New York Is Forcing Schools to Change How They Teach Children to Read (2023)


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Half of children in grades three to eight fail reading tests. The city’s schools chancellor, who has faulted the current approach, will begin rolling out new curriculums next year.

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New York Is Forcing Schools to Change How They Teach Children to Read (1)

By Troy Closson

(Video) The One About... Forcing Schools to Change How They Teach Children to Read

Hundreds of public schools have been teaching reading the wrong way for the last two decades, leaving an untold number of children struggling to acquire a crucial life skill, according to New York City’s schools chancellor.

Now, David C. Banks, the chancellor, wants to “sound the alarm” and is planning to force the nation’s largest school system to take a new approach.

On Tuesday, Mr. Banks announced major changes to reading instruction in an aim to tackle a persistent problem: About half of city children in grades three through eight are not proficient in reading. Black, Latino and low-income children fare even worse.

In a recent interview, Mr. Banks said that the city’s approach had been “fundamentally flawed,” and had failed to follow the science of how students learn to read.

“It’s not your fault. It’s not your child’s fault. It was our fault,” Mr. Banks said. “This is the beginning of a massive turnaround.”

Over the next two years, the city’s 32 local school districts will adopt one of three curriculums selected by their superintendents. The curriculums use evidence-supported practices, including phonics — which teaches children how to decode letter sounds — and avoidstrategiesmany reading experts say are flawed, like teaching children to usepicture clues to guess words.

The move represents a sea change in a city where principals have historically retained authority over approaches to teaching at their individual schools.

Half of the districts will begin the program in September; the others will start in 2024. Waivers to opt out will only be considered for schools where more than 85 percent of students are proficient in reading, a threshold that only about 20 schools meet.

The nation’s biggest district joins a push to change reading

The move represents the most significant reading overhaul in New York City since the early 2000s, when some of the programs that the chancellor is now trying to uproot were first ushered in. It will immediately place the city at the forefront of a growing national movement to reform reading instruction.

Experts, lawmakers and families have pushed to abandon strategies that a mass of research shows do not work for all students and to embrace a set of practices known as the “science of reading.”

The stakes are clear: Children who cannot read well by third grade are at a disadvantage. They are more likely to drop out of high school, face incarceration and live in poverty as adults.

Still, curriculum reform is an enormous undertaking. The challenges are perhaps nowhere more apparent than in New York City, a sprawling system of some 700 elementary schools and a large population of disadvantaged children.

The city has been among the top markets for a beloved “balanced literacy” curriculum. The approach aims to nurture a passion for books, but has been criticized at times for including too little systematic instruction in core reading skills. Mr. Banks called the approach an “old way that has failed far too many kids.”


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The new plan is backed by the teachers’ union, but has attracted immediate skepticism from some teachers, who often say major changes come with insufficient training. It has also drawn ire from the city’s principals’ union, which has called a uniform curricular approach “pedagogically unsound” in such a large system.

But New York City has never offered the “the right blueprint” on reading, Mr. Banks said. It has left teachers blamed for failures that were not their own, he said, and families without answers to what went wrong when their children fell behind.

As national reading scores have stagnated, nearly 20 stateshaveprioritized phonics alongside work to expand student’s background knowledge, vocabulary and oral language skills, which research shows most children need to grasp how to decode words and understand what they read.

“I’m thrilled,” Susan Neuman, an early literacy development expert and a former U.S. assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, said of the city’s plans.

“This is a bold effort,” she said. “And I think it’s very much the right way to go.”

Changing reading instruction will mean changing teachers

If New York City’s announcement is the starting line, a challenging road lies ahead.

Research shows that a new curriculum alone does not boost student outcomes. Major changes require teachers to reshape their existing practices and understanding of a subject through intensive training and coaching. Otherwise, they may lean on old instincts.

Even supporters of the plan admit that much can go wrong. Some worry that the other side of literacy — writing — needs more substantial attention. Or that unaddressed pandemic learning losses could hinder progress.

And addressing how elementary schools teach reading to younger students will not help older students who missed learning those skills.

The city will also need to overcome the frustrations of many school leaders over the plan’s rollout, as well as the fervent belief that some have in the programs they now use.

