Phonics Is Back; Did It Ever Leave Catholic Schools?

Joan Frawley Desmond:

Today, Units of Study is reportedly used in about one-quarter of U.S. elementary schools. But its primary author, Lucy Calkins, an influential Columbia University Teachers College professor, has been accused of failing millions of students who needed evidence-based techniques for building literacy, prompting her to add more phonics to her program.

And Donoghue, now the executive director of the Secretariat of Catholic Education for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), believes that the nation’s parochial schools can learn from this national reckoning with untested “whole language” or “blended literacy” methods — though most diocesan institutions never fully abandoned phonics, and their students typically score better than their public-school peers on standardized reading assessments.

“Lucy Calkins was the guru who advocated the idea that if you share rich, high-quality literature with students they will imbibe it, and you will create a reader,” Donoghue told the Register. She said that a child who lives in an environment rich in literature can benefit from that advantage. “But it isn’t the case for all children,” she added. “And when you deprive them of the rules, the building blocks of language itself, you make reading inaccessible for children.”