Times is a sign that the pendulum is finally swinging in the direction of change.
On today’s morning walk, I listened to The Daily’s podcast on The Fight Over Phonics. The podcast host, Michael Barbaro interviewed Dana Goldstein about the Times’ two recent articles around the growing backlash to the Balanced Literacy program. Goldstein now covers family policy and demographics for the New York Times, but education was her main beat for a long time. The podcast is a good introduction to a complicated topic.
As the podcast explains, most schools across the country use a reading curriculum called Balanced Literacy, which is the brainchild of a Teachers’ College professor, Lucy Calkins. Calkins believes that children learn to read naturally. Little people should be given a little guidance, a bookshelf full of books, and they’ll figure it out on their own. Phonics and other traditional reading methods kill the joy and the child’s agency over learning.
Calkins has been very successful in promoting this philosophy in schools and selling her curriculum packages in schools across the country. She and her team have trained (for a fee) hundreds of thousands of teachers. Her curriculum is in 1/4 of all elementary schools in this country.
And turns out it doesn’t work. You know what works? Phonics.
Calkins was challenged first by scientists, who specialize in cognitive sciences. They looked at MRIs and showed that children’t brains lit up in different ways when using phonics to decode texts.
Side note: The BEST thing that has happened to education research is the involvement of academic researchers from outside the education fields, who really know how to do quantitative research.
Then Emily Hanford, perhaps the most important education journalist working today, did a series of podcasts for APM about the problems with the Balanced Reading methods and the “Science of Reading” that have been widely read, especially among parents of children with disabilities.
And then those parents created twitter profiles and began tweeting and tweeting about the problems with Calkins’ work. Amazing ground breaking work by parents.
State legislatures and city leaders — including New York City’s dyslexic mayor — have dumped Culkins program and mandated a “Science of Reading” program. In Mississippi, a reading revolution led again by politicians, not education leaders, has been widely successful. (That’s another New York Times article, btw.)
A return to phonics is only the first step in restoring education practices in America’s schools. After students become better decoders, the next step is comprehension. In order to really understand why you’re reading, a student needs facts and context. They need to know why leaves are green and how many Supreme Courts justices we have. And schools have gotten away from teaching facts and information, too.
I’ll tackle math curriculum another day.
Two days ago, the New York Times also reported on the lack of oversight on the $122 billion federal stimulus money for schools and how it hasn’t made a dent in the massive learning loss that happened because of the pandemic.
“Education researchers and advocates say recovering from the effects of remote learning should be the top priority, but it is unclear how much of the funding is helping students across the nation fully catch up.”
This newsletter and other education niche outlets been writing about the problematic usage of ESSR money for a couple of years now. While it’s annoying that the mainstream news outlets have taken so long to cover this topic, it is significant that they are finally tackling this issue.
When the education established has lost the New York Times, then it’s time to pay attention. Changes are happening, and these are very welcome changes.
Children have been given substandard education for too long, based on the whimsical theories of educational entrepreneurs. But things are changing.
Viva la révolution!
“I lost 40 pounds on Ozempic. But I’m left with even more questions.” Ruth Graham, WaPo