Editorials agree: Berger and Truitt swing and miss with new phonics push

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger

Superintendent Catherine Truitt

Spring is here and, sadly, that means it’s time for new round of cheap, “quick fix” education policy proposals from conservative politicians.

A few years back, end-of-grade testing was the big idea. Then came charter schools, private school vouchers, school uniforms, school report cards and Senate leader Phil Berger’s “read-to-achieve” program. None of these schemes has made a meaningful impact.

And now comes yet another magic solution: phonics.

State superintendent Catherine Truitt and Berger recently proposed mandating the use of something called “the science of reading” – of which phonics is a big part – in early grade reading instruction. The proposal is included in their new “Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021” proposal.

Unfortunately, dozens of education scholars reject such an approach. Phonics can be a useful tool, they say, but they also note that all children are different and warn against one-size-fits-all solutions.

As Raleigh’s News & Observer explained in a fine editorial yesterday:

There is considerable division in the education field about whether a renewed emphasis on phonics is the best way to teach reading. Gay Ivey, a University of North Carolina-Greensboro professor and highly regarded expert on literacy, said phonics is a necessary tool, but it is not a cure-all for lagging reading skills. She said the approach has been tried, particularly under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

“Doubling down on phonics alone has never worked to produce better readers,” Ivey told the Editorial Board. She said children must learn not just how to sound out words, but also how to assess the words’ meanings and how they connect. Reading instruction, she said, should not be just mechanical. It should also ignite a love of reading that comes with comprehension and the ability to imagine characters and situations.

“I worry that people have put a lot of faith in this one narrow view and, under this bill, we all will have to subscribe to it,” she said. “It’s worrisome because we’ve been down this road before.”

Of course, the real answer to what ails our schools lies not in micromanaging currcula from Washington or Raleigh, but in a sustained commitment to invest – in teachers, administrators, facilities, and children themselves.

As this morning’s Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com puts it in taking Truittt to task:

The reality is that there is a far more comprehensive, well-thought out, approach to meeting the state education needs that Truitt has been all too silent about but should be at the forefront of her education agenda.

She should be in the forefront – out ahead – in pushing the legislature to adopt the comprehensive plan that has been developed by bringing together the various parties in the Leandro court case in to meet the State Constitutional right to give every child access to a quality education.

Until state leaders finally wake up to this reality that’s been staring them in the face for deacdes, the quick and easy fixes will continue to fall flat.

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