Hundreds of elementary schools in 2019 used a popular balanced literacy curriculum from Teachers College known as Units of Study, a report by two local news outlets, Chalkbeatand The City, shows. The curriculum has received failing marks from one major organization that rates program quality. But many school leaders value its attention to developing children’s passion for books, as well as its robust professional development offerings for teachers.

Several city principals have defended that curriculum publicly. Another Brooklyn principal, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, called the rollout demoralizing and said their school had seen good results from a modified version of Units of Study paired with a phonics program.

Henry Rubio, head of the principals’ union, said a recent survey showed that three of four school leaders were “dissatisfied” with the plan’s rollout.

“It’s the lack of respect for the community and school leader to get buy-in to make this work,” Mr. Rubio said. “What does that do to trust and morale?”

Schools will have a limited menu of reading curriculums

Under the plan, all school districts will adopt one of three curriculums that have received high marks from national curriculum review groups.

Carolyne Quintana, the deputy chancellor of teaching and learning, said officials weighed factors like text quality and accessibility for students, before narrowing down options with a small group of superintendents.

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The three choices have some significant differences:

  • Wit & Wisdom is known for its robust focus on knowledge building, which is important for helping students understand what they read. It does not cover foundational skills like phonics, and would therefore be paired with a phonics program like Fundations, which many schools already use. Baltimore schools, where about 60 percent of children are low-income, reported modest gains after adopting it.

  • Expeditionary Learning has an explicit phonics program, and includes texts that draw from concepts in other subjects such as social studies and a more robust writing component. It also has significant amounts of extra teaching materials and guidance thatschools may need additional help to absorb. The curriculum is used in Detroit, which has seen some progress since its rollout.

  • Into Reading is the most traditional option, a “basal” program that uses texts written specifically to teach reading. It was selected by most districts in the rollout’s first phase, though some teachers and principals have worried overa recent New York University report that found its content “likely reinforces stereotypes and portrays people of color in inferior and destructive ways.” Ms. Quintana said the company has assured officials it is “adamantly working on making revisions.”

Mr. Banks said he believes the changes will, ultimately, “make life easier for everyone.”

Many teachers spend long hours searching for — or even creating — materials to fill gaps in existing curriculum. And when children lack stable housing or change schools often for other reasons, it can be tougher to jump back in when classrooms use different approaches.

The chancellor has found one key ally in Michael Mulgrew, the president of the teacher’s union, who has long advocated a more uniform citywide approach. “We are supportive of this idea,” Mr.Mulgrew said.

“But there will be pessimism throughout schools,” he added.

Will it be the end of the reading wars?

The shift marks the latest — and what the chancellor says ought to be the last — major swing of the pendulum in the city’s reading instruction.

Twenty years ago, during the Bloomberg administration, Chancellor Joel Klein ushered in the era of balanced literacy at city schools, until a lack of progress led him to pilot other approaches. Years later, another chancellor, Carmen Fariña, a believer in independent reading time and having students choose their own books, again encouraged schools to adopt those strategies.

Richard Carranza called the city’s patchwork of practices unfeasible when he led the system, but his tenure overlapped with the first year of the pandemic and reading moved to the back burner.

Mr. Banks, and the mayor, Eric Adams, who has dyslexia, has said reading would be one of the top priorities for the administration. Already, Mr. Banks has required schools to adopt phonics programs and opened several new programs for students with dyslexia.

Teacher training on the new programs will begin this week and continue over the summer, and coaching will continue during the school year. The goal is for teachers to return in the fall with their first unit fully planned, officials said. Early childhood providers will also receive training in the coming months.

The first stage of rollout will include several areas where children have struggled most, such as Harlem (District 5), the northeast Bronx (12), East New York (19) Brownsville (23) and southeast Queens (32).

Sharon Roberts, a special education teacher at P.S. 9, the Walter Reed School in Queens, said she was “hopeful for the first time” in years.

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Ms. Roberts said that it has long been left up to her “to fill the gap” and find materials that work for her students’ needs. But for the plan to be successful, she said teachers need to be “treated with respect again.”

“We’re tired of being blamed for so many things that are out of our reach,” she said.

