A former education reporter reflects on how and why she didn’t connect low literacy scores to inadequate literacy instruction

Patti Ghezi:

The children sat on the carpet, eyes on their teacher, who looked down at them from a rocking chair like a wise, loving grandma.

They were first graders, the age when school is new and fun.

What would their teacher say next?

What she said was, “Let’s talk about diphthongs!”

A diphthong is a sound made by combining two vowels, with the sound starting as one sound and moving into another. For example, coin and round.

It was 2004, and I was an education reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

I was writing about the state’s new literacy standards, which did not include much phonics instruction. At the time, I agreed with this limited-phonics approach. As the teacher carried on about diphthongs, I pitied the children being tortured with a misguided lesson.

But as it turns out, I was wrong about dipthongs and phonics. And it wasn’t until long after I had left the beat that I realized my error.