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Inside the Massive Effort to Change the Way Kids Are Taught to Read TIME MAGAZINE

AUGUST 11, 2022 12:00 PM EDT



“In Oakland, when you have 19% of Black kids reading—that can’t be maintained in the society,” says Weaver, who received an early and vivid lesson in the value of literacy in 1984 after his cousin got out of prison and told him the other inmates stopped harassing him when they realized he could read their mail to them.

“It has been an unmitigated disaster.” In January 2021, the local branch of the NAACP filed an administrative petition with the Oakland unified school district (OUSD) to ask it to include “explicit instruction for phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension” in its curriculum.

But advocates say it cannot wait: in 2019, even before the pandemic upended instruction, only 35% of fourth-graders met the standards for reading proficiency set by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an even lower number than in 2017.

Only 21% of low-income students (measured by whether they qualify for free school lunch), 18% of Black students, and 23% of Hispanic students can be considered on track for reading by fourth grade.


These numbers have been low for decades, but the pandemic has given the dismal results extra urgency. “There have been choices made where our children were not in the center,” says Weaver. “We abandoned what worked because we didn’t like how it felt to us as adults when actually, the social-justice thing to do is to teach them explicitly how to read.”


Dyslexia is not linked to intelligence; it has been described as an island of weakness surrounded by a sea of strength. It has no cure but can be overcome.

So when some wealthy, well-educated parents found their otherwise typical children were not learning to read, they had questions for the school. These were met in many cases with the advice to read to them more. The parents then did what educated; wealthy people do when they feel slighted: they looked at the research, paid for expensive testing, called their representatives, and contacted their friends in the press.


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