By Liv Finne, WA Policy Center
September 29, 2021
Lawmakers in twenty states recently passed laws to improve the teaching of reading in elementary schools. For example, the North Carolina legislature passed a law requiring teachers to be trained in the “science of reading,” and to base their instruction on the widely-respected phonics-based approach to reading instruction. Washington state lawmakers, by contrast, have downgraded the state’s literacy problem, passing SB 5044 instead, to require the teaching of Critical Race Theory. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction is lowering academic standards to make room for Critical Race Theory.
Washington state lawmakers are depriving students access to reading skills, the foundation of all academic learning.
Test results show how they are cheating students. Less than half of Washington’s Black, Hispanic, American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Pacific Islander students met the state standard in English. And fully one-third of white students fail the English test. Lawmakers are setting these students up for failure. The state data is below:
Three years ago journalist Emily Hanford published a series of papers exposing the resistance of schools of education to the teaching of reading. The University of Washington School of Education, for example, is still pushing the failed “balanced literacy” approach to teaching reading, which makes children guess at word meaning after looking at pictures. This weak method of teaching reading does not work for many children. In contrast, proven phonics-based learning helps children master the sounds of letters and the meaning of written language, without relying on pictures.
Ms. Hanford specifically criticized “balanced literacy” materials. Here are her words:
“The prevailing approaches to reading instruction in American schools are inconsistent with basic things scientists have discovered about how children learn to read. Many educators don't know the science, and in some cases actively resist it. The resistance is the result of beliefs about reading that have been deeply held in the educational establishment for decades, even though those beliefs have been proven wrong by scientists over and over again.
“Most teachers nationwide are not being taught reading science in their teacher preparation programs because many deans and faculty in colleges of education either don't know the science or dismiss it. As a result of their intransigence, millions of kids have been set up to fail.”
Lawmakers in twenty states have thoughtfully considered the research, and taken action to help children. Washington’s lawmakers are dismissing the science of education, showing more interest in racism and identity politics. The U.W. College of Education website features an article, “Decentering whiteness in teacher education.” – but there is very little “centering” on teaching children to read. As Washington state lawmakers and educators double-down on “decentering whiteness,” lawmakers in twenty other states, in places like Mississippi and North Carolina, pass legislation to improve reading instruction for children.