Troy Closson is a reporter on the Metro desk covering education in New York City. @troy_closson

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New York Is Forcing Schools to Change How They Teach Children to Read? ›

New York Is Forcing Schools to Change How They Teach Children to Read. Half of children in grades three to eight fail reading tests. The city's schools chancellor

schools chancellor
List of New York City Schools chancellors. Individuals who have led the New York City school system include: David C. Banks 2022–present. › New_York_City_Schools_Chancellor
, who has faulted the current approach, will begin rolling out new curriculums next year.

Does NY State teach phonics? ›

Schools will now adopt one of three curriculums using phonics, which teach how to decode letter sounds instead of more recently employed methods like using picture clues to guess words. Half of the districts will begin the program in September; the others will start in 2024.

What are the reading programs in NYC? ›

Now, city officials will require one of three reading programs: Wit & Wisdom, from a company called Great Minds; Into Reading from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; or EL Education.

Who controls schools in New York? ›

New York is one of ten major U.S. cities in which the educational system is under the control of the mayor rather than an elected school board.

What is the education disparity in New York City? ›

Today, 83% of Black students and 73% of Latinx students in the NYC public school system attend a school that is 90% nonwhite, while 34% of white students attend a school that is over half-white.

Why don t schools teach phonics anymore? ›

After several decades of so-called reading wars, where dubious theories led educators to abandon the phonics method in favor of a variety of divergent — and often unsuccessful — literacy learning techniques, a growing number of states and districts are right back where they started.

Can you teach reading without phonics? ›

Yes, but proponents of phonics sometimes overstate how much more effective it is to teach kids the sounds that letters make. “Phonics is marginally better,” said Timothy Shanahan, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an expert on the research in reading instruction.

How much do NYC DOE literacy coaches make? ›

Estimated average pay

The estimated middle value of the base pay for Literacy Coach at this company in the United States is $43,798 per year.

What is New Worlds reading program? ›

The New Worlds Reading Initiative is a free Florida literacy program for K-5 public or charter school students currently reading below grade level.

What is the daily 5 reading program? ›

Daily 5 is a literacy management system developed by Joan Moser and Gail Boucher, 2 sisters from America. The system has 5 components- read to self, read to someone, listen to reading, work on writing and word work. Students are explicitly taught how to work within each component to achieve success.

Is New York a school of choice? ›

New York families can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling. We'll also discuss learning pods.

Who has the power to control the schools? ›

Federal Role in Education. Education is primarily a State and local responsibility in the United States. It is States and communities, as well as public and private organizations of all kinds, that establish schools and colleges, develop curricula, and determine requirements for enrollment and graduation.

Does the New York mayor control the schools? ›

The New York State Legislature conferred the mayor of New York City with full control over public schools in 2002.

Where does NYC rank in education? ›

New York also ranked first for the highest per-pupil spending, and ranked fifth for the highest math scores. Here are the top 10 best public school systems in 2023, according to Scholaroo. Here are the top 10 worst public school systems in 2023, according to Scholaroo.

Is New York a good place for education? ›

In 2019, a report by Education Week listed New York as having one of the 10 best education systems in the nation.

Is the education in New York good? ›

-- New York State has one of the top 10 best overall education systems in the United States, according to a new report released by Education Week.

Why can't kids read? ›

Children may struggle with reading for a variety of reasons, including limited experience with books, speech and hearing problems, and poor phonemic awareness.

What is the phonics teaching controversy? ›

Phonics, a method of correlating sounds with letters, may not seem like a controversial concept, but it's anathema in some academic circles. Many teachers dismiss the practice of sounding out words as old-fashioned drudgery that prevents children from loving literature.

When did US schools stop teaching phonics? ›

By 1930, phonics – meaning explicit teaching of the code – has been abandoned in most of the nation's classrooms. 1930 – 1965: Whole Word becomes the dominant top-down method for teaching reading in the United States.

What are the disadvantages of phonics? ›

Research shows two disadvantages to phonics. The first disadvantage is good phonics instruction can not be regulated, it depends on the teachers. A teacher's knowledge of phonics affects their ability to teach phonics so if a teacher does no know or understand phonics they will have a hard time teaching phonics.

Is phonics mandatory? ›

The new national curriculum requires schools to teach children to apply phonic knowledge and skills as the route to decode words.

When should I stop teaching phonics? ›

As phonics skills and knowledge are critical for decoding ability, phonics instruction should continue beyond Year 2 for the two thirds of students who have not achieved reading proficiency.

