I am a parent in the process of looking for the best education path for my son. As an attorney at Western Center who often works on issues pertaining to child welfare, I am also interested in advocacy around access to and quality of education – especially for kids of color like mine. A lot of what happens in education is a direct reflection of our nation’s “commitment” to racial equity issues (which is to say, we’re not that committed), and to science. For those committed to racial equity and ending the school to prison pipeline, there is no other option but to be interested in and committed to this issue.
To make a long story short — there is well-researched scientific evidence about how people learn to read, usually distilled into what is called the “Science of Reading,” which has been around for 20 years. There are plenty of news reports, research papers, podcasts, social media groups, and conferences devoted to discussing the “Science of Reading” and best practices in reading instruction. Bafflingly, most school districts do not use curriculum that aligns with the science of reading. This partially contributes to 83% of Black kids and 60% of white kids not being proficient readers by the 4th grade. Unfortunately, the most recently released National Assessment of Education Progress “NAEP” scores show startling declines in math and reading proficiency among our nation’s youth, and widening gaps for Black and Latinx youth.
Change is on the horizon, however, in part because of books like “The Knowledge Gap” and other forms of advocacy, but it’s surprising that it has taken so long to catch on. As a nation, we have a lot of problems when it comes to listening to science. We blame Black and brown children for failing to meet reading proficiency standards despite evidence that we are not teaching them based on scientifically sound methods. We are wasting public funds, resources, and most importantly, human potential.
San Francisco Unified School District adopted a curriculum that is not at all aligned with the science of reading, which was actually banned in Berkeley as a result of a lawsuit because it does such a poor job of teaching kids to read. Meanwhile, in places like Milwaukee, parents have successfully advocated for more science-based approaches to learning. Colorado, Arkansas, Mississippi, and other states already have laws on the books requiring science of reading based approaches, which have achieved positive results.
From my view as an advocate and parent, the science provides a clear call to action for helping our kids reach their potential: (1) reading instruction should be part of general education through 5th grade and likely through middle school; (2) schools should be required to use curriculum aligned with the science of reading; (3) teachers should be trained in college on the science of reading, which would require new legislation in several states including California; (4) early childhood education students should be trained on early science of reading methods and how to spot early signs of reading difficulties.
Reading proficiency is fundamental in this society – especially when we talk about lifting families out of poverty. It’s a relatively easy intervention, we just need a commitment to following proven methods for teaching kids how to read. Sticking our heads in the sand when the evidence is clear is a disservice to children, families, and their communities – our systems of education must adjust to meet the needs of our kids.