For many parents, the last few years have been eye-opening, as they saw the education system in America crumble under the weight of the pandemic. School closures that went on far too long, ineffective zoom school for kids as young as kindergarten, and other stringent policies that we’re still just beginning to understand the devastating effects of. But like many things during the pandemic, COVID didn’t necessarily
One big picture corollary that they hint at but don’t fully address: we have a glut of people who are crendetialed as teachers but whose actual training and skill set is antithetical to teaching. They’re anti-teachers. It may be true that many of them have the best of intentions. It may be true that they have an ability to learn new information and change course. But a lot of them really just need to go.
This is an extremely difficult thing. People who went to college to be teachers, took out loans, devoted their lives to this, they don’t react well to being fired. But a lot of these people probably should be washing dishes or selling office supplies. They have a piece of paper that says they’re a teacher, but they can’t actually teach. This problem is most notable in the DEI industry, but in education, law, business, the rottenness of education, the hollowness of credentials, these are not problems that can be remediated with a little course correction. The vested interest of all these miseducated people in maintaining their social status and paying their loans is a massive force that has to be overcome to make any real social progress.
Throwing a kid into school and being surprised they aren’t learning is akin to throwing a cookbook into a refrigerator and being surprised you don’t have dinner at the end of the day. I had to find a work schedule that would accommodate me volunteering in my kid’s classroom, at least once a week, so I would know what he was learning. The real question is why parents had no idea what their kids were learning until the lockdown.
This arena also shows the strange ways in which our moral intuition fails us. If someone hits a child on the head and the child becomes intellectually disabled, that's recognized as a crime, with harm. If the water company has lead pipes and the kids that drink it end up intellectually disabled, that's recognized as wrong and harmful, perhaps to a lesser extent given the glacial response to the Flint, Michigan situation.
But if a child is miseducated so he or she can't read, who is getting prosecuted for the harm done to that child?
First, the whole "Sold a Story" podcasts are well worth a listen to.
That being said, I'm shocked that so many upper class families aren't teaching their kids to read. I taught both my kids to read. You can do it in 20 to 30 minutes a day. I did it with this book which is amazing.
My daughter was reading very well at 5, my son before he was 6. I had my daughter take the 3rd grade exam at 7, and she tested at grade level 4 in reading, and grade level 4.5 in math.
Turn off the TV, and spend time with your kids. It's your job.
I could write a book on the whole concept of following the advice of researchers and “experts”. Maybe I will. I starting teaching 3rd grade in 1972 with NO attention to “how to teach reading” or much of anything else. The focus was putting together units of instruction (okay) and a bit of attention to the evolving whole word/whole language focus. My district offered ZERO guidance. Looking back, although I was well regarded by administrators, I’m embarrassed by my performance.
I went on to teach grades 4&5 in suburban Chicago. Fortunately I was part of a great curriculum developed by the University of Wisconsin. In the system we focused on discreet skills of learning the foundations of mathematics and reading, then went on to handle comprehension and problem solving. I’m sure the whole thing was dismantled by the “brain trust “.
In the 80s I taught mathematics in grades 6,7,8. I loved it and found great success teaching math - focusing on “basics”, constant bits of review intwined with new instruction , and problem solving. I was questioned by an administrator as to why I bothered to teach fractions when calculators were making that study obsolete. He obviously didn’t recall (or never knew) that early Algebra success depends on a fluency with fractions.
I later became an elementary principal in that district and our wonderful Asst Supt (a PE major), was sold in Whole Language by the county “experts”. Fortunately our students came from wealthy homes and were probably reading before they came to kindergarten. I’m sure we left some behind or labeled the as LD.
Later, as a principal and Asst Superintendent in Michigan, I was part of a very well regarded county educational service region. For the most part, the leaders had bought into the idea that problem solving and comprehension were key to learning with little emphasis on phonics or math computational skills. There’s more but that’s enough.
I retired in 2005. Your podcast was brilliant!! I think nearly everyone who taught in my career timespan would concur with everything you are saying.
Question: Do you think we need national curriculum goals for reading?
If I heard correctly , the whole language pedagogy started in the 1960s. If so, most readers under 60 were probably exposed to some version of it. I’m in my early 60s and may have been one of them! My brothers learned to read before they started school, one taught himself at the age of three. Not me. Words were a puzzle I could not solve. Even though I repeated 1st grade twice, I stumbled through texts in 2nd grade. Luckily my up-to-date private school was also diagnosing dyslexia in students. I was placed in a new program for the dyslexic students whereby one volunteer mother would tutor another mother’s child. (It was very SAHM 1960s; my physician mom sent one of the nurses in her private practice as a substitute.)
I was tutored, patiently, and for the first time in my recollection I was taught to sound out words. If had a tremendous effect on me. No longer did I have to beg family members to read to me or consign myself to illustrations. I could read the words myself ! It was as if, like the scene in Wizard of Oz, I was seeing books in technicolor and they opened up new worlds.
I do wonder about the long term effects, even on adults who eventually learned to read. Could our preference for narrowcasting, only reading articles that cover familiar terrain and fit a pre-existing narrative, be an extension of the baseball study? Does our collective lack of reading comprehension make us eschew difficult texts?
The person who first introduced me to the solution to the country's reading problem was John McWhorter, linguist, professor, and author, in his 2021 book, Woke Racism. In Chapter 5, "Dismantling Structures"; Saving Black America for Real," McWhorter proposes a three-point plan of "real-world efforts that combine political feasibility with effectiveness" to address societal inequity and level the economic playing field for Black Americans. First is to end the war on drugs. Third is to get past the Idea that everybody must go to college. And Second is Teach reading properly. By which he means phonics.
My parents said “here are my kids, please educate them “. I still don’t forgive them for doing that.
It is often fascinating when people arrive at the same answer through different paths and backgrounds. The “why” is understood (you need to know how to read to get ahead in life) but the “how” is often so different based on any number of things…social, economic, political and so on.
I grew up with two caring parents that were not well off, nor highly educated but gave me every chance to succeed. Being “different” (Jewish in a mostly Italian neighborhood) forced me to discover other worlds through frequent reading. I agree with Emily Hanford in many ways except for the heavy focus on poverty having such a strong impact on reading. Strong, close-knit two parent (any gender) families will prioritize their children’s education, even if they work multiple jobs and have economic challenges.
Another example of a lack of consistent training - when my daughter started school, she was thought to have a learning disability because it took her longer to learn English words and sentences than other students. A quick bit of research (which I had to do since it was a mystery to the school) made it very obvious that a child who learns another language first (in her case, French) will take longer to become proficient in the 2nd language. As expected, she quickly caught up and rendered concerns a non-issue.
You could say that the education “gurus” (to borrow the last Honestly podcast’s topic) are simply out to make a buck regardless of the impact on students. You could also say that teachers unions prioritize their members over the students that they are responsible for. That one was made pretty obvious during the COVID pandemic. You can also say that four year university playgrounds are not designed to generate knowledgeable teachers at a reasonable cost, especially given how little we pay teachers. And we can also say that the administrative state drags down educational effectiveness while bowing to the Diversity-Inclusion-Equity gods.
What’s the problem? To start, the public school system, from the Department of Education to the local elementary school is a monumental failure backed by a mountain of statistics. The private and public university systems are also massive failures due to huge costs (even in public universities if you come from out of state), focus on DIE over preparing young men and women for the workplace, as well as being another huge administrative state that dwarfs budgets of many countries.
So what to do? Charter schools, vouchers, private schools and homeschooling are like putting a band-aid on the patient dying of a heart attack. The public school system (including public universities) simply needs to be blown up. Unions eliminated and replaced with a system that supports and protects great teachers and eliminates poor ones. Elimination of DIE and the minimization of the administrative state. Open dialogue, not fear of speaking your mind. Design a federal system in concert with business experts who know what they ultimately need and provide financial resources to state and local governments with conditions. Pay great teachers (a lot) to work in more challenging school districts instead of reintroducing busing and segregation like they are trying to do my county in Maryland. Let kids explore and think and learn subjects that expand their minds, not close them to people that are not like them.
There’s so much that can be done if people get out of their tribes and talk to each other with reason and grace. Rant over :)
This is probably musings of Captain Obvious. Reading is a core function that must be taught and mastered early in order to learn all the other disciplines. How can one learn math, science and history since these and all other subjects depend on reading the textbooks.
Anyone else catch when Katie tried to blame those awful Republicans but was corrected by the guest who defended W. Bush?
As someone who spent over 30 years in public education (not as a classroom teacher), 20 years of that trying to debunk "Whole Language" and bring the science of reading into classrooms, I thank you (Emily) SO much for that. And I thank The Free Press for pushing this forward and trying to get the word out. Balanced Literacy, Reading Recovery, Guided Reading etc ... need to stop. But the movement is like a cult. It was unbelievable to watch administrator after administrator buy what was being sold by cult members (in the face of solid science about the teaching of reading - that they had no interest in reading!). It was also heartbreaking, frustrating, and demoralizing. I had to retire early as I couldn't watch it any longer!
WHY?!? I listened to the whole podcast waiting for the why... why did this happen? How did we get here? Other than just the cult of personalities of those two women, I still have NO IDEA why this happened. What happened to phonics? Where did the stuff that used to work go? So FRUSTRATING. Bari- we’ve listened to a few poscasts now that spend a whole bunch of time talking around the problem and never actually saying anything. Please... please... do a better job explaining the why.
Do no overlook the work of Drs. Sally and Bennett Shaywitz concerning dyslexia.
So, what’s the plan to actually improve education? Dead silence. Firing the half who fail would be one idea. Firing most of the people who don’t teach but get paid to pompously control teaching is another.
I'm confused. I looked up the assessment mentioned and it doesn't show a severe decrease in the 4th-grade reading level at all over the pandemic. In fact, the current score shows an increase in reading comprehension for fourth graders today compared to the 1990s (when the NAEP started collecting reading proficiency levels). I also don't see the 65% number anywhere in the NAEP reporting. I could be missing something, but I'm not sure this statistic is accurate.