What is the highest New York teacher salary? ›

For 2021-22, starting salaries for teachers range from $61,070 (bachelor's degree, no prior teaching experience) to $83,972 (master's degree, eight years teaching experience, without additional coursework). New teachers with a master's degree but no prior teaching experience will earn $68,252.

What is the salary of New York Academy teacher? ›

Average annual salary in New York Academy is INR 5.9 lakhs .

How much does a NYC DOE dean make? ›

Dean of Education Salary in New York
PercentileSalaryLast Updated
25th Percentile Dean of Education Salary$139,363May 01, 2023
50th Percentile Dean of Education Salary$170,193May 01, 2023
75th Percentile Dean of Education Salary$204,683May 01, 2023
90th Percentile Dean of Education Salary$236,085May 01, 2023
1 more row

What is Super kids reading program? ›

Superkids is a comprehensive English language arts curriculum crafted for grades K–2 using evidence-based literacy practices. This proven-effective program follows a unique systematic and explicit instructional path through engaging, increasingly complex text.

Who is eligible for New Worlds reading? ›

To be eligible for New Worlds Reading, a child must not yet be reading on grade level, and must be a K-5 student enrolled in a Florida public or district-sponsored charter school.

What are the four reading programs? ›

The Four Blocks Reading Program, or Four Blocks Framework, is a balanced literacy program that has been in use in elementary schools since 1989. Central to the program is the use on a daily basis of four elements of literacy instruction -- guided reading, self selected reading, writing and working with words.

What is the Burst reading program? ›

To summarize, BURST®: Reading is an intervention program designed to provide supplemental instruction in early literacy skills to elementary grades students who have not yet mastered grade-level reading skills.

Is really great reading a dyslexia program? ›

The Really Great Reading approach contains critical, evidence-based components of phonics for dyslexia instruction. Our explicit, systematic, engaging, multisensory, and developmentally appropriate programs teach students the key skills they need to become efficient and accurate decoders.

What is Cafe reading? ›

CAFE stands for the literacy goals of Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, and Expand Vocabulary, and the CAFE Menu contains the strategies readers use to meet the four main goals of reading.

What is the hardest school to get into in New York? ›

Columbia University in the

What is the hardest school to get into in NYC? ›

Based on data from the U.S. Department of Education, of the 81 colleges or universities in New York with available data, Columbia University, located in New York City, ranks as the hardest school to get into.

What is the 1 school in NY? ›

SchoolRanking (2022 vs 2021)
RankSchoolAverage Standard Score (2022)
1Bronx High School Of Science (The)90.8
2Stuyvesant High School90.7
3High School Of American Studies At Lehman College89.5
7 more rows
Oct 24, 2022

How does the 10th Amendment affect education? ›

However the 10th Amendment states that powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states or to the people. Thus, education became a function of the state rather than the federal government.

Who has the highest authority in a school? ›

The principal, often in conjunction with the school board, makes the executive decisions that govern the school, as well as having the authority over the employment (and in some cases firing) of teachers. The principal is often the chief disciplinarian of the students.

Who has the highest authority in a school system? ›

The city or district level school board, or "Local Education Authority" (LEA), usually has the greatest authority to create, implement, and enforce educational policy.

Who controls New York State? ›

As of January 2021, the Democratic Party holds supermajorities in both houses of the New York State Legislature, which is the highest paid state legislature in the country. Legislative elections are held in November of every even-numbered year.

Who controls New York City? ›

The Mayor. The Mayor is the City's chief executive officer, setting the agenda for the City and its finances and appointing Deputy Mayors and heads of agencies to carry out policies. Eric L. Adams is the 110th Mayor of the City of New York.

Who runs all the schools in the US? ›

The U.S. Department of Education is the agency of the federal government that establishes policy for, administers and coordinates most federal assistance to education.

What county in NY has the best schools? ›

Mamaroneck Union Free School District is the best school district in New York state. The district comprises four elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school serving around 5,300 students from the village of Mamaroneck and two other Westchester County communities.

What is the richest school district in NY? ›

Of active districts in New York with at least 100 students, Scarsdale Union Free School District – located in Westchester County – ranks as the wealthiest.

Which state has the best education system? ›

1. Massachusetts. Massachusetts has the highest rank for public schools across the country. The quality of education is exceptional, and safety is also high.

