‘Explicit and structured’ is the best kind!
Betsy DeVos, vin-di-CAT-ed!
If the Madison Metro School District ever does something right the white lab coats at Blaska Policy Werkes will call them on it. Con-grat-u-LA-tions, then, that the district is getting hooked on phonics.
It’s how my generation at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary parochial school learned to read these many years ago.
“We want explicit, structured phonics,” says an assistant superintendent at MMSD. “Our teachers are saying they want that.” About time, since the percentages of students scoring proficient or advanced on the Forward Exam dropped from the 2017-18 school year, with language arts going from 36.6% that year to 34.9% in the 2018-19 school year. In other words, just one-third of MMSD students can read at grade.
The value of phonics, says a “cognitive neuroscientist and reading expert” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “is about as close to conclusive as research on complex human behavior can get.”
Tried and true
Phonics replaces what some call the “balanced literacy” theory that schools of education have been teaching for a generation. I knew it as the “look-say” method. As the New York Times explains, “that theory holds that students can learn to read through exposure to a wide range of books that appeal to them, without too much emphasis on technically complex texts or sounding out words.”
Eye-tracking studies and brain scans now show that that the opposite is true, according to many scientists. Learning to read, they say, is the work of deliberately practicing how to quickly connect the letters on the page to the sounds we hear each day.
In January, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos castigated colleges of education for teaching what she described as “junk science” about reading.
Washington D.C. is one of only two jurisdictions, along with Mississippi, to increase average reading scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress tests between 2017 and 2019. Both did so despite high-poverty student populations, and both are requiring more phonics.
Arm-a-geddon outta here
BTW: Parents aren’t the only ones fleeing Madison’s public schools. So are teachers. 8.3% of teachers left the district after the 2018-19 school year. That’s up from the 6.7% that left in 2017-18, 6.9% in 2016-17, 6.1% in 2015-16 and 5.5% in 2014-15.
Blaska’s Bottom Line: Administrators profess to be perplexed as to why. Doesn’t the school district conduct exit interviews?