Repairing the damage Columbia’s Teachers College did to American kids will take years

Robert Pondiscio

I’ve come to bury Lucy Calkins, not to praise her.

Columbia University’s Teachers College announced this month what once seemed unthinkable: It’s “dissolving” its relationship with Calkins, sending the controversial literacy guru and her cash-cow publishing and consulting empire packing.

The divorce came a few months after the New York City Department of Education made the equally dramatic announcement that henceforth all the city’s elementary schools would be required to adopt one of three approved reading programs, none of which were Calkins’ “readers workshop” model, which has dominated reading instruction in city schools for the past quarter-century.

Dominated but didn’t improve reading ability in any meaningful way, particularly among the city’s black and Hispanic students. 

About two-thirds of New York’s Asian and white students passed the most recent round of state reading tests. 

For black and Hispanic students, the figure was closer to one-third making the grade.

I’ve been a persistent Calkins critic for 20 years, ever since I was trained in her methods as a Bronx public-school teacher, where I saw its shortcomings firsthand. 

I shed no tears over her long-overdue defenestration. But it’s a mistake to think simply showing Lucy the door will bring an overnight change in city schools’ reading scores. 

To be sure, any of the three phonics-based reading programs the DOE is imposing on its elementary schools represents an improvement over Calkins’ methods.

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