What are the cons of studying in New York? ›

High rent and property costs

Especially, if you don't have a university accommodation. The rents in New York can be sky high and you will not be able to find a fairly decent place to live if you want to live alone. So, search for some roommates and hope for the best!

Is teaching in NYC worth it? ›

Whether you're looking to start your teaching career or continue your career as a teacher, there are many benefits that make a teaching job in NYC worth it. Teachers can top out at $128,657 plus longevity pay, with a master's degree and 30 college credits.

What city has the best education? ›

200 most educated cities in America
OverallMSAEducation and Poverty
1San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA34
2Boulder, CO111
3San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA87
4Fort Collins, CO62
8 more rows
Mar 3, 2023

What is the education system like in New York? ›

New York City has the largest educational system of any city in the world. The city's educational infrastructure spans primary education, secondary education, higher education, and research. New York City is home to some of the most important libraries, universities, and research centers in the world.

What is the education inequality in NYC? ›

Today, 83% of Black students and 73% of Latinx students in the NYC public school system attend a school that is 90% nonwhite, while 34% of white students attend a school that is over half-white.

Are people in New York educated? ›

In New York City 45% of people 25 years and older had attained only their high school diploma or less. Specifically, one in five (20%) residents had not finished high school. For roughly two-thirds of City Council districts, the most common level of education was a high school diploma or less.

Is cursive still taught in NY? ›

Although cursive writing is not required as part of the New York State Learning Standards, many elementary teachers do spend time teaching cursive writing in third grade and beyond.”

What grade do they teach phonics? ›

What is phonics? In 4th and 5th grades, children are combining their knowledge of letter-sound relationships, syllable patterns, and word/segment meanings to read unfamiliar multisyllabic words. They can break words into their parts and analyze each component to help them read and understand grade appropriate words.

When did teachers stop teaching phonics? ›

By 1930, phonics – meaning explicit teaching of the code – has been abandoned in most of the nation's classrooms. 1930 – 1965: Whole Word becomes the dominant top-down method for teaching reading in the United States.

What do NYS kids learn in kindergarten? ›

What Do You Learn in Kindergarten? Once enrolled in kindergarten, your child will learn basic concepts like reading, writing, math, science, time, shapes, and more. These skills will form a foundation for learning future concepts in each subject.

Can kids read cursive anymore? ›

Today, more and more children and adults — with and without disabilities — cannot read cursive handwriting, even when it is perfectly formed. In the USA, Canada, and India, for instance, non-readers of cursive include most people born after 1985 (in other words, most people 35 and under).

Why did they stop teaching cursive? ›

Due to multiple factors including stylistic choices and technological advancement, the use of cursive has quickly declined since the start of the 21st century. Cursive has traditionally been used as a way of signing one's name, a signature.

How many states still require cursive to be taught? ›

Only 21 states currently require cursive instruction, according to the National Education Association.

What is the difference between phonics and whole reading? ›

The two methods are phonics and whole language. Phonics is a method by which children are taught the sound of individual alphabets and how they can combine different sounds in order to form words. On the other hand, the whole language method is one whereby children are taught words as whole units.

What is sight reading instead of phonics? ›

What is sight phonics reading? Sight-read means being able to read a word without the need for 'decoding' or 'segmenting' and 'blending', you are able to memorise the word by sight, rather than by 'sounding out' the word.

What are the alternatives to phonics? ›

Common alternatives to phonics include:
  • Whole Word / Look and Say / Flash Cards.
  • Whole Language.
  • Native / Natural Reading.
  • A Combination of These Methods.

Can you skip kindergarten in NYS? ›

As part of Education Law, all children between the ages of 6 and 16 must attend school. Therefore, prekindergarten is not considered compulsory education.

What percent of kindergarten can read? ›

Two percent of pupils (1in 50) begin kindergarten able to read simple sight words, and 1 percent are also able to read more complex words in sentences. These children already know how to read.

Should a kindergartener be able to read? ›

What they will learn. By the end of kindergarten, your child will recognize, name, and write all 26 letters of the alphabet (both uppercase and lowercase). They'll know the correct sound that each letter makes, and they'll be able to read about 30 high-frequency words—also called "sight words"—such as and, the, and in.


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