Lucy Calkins has written a manifesto entitled “No One Gets To Own The Term ‘Science Of Reading’”. I am a scientist who studies reading. Her document is not about the science that I know; it is about Lucy Calkins. Ms. Calkins is a prolific pedagogical entrepreneur who has published numerous curricula and supporting materials for teaching reading and writing to children. She is among the most successful, influential reading educators in this country. According to an EdWeek survey published this week, hers is among the 5 most commonly used reading curricula in the country.
The purpose of the document is to protect her brand, her market share, and her standing among her many followers. Ms. Calkins is not interested in examining the educational implications of reading science. She is interested in co-opting the term so that the science cannot be used to discredit her products.
Ms. Calkins has reason to be feeling defensive. As everyone knows, our schools routinely fail at teaching large numbers of children to become skilled readers. The 2019 NAEP scores released in October were even worse than usual: reading scores declined in more than half the states; the black-white achievement gap didn’t change because scores for both groups decreased in parallel. As on every round since 1992, fewer than half of 4th and 8th graders in the nationally-representative sample read above a basic level. The story is the same on the most recent data from the PISA, the big international reading assessment.
The educational establishment is complicit in these outcomes. Teachers are underprepared for a difficult job. They learn grossly out of date information about how reading works and how children learn, stories that are contradicted by basic research in cognitive science and neuroscience. They are encouraged to use ineffective practices that make it harder for children to become skilled readers, especially those at risk for other reasons such as poverty. This has been the situation for several decades. I documented this history in my book.
Many people–for example, the families of children who struggle with reading; teachers who don’t buy the party line; citizens who are concerned about whether there are enough literate people to run a democracy, distinguish facts from “alternative facts”, or save the planet–are fed up with the educational establishment’s chronic stone-walling. They’re angry, and they’re organizing.
Emily Hanford comments.
A Capitol conversation on Wisconsin’s reading challenges.