Miguel and Jessica Millan knew something was wrong: Their 6-year-old son couldn’t read. He didn’t remember the alphabet. But he was still moving from one year to the next.
Teachers and administrators in their district in suburban Rochester, New York, assured them, “He will catch up.” It’s normal for boys to be like that,” Mr Millan said. Finally, in third grade, they sought outside help and their son was diagnosed with dyslexia.
“No one ever said to us, ‘We see there’s a problem and we need to solve it,’” said Mr. Millan, who transferred Alejandro, now 13, to a private school.
After a decade of stagnant reading testing and following pandemic-related learning disruptions, states and school districts began to recognize that they have has long failed to teach properly students to read. Almost every state in the country has passed reading and literacy laws, a recent analysis revealed. New York City, the nation’s largest school system, launched a radical overhaul of the program this spring.
But at the state level, New York once national leader in education reform, is overdue, according to a growing chorus of experts, families and educators. They say leaders are doing little to address needs, leaving students like Alejandro to struggle when districts resist change.
The decline in fourth-grade reading scores in New York was double the national average last year. a major national test, leaving it tied for 32nd place with five other states. Despite this, many local districts have retained teaching approaches that experts criticize for including too little concentration on basic reading skills, allowing students to fall through the cracks.
More and more New York parents began sounding the alarm at local school board meetings. Lawmakers pushed for Albany and the state Department of Education to take a stronger hand. And an influential group in education policy recently said state officials were failing to use “their power and influence to prioritize literacy.”
“What I miss is state leadership,” said Dia Bryant, executive director of the Education Trust New York, the policy group. “I expect these are people, and I think the public expects, to lead the charge on this.”
“But New York is doing nothing,” she added.
Elsewhere in the country, state bills passed between 2019 and 2022 have often focused on training teachers or improving screenings to identify children at risk of not learning to read, according to a recent analysis. Some have sought to ban “three markers”, a flawed strategy that encourages children to use picture clues to guess words.
New York was one of five states that did not enact any laws during the same period. In the May state executive budget, literacy was largely overlooked.
Education officials released literacy learning standards – which describe the skills that students are expected to possess and which are rooted in the science of how children learn to read – as well as tips for aligning curricula for them. Some experts, however, worry that many of New York’s 700 districts are not making adequate changes in response, and argue that more could be done to identify flawed approaches and move schools away from them.
In Buffalo, Rochester And Syracusesome of the state’s largest districts, more than 8 in 10 children fail annual reading tests. But some big cities, as well as smaller urban districts like New Rochelle and Newburgh and wealthier suburban counties, still use instructional materials that experts say are poor quality choices, according to a survey by The Education Trust .
A spokeswoman for Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement that she is “committed to supporting a world-class education system,” highlighting increased state aid to public schools and $100 million in matching funds in the state budget for districts to combat the pandemic. challenges like learning loss.
James N. Baldwin, deputy commissioner for education policy, said criticism from education officials reflected “a level of ignorance about the level of activity that has occurred here,” pointing to standards state learning programs, as well as curriculum experts and a range of support offerings that the State makes available to municipalities.
“What we believe is that you can’t force a way out of a literacy crisis,” Mr. Baldwin said. »
Early reading experts note that new laws or state guidelines may not solve all the problems on their own.
Legislative efforts in other states have often not paid attention to skills like oral language and writing, or the support that groups like English language learners need. Program revisions have faces backlash educators, while other politicians, such as retain children in third grade whether they fail reading tests, have been intensely debated by educators, researchers, and parents.
State leaders, including Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa, have argued that because New York’s districts have broad latitude in choosing their programs, their options for achieving change are limited.
“The regents have not turned their back on that,” Ms. Rosa said of the push for science education at a public hearing this year, referring to the board that oversees the Department of Education. State Education. “But at the same time, these are local decisions.”
Still, Susan Neuman, former U.S. assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, said legislation and state action can play a crucial role in reorienting education. But in New York, she said, state leaders have remained “remarkably silent” on the issue.
Some advocates point to steps taken by other states with robust local control.
California, for example, deployed reading coaches to the state’s poorest schools and appointed two new statewide literacy directors to help districts improve. In MassachusettsOfficials are trying to create incentives for change, offering grants for curriculum and training changes that prioritize districts with poor quality instructional materials.
“If we had a district that taught that the Holocaust or slavery didn’t exist, would we say ‘local control’? asked Robert Carroll, a lawmaker who represents northwest Brooklyn and has been at the forefront of the legislature’s reading efforts, particularly on dyslexia. “What’s the point of having a state Department of Education if it doesn’t respond to a five-alarm fire?
In Albany, lawmakers are expected to reintroduce several reading-related bills that did not come up for a full vote this year. They include legislation requiring that private health insurers cover the costs for dyslexia assessments, and for mandate that public teacher education programs offer teaching in the science of reading.
As students’ return to school stalls, more and more families are calling for change.
In Western New York’s Greek district, Tianna Johnson said her daughter, Brennae, often made the honor roll at her middle school. She was also good at pronouncing words when she read. But Ms Johnson said her daughter struggled to understand the meaning of the stories.
Ms. Johnson ultimately decided to home teach eighth-grade Brennae, now 15, and said the principal made a frank admission, telling her, “The district was not producing good readers or writers for some time.
“They never told us and made me believe she was excelling,” Ms. Johnson said. “I have completely lost faith in the system.”
Kitty Bennett contributed to the research.