Kids struggle to read when schools leave phonics out

Sep 14, 2018 by

Schools too often leave out a key piece of the reading puzzle because teachers aren’t trained to teach phonics

It was 2015 and Jack Silva, the chief academic officer for the public schools in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, had a problem: Only 56 percent of third-graders in his district had scored proficient on the state reading test.

Reading scores had been low for a while, but for most of the five years that Silva had been chief academic officer, he and other school leaders had been consumed with a severe budget crisis. By 2015, the district had turned the corner financially, and Silva was wondering why the reading scores were so terrible. “It was really looking yourself in the mirror and saying, ‘Which four in 10 students don’t deserve to learn to read?’” he said.

The stakes were high. Research shows that children who don’t learn to read by the end of third grade are likely to remain poor readers for the rest of their lives, and they’re likely to fall behind in other academic areas, too. People who struggle with reading are more likely to drop out of high school, to end up in the criminal justice system, and to live in poverty. But as a nation, we’ve come to accept a high percentage of kids not reading well. More than 60 percent of American fourth-graders are not proficient readers, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and it’s been that way since testing began in the 1990s.

One of the excuses educators have long offered to explain America’s poor reading performance is poverty. There is plenty of poverty in Bethlehem, a small city in eastern Pennsylvania that was once a booming steel town. But there are fancy homes here, too, and when Silva examined the reading scores he saw that many kids at the wealthier schools weren’t reading very well either. This was not just poverty. In fact, by some estimates, one-third of America’s struggling readers are from college-educated families.

Silva didn’t know anything about how children learn to read or how they should be taught, so he started searching online. As he soon discovered, virtually all kids can learn to read — if they are taught the right way. The problem is that many American elementary schools aren’t doing that.

“We never looked at brain research. We had never, ever looked at it. Never.”

Source: Kids struggle to read when schools leave phonics out

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