Greenville News (SC): SC should not “jump on bandwagon” of “science of reading” movement

SC should not “jump on bandwagon” of “science of reading” movement (original with hyperlinks below)

South Carolina is poised with Bill 3613 to continue the historical failures of addressing reading in South Carolina through micromanaging legislation that has not resulted in improving home, community, individual equity or learning outcomes for students living in poverty, Black students, Emergent Bilinguals, or students with special needs.

Currently, I am in year 37 of teaching in SC, serving as a high school English teacher at Woodruff High for 18 years before moving to teacher education at Furman University for the past 19 years. I entered education in SC in 1984, the first days of the accountability movement in our state.

Despite political leaders changing standards and high-stakes testing multiple times over the past four decades, political and public perception remains convinced our schools are failing, and that our students are, specifically, failing to learn to read.

Read To Succeed, which Bill 3613 seeks to amend, was a serious mistake at its inception since it misreads both how students learn to read and how best to teach reading. Reading growth is not simple, and test scores are a stronger measure of poverty and social inequities than the state of student learning or the quality of teaching.

Bill 3613 is making the same mistake political leaders have been making since the 1980s, tinkering with prescriptive legislation aimed at our students and teachers while ignoring the overwhelming negative impact of inequity in our students’ homes and communities as well as the harmful negative learning and teaching conditions that persist in our schools.

This proposed legislation