The Upheaval in Teaching Reading

Good morning. It’s Monday. We’ll look at something so fundamental it’s the first of the three R’s — and why New York City is about to change the way it is taught in public schools.

Half of the children in grades three to eight in New York City fail reading tests. Why? David Banks, the city’s schools chancellor, blames the current approach to teaching reading. “It’s not your fault. It’s not your child’s fault. It was our fault,” Banks told my colleague Troy Closson.

Last week, Banks announced plans to force the school system he runs to teach reading differently. I asked Troy to explain the changes and the difficulty of instituting them.

Can a curriculum change like this make a difference? How big a difference?

It can, but it takes time.

Any real change in terms of how students are learning to read is going to take years to take effect. It’s going to require a sustained commitment, which means not backing off if the scores don’t turn out well initially.

It’s also going to require intensive training for teachers and coaching in their classrooms over time.

One state a lot of people point to is Mississippi. In 2019, Mississippi and the District of Columbia were the only two places nationally where reading scores saw major improvements. Mississippi had moved years earlier to home in on changing how reading is taught, sending literacy coaches to many struggling schools and retraining teachers. They had a huge level of community support, and they worked on it for years and finally saw progress.

It’s not at all an easy process. New York isn’t at the end of the road. We’re only at the start.

Here in New York, the schools chancellor says the school system has been teaching children reading the wrong way since the early 2000s. He told you the city’s approach was “fundamentally flawed.” How so?

Over the past few years, there’s been a huge spotlight on the research behind how children learn to read, and how some of the most popular approaches in places like New York City haven’t always followed the science.

A podcast called “Sold a Story” swept through the education world and looked at “three cueing.” Basically, what that involves is when a student needs to figure out a tough word, a teacher might direct their attention to a picture clue and the context of a sentence to prompt a guess as to what the word is. Research has shown that this can draw students’ attention away from the word itself and is a flawed approach.

But I’ve heard from many parents who say the strategy is still used in their kids’ classrooms.

The science shows that for most students to learn to read, they need to explicitly work on understanding the relationship between sounds and letters; they need help building their vocabularies; and they need to expand their background knowledge of the world, among other things.

Some of the popular programs and approaches used in many cities, including New York, have been criticized for not doing enough of those things.

But New York stuck with that approach even though the problems were known. Why?

That’s a question a lot of families across the country are asking — why has it taken so long?

Going back to three cueing, it can at times be part of a broad approach called balanced literacy. Most schools chancellors in New York City over the last two decades valued balanced literacy because it tries to instill a passion for books and reading. It includes a lot of independent reading time so children can pick out a book themselves and discover it. Many principals and teachers really see a value in that. But the concern for literacy experts is that balanced literacy doesn’t always include enough of the core, foundational skills for kids to read in the first place.

And if they can’t read, what’s the point of the independent time to discover books?


How hard is it for teachers to change their ways?

Every teacher wants to do what’s best for the kids — no teacher is sitting there thinking I don’t want my kids to learn to read. But so many teachers here have been through the back-and-forth changes that come with every new administration, when they were asked to try new approaches and given new guidelines to operate under.

The challenge is building buy-in among teachers so they see the value of changing their approach and believe that this is going to be a lasting moment for the city, not just the next fleeting shift.

The rollout starts in September in half the school districts in the city. Is there enough time?

Many of the principals I’ve talked to, along with the head of the principals’ union, have said that the timeline is one of their biggest frustrations. They wish there was more of a runway up to the city’s announcement and the time they’re expected to make these changes. Even for educators and school leaders who are eager to make changes, it’s a big overhaul and a huge part of school life that they’re having to rethink.

The changes will be adopted district by district. Won’t school principals feel that’s undercutting their traditional authority?

I talked to a lot of principals who have major frustrations with how this plan was rolled out. Some are frustrated that they’re going to have to start over, rather than continuing to build on progress they’ve seen in recent years.

The principals’ union did a survey recently on how its members felt about the changes and how they are being introduced. Three out of four said they weren’t pleased.

There’s understandable tension: A lot of reading experts have been calling for the city to make the changes it’s now doing. But principals here have historically had control over guiding their schools in terms of curriculums and programs that suit their students, and it’s a big shift for them.

What about students with dyslexia or other learning disabilities?

The mayor and the chancellor have opened several new programs for students with dyslexia, though there’s still more work to be done to support those kids. And District 75, which is a set of schools for students with more advanced disabilities, will be in the second phase of this rollout, so their schools will adopt one of these curriculums in 2024.

I’ve talked to several special education teachers in particular who are hopeful. Many of them have a hard time finding materials that work for students. But again, whether things change will really come down to the rollout and training.


Expect a sunny day with a high near 75 and light winds in the afternoon. At night, it will be mostly clear with temps around 60.


In effect until Thursday (Solemnity of the Ascension).

The latest New York news

The mayor’s conservative bent: Left-leaning New Yorkers say Mayor Eric Adams is moving the city in a more conservative direction on issues like policing, rent and providing shelter to those in need.

Watch list for homeless: Jordan Neely, who was killed by another subway rider, was on a watch list for a city task force that kept track of the homeless New Yorkers of most concern.

Sunset Park vendors: An impromptu street market in a Brooklyn park was a lifeline for immigrants during the pandemic. But complaints and conflicts arose, and then the police came.

Theater production of Sarah Lawrence sex scandal: A small production that involves faculty and graduates largely mirrors Lawrence Ray’s yearslong exploitation of vulnerable students at Sarah Lawrence College in Westchester County. Some of his victims object.


Moving in

Dear Diary:

I was in an elevator at a friend’s building. There were two other people in the elevator I didn’t know.

The elevator stopped, and a woman who appeared to be about 30 got on.

“Do you live here?” one of the other passengers asked her.

“Yes,” she replied, explaining that her fiancé lived in 16C. “I just moved in.”

“Oh,” said the other woman, “you’re marrying into a really good building.”

— Martine J. Byer

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero, Jeffrey Furticella, Rick Martinez and Olivia Parker contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].

Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

Source: Read Full Article