OPINION: Parents say enough with the strawmen, fix reading education based on the science

Re OPINION: “A call for rejecting the newest reading war” (Nov. 18, 2022)

For decades, parents like us have witnessed how our children were not successfully taught to read or write within education systems using curriculums written and supported by signers of the Nov. 18 letter to the editor.

Our cries for content-rich curriculum firmly seated in how the brain learns to read and write, as evidenced by decades of scientific research, fell on deaf ears.

After the parent outcries were finally acknowledged in Emily Hanford’s reporting, as part of her “Sold a Story” podcast, proponents of these methods responded by stating that their research was ignored. Yet these so-called literacy experts do not provide links to any scientific studies; instead, what they present is emotional blustering that their work, and the work of people like Marie Clay, an originator of the now-debunked “three-cueing” method, is ignored and defamed.

In their dismissal of the evidence, they choose, yet again, to dismiss our pleas as misinformed, misdirected, divisive and irresponsible.

We are forced to send our children to schools where these faulty products and methods are imposed on them. When our children do not learn, we are forced to seek alternative solutions, but few of us can afford tutors or private schools with curriculums seated in the science of reading, and fewer still can afford to homeschool. 

Yet the authors of the letter to the editor choose to focus on the age-old strawman argument that this is solely about phonics. They not only dismiss us, they blame us for creating a pretend war between those who believe in phonics and those who do not. Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve either missed the entire point or are blatantly choosing to ignore the cries of parents who are begging you to do better.

This has never been just about phonics. “Science of reading” proponents have never claimed this “pretend” war is just about phonics; neither have the neuroscientists who have mapped how the brain learns to read. Rather, we have simply asked for the balanced literacy advocates to willingly align their thinking to what science has empirically proven.

The signatories to the letter proclaim that teaching phonics is a settled issue, yet their curriculums only have a smattering of phonics instruction while still promoting three-cueing. They claim to support comprehension strategy instruction, knowledge building, vocabulary acquisition, language development, writing process, culturally responsive teaching, emotional well-being and attention to educational equity, but they fail to understand that we are advocating for those things as well, but done sequentially and with explicit instruction, aligned to the science at all times. By dismissing our dissension as being purely about phonics, these authors place themselves in an ivory tower, claiming they are the only ones invested in the entire reading process.

Further, they throw educators under the bus by claiming that Hanford’s reporting reveals that educators are naively inadequate. Parents have always supported educators, but the pedagogy of these curriculum authors encourages educators to dismiss parents as hapless and unknowing while defending the righteousness of their work.

So-called literacy experts like Lucy Calkins have held sway for decades. They’ve had more than ample opportunity to prove their research. Their side of the story has been heard, and the evidence of their failure is overwhelming. The 2022 NAEP scores are out and reading in fourth and eighth graders fell since 2019 by three points; some 68 percent of public school fourth graders can’t read at a proficient level. This is evidence that their curriculum failure is not being oversimplified or polarized. 

Parents care about coming together and moving forward in a productive way, but these literacy experts have proven they are not invested in change or admitting that their curriculums are damaging. Their continued efforts to dismiss parents begging for change is the real waste of time. We are here to focus on what matters most – our children.

Don’t brush us aside as “just parents.” That dismissal isn’t going to work anymore. We all possess Ph.D.s in our children, and we see their struggle. We are raising our voices so that these curriculum supporters can see with their own eyes that parents are the ones demanding change for the sake of all children. We are not going to let them off the hook as they attempt to PR spin their way out of this. We are informed, we are watching, invested, and paying attention to what they do next. We are also openly advocating for change at our school boards, and in our state legislatures.

Prove to us that you are collectively dedicated to the hard work of change for the sake of all children’s ability to read and write, or do us all a favor and retire.

(Disclosure: The Hechinger Report is an independent unit of Teachers College, Columbia University, where Lucy Calkins and several other signatories to the Nov. 18 letter to the editor serve as professors.)

Ashley Roberts, MBA

Parent of a dyslexic & dysgraphic child, advocate, founder of The Dyslexia Initiative, on behalf of more than 1300 parents, educators and children

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