More than 200 of New York City’s elementary schools* lack direct phonics-based instruction, while more than half of students in grades 3 to 8 are not proficient readers, according to state tests.** To address this, the city will move towards a phonics-based approach for all elementary schools — a tall order when the debate over how to most effectively teach reading has raged for decades. While the move to phonics is necessary, it’s important to realize that state officials have mandated more than just phonics, and that phonics alone is not a game changer.

More than phonics

Phonics is one component in a comprehensive body of evidence known as the Science of Reading. Embraced by educators nationwide because it is based on scientific evidence of how the brain learns to read, the research indicates that — unlike learning to talk — learning to read does not come naturally for us. Moreover, although some people have conflated the Science of Reading with phonics instruction due to its strong emphasis on phonics and the fact that it has been politicized, it goes far deeper. It is not a single instructional program, nor is it phonics-only; rather, this research proves that learning to read requires explicit, systematic, and cumulative instruction in five essential literacy components. As such, the New York City mandate calls for school phonics programs to be combined with a comprehensive literacy program that includes phonemic awareness, phonics, fluent text reading, vocabulary, and comprehension. 

Science of Reading proves to be a game changer for educators

Despite its clear value, the Science of Reading was not part of most educators’ training, nor was it incorporated into the majority of college programs. As a result, teachers who enrolled in programs like Lexia® LETRS® (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling) have characterized learning a Science of Reading-based Structured Literacy approach as “life-changing.” 

Not far from New York City, the New Rochelle School District implemented LETRS. 

“This course has been the single most impactful professional development initiative that I have ever attended in my 20 years of teaching,” said Holly Bruni, an ELA facilitator and reading teacher at Jefferson Elementary School in New Rochelle.

With LETRS, educators develop a deeper scientific understanding of why students struggle to read and are better equipped to support diverse learners of all kinds.

Resources for schools

“Far too many of our kids do not have a solid, foundational core in literacy,” New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks recently said. “We’ve got to do things differently.” 

While change can be inconvenient, applying five decades of gold-standard research into how students learn to read will be a game changer for New York City students, teachers, and school leaders. For more information on the Science of Reading and the professional learning programs that support this body of evidence, download our white paper, It’s More Than Phonics: Dispelling the Biggest Myth About the Science of Reading.

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