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EDITORIAL: Ohio sued for making schools teach phonics

Not everyone is happy about efforts to help students learn to read well.

The Reading Recovery Council of North America, an association for early literacy, recently sued the state of Ohio. One might assume they sued over the state’s low reading proficiency rates. On the Nation’s Report Card, just 35 percent of Ohio fourth graders are proficient in reading. That number is just 27 percent in Nevada and 33 percent nationally.

But the group isn’t upset over the fact that so many children are struggling with this basic and vital skill. Rather, it’s trying to stop a new Ohio law mandating that schools adopt a phonics-based reading curriculum. The law is the brainchild of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who successfully pushed for the change.

But the Reading Recovery Council has reading intervention programs that, under the new legislation, wouldn’t be allowed in Ohio. Keep in mind that, if this group’s programs actually worked, there would be no need to search for something new — or old, in this case.

In the 18th and 19th century, many students learned in one-room school houses or at home. They didn’t have textbooks, tablets or even whiteboards. Many used a “blue-backed speller” created by Noah Webster. Yet, their prose and reading comprehension would put most modern-day students and adults to shame. Back then, educators weren’t enamored of the latest trendy scholarship emanating from “education” colleges. Instead they achieved success through phonics, teaching children to identify the sounds made by each letter and sound out words. It’s monotonous, but effective.

In the guise of progress, the education establishment spent recent decades making things much worse. They trained teachers to use a “balance literacy” or “whole language” approach. Those methods prioritize children learning the meaning of words. Students are even told to guess the meaning of words using clues, like context and pictures. If guessing sounds like a counterproductive learning strategy, you’re right. Yet, around three-fourths of early-elementary teachers say they use a balanced literacy approach. And the nation’s poor results reflect it.

Thousands of studies show that phonics is the superior form of reading instruction. Some go back to the 1960s. Real-world examples exist, too. Mississippi greatly improved its reading scores after helping teachers learn to teach phonics. In the 1970s, schools nationwide focused on phonics and reading scores improved. Then, in the 1980s, California ditched phonics for whole language. By 1994, its fourth grade proficiency rate was tied for last in the country.

Rather than sue Ohio, the Reading Recovery Council and other phonics opponents should apologize to the tens of millions of students they have failed.

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