New York City, home to the nation’s largest school system, is making a significant leap towards addressing a longstanding issue – the struggle to pick up reading skills among its students. A sobering half of children in grades three to eight are currently failing reading tests. The city’s schools chancellor, David C. Banks, believes the current teaching approach has been fundamentally flawed and has initiated a sweeping change to the reading curriculum. But will this massive turnaround solve the problem or create new challenges?

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New York City's Major Shift in Reading Instruction

Key Takeaways:

  • New York City is making big changes to its reading teaching methods because too many students are failing reading tests.
  • Chancellor David C. Banks is leading the change. He wants to stop using old methods that haven’t worked, especially for Black, Latino, and low-income students.
  • Over the next two years, new teaching methods that have been proven to work will be used. These methods, like phonics, help students understand how letters make sounds.
  • Even though some teachers are unsure about the changes, the city’s leaders are determined to improve reading skills for all students. This could be a model for other cities to follow.

The Problem: Current Reading Curriculum

The heart of the issue lies within the existing reading curriculum that has been in place for the past two decades. This curriculum, according to Chancellor Banks, has been failing students, particularly those from marginalized communities. The issue is particularly acute among Black, Latino, and low-income children, who have been disproportionately affected by the system’s shortcomings.

The current teaching methods are based on strategies that many experts now consider flawed. For instance, children are often taught to use picture clues to guess words or encouraged to skip over words they do not understand, rather than addressing the underlying issue of phonetic decoding.

Such strategies, although intended to facilitate learning, may have the unintended consequence of leaving students with inadequate foundational reading skills. As a result, many students are passing through the system without a strong grasp of reading. As evidence, citywide reading test scores show that about half of the students in grades three through eight are not meeting the proficiency mark.

Chancellor Banks acknowledged this systemic failure, stating, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your child’s fault. It was our fault.” This acknowledgement indicates a clear readiness to accept responsibility and begin the process of change. By transforming NYC education reform, it is possible to mark a significant departure from previous administrations that had defended the current strategies.

The Solution: New Curriculums and Phonics

Over the next two years, a significant shift in teaching methodology will take place. Local school districts across the city will be tasked with selecting and implementing one of three new curriculums, as chosen by their superintendents. These new curriculums will rely heavily on evidence-supported practices like phonics, a technique that teaches children to decode letter sounds. Chancellor Banks has emphasized the importance of this change, stating, “This is the beginning of a massive turnaround.”

Here are some of the essential aspects of the new approach.

Timely Implementation

Half of the districts will begin implementing the new curriculum as early as September 2023, with the remaining districts following suit in 2024. The staggered rollout will ensure that the changes are effectively handled and give districts ample time to prepare.

Emphasis on Phonics

A central tenet of the new curriculums is the use of phonics, a proven method that teaches children how to decode letter sounds. This represents a shift away from the current reliance on strategies like teaching children to use picture clues to guess words.

Limited Exemptions

Schools where more than 85 percent of students are proficient in reading may consider applying for waivers to opt-out of the new curriculum. However, only around 20 schools currently meet this threshold, emphasizing the widespread need for curriculum reform.

Evidence-Based Approach

The new curriculums selected for adoption have been chosen based on their evidence-supported effectiveness. This move towards an evidence-based approach is a clear response to criticisms of the city’s previous, less systematic teaching methods.

This comprehensive change is expected to address the root causes of the ongoing literacy crisis and provide students with the necessary skills for success. As Chancellor Banks puts it, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your child’s fault. It was our fault…This is the beginning of a massive turnaround.”

Resistance and Skepticism

However, change is never easy, and the new plan has met with immediate skepticism. Some teachers argue that such major changes often come without adequate teacher training, and the city’s principals’ union criticizes a uniform curricular approach as “pedagogically unsound” in a system as large as New York’s.

The Challenge of Curriculum Reform

Despite these pushbacks, proponents of the plan, including Susan Neuman, an early literacy development expert, and Michael Mulgrew, the president of the teacher’s union, see this as a bold step in the right direction.

The Challenge of Curriculum Reform

Curriculum reform is a colossal task, with challenges such as addressing pandemic learning losses, ensuring quality of materials, and providing sufficient training and coaching for teachers. Additionally, the city will need to reconcile with the resistance from many school leaders who believe in the programs they currently use. Still, according to Chancellor Banks, the changes will “make life easier for everyone.”

Future Outlook

Chancellor Banks and Mayor Eric Adams have prioritized reading instruction. They have a new plan. This plan aims to end the reading wars. It will also bring about a major change in the city’s approach to teaching reading. The first stage of the rollout will cover areas where children struggle the most. These include Harlem, the Bronx, East New York, Brownsville, and southeast Queens.

The city is hopeful despite the challenges. Special education teacher Sharon Roberts shared her feelings. She said, “We’re tired of being blamed for so many things that are out of our reach.” The new plan will redefine the teaching approach. It will also change the teacher’s role in the learning process. The journey might be long and tough. However, the city is ready to face the reading instruction challenges. They aim to improve student achievement.

This bold step impacts New York City Schools. But it doesn’t stop there. It could also serve as a guide for other districts nationwide. These districts may be facing similar issues.

Reading Curriculum Reforms in New York City Schools

Below you can find key facts concerning the substantial changes to the reading curriculum being introduced in New York City schools. The reforms aim to address significant flaws in the existing curriculum, with a focus on enhancing reading proficiency across all student demographics.

Key AspectDetailed Information
Rationale Behind Curriculum ChangesThe intent is to rectify fundamental flaws in the current reading curriculum and improve reading proficiency, particularly among Black, Latino, and low-income children who have been struggling. The changes also aim to mitigate pandemic learning losses.
Accountability for Current Teaching MethodsThe present teaching approach has been shaped by factors such as teacher training, the principals’ union, and past curriculum reforms. The schools chancellor has acknowledged the system’s responsibility for the flawed methodology and pledged a “massive turnaround.”
Implementation Schedule for New CurriculumsThe new curriculums will be introduced over the next two years. Half of the local school districts will start in September 2023, and the rest will implement changes in 2024.
Evidence-Based Practices in New CurriculumsThe new curriculums will emphasize phonics, a method that teaches children to decode letter sounds. Other changes include systematic instruction and a shift towards a more uniform curricular approach.
Strategies to be DiscardedThe new curriculums will avoid strategies such as balanced literacy, which teaches children to guess words using picture clues, leading to inconsistent teaching and gaps in reading instruction.
Effects on Principals’ DiscretionThe changes will limit the discretion of principals in choosing curriculums. New regulations will require all but a few schools to adopt one of the approved curriculums.
The “Science of Reading” AdvocacyThis nationwide movement promotes teaching methods derived from scientific research into how children learn to read. It highlights practices like phonics and systematic instruction that enhance students’ reading achievement.
Expected Outcomes for Students Struggling with ReadingThe changes aim to enhance the reading proficiency of all students, particularly those who are struggling. The new curriculum will employ evidence-supported practices to address current teaching method flaws, with the goal of improving student outcomes.

Read more:

The Post-Pandemic Puzzle: High School Diplomas Rise Amid Declining Test Scores and Attendance

Reconsidering Test Scores: New Research Supports a Holistic Approach to High School Assessment

Exploring the Impact on American Education: Terminating of Affirmative Action

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