Kotek: ‘We are going to make sure that the science of reading guides what districts do’

Julia Silverman:

After weeks of furious, behind-the-scenes negotiations, Gov. Tina Kotek has thrown her weight — and a proposal to spend upwards of $100 million – behind a bill that aims to overhaul how Oregon’s youngest students are taught to read.

The effort, dubbed the Early Literacy Success Initiative, is up for a pivotal hearing in Salem this week. In an exclusive interview Monday, the governor made it clear the move she’s backing to make reading instruction more effective will hew to what research says works, not to techniques with which educators might be more familiar, and will be swift.

Only 39% of Oregon’s third-graders can read proficiently, including just 21% of Latino and Black students, the most recent statewide test results, from spring 2022, showed.

Kotek told The Oregonian/OregonLive on Monday, “We are going to make sure that the science of reading, the research, guides what districts do. We are expecting movement by districts in the upcoming school year.”

Science of reading is a key term that signals a systematic, phonics-based approach that is backed by decades of brain research and leaves no room for what is commonly called “balanced literacy.” The latter approach, still embraced by some Oregon school districts and colleges of education, includes teaching students to guess at words from pictures or context and leaving them to figure out many letter-sound patterns on their own.

Should the proposal pass, the level of specification Kotek is calling for would be a big departure for Oregon, which has traditionally allowed its nearly 200 school districts to chart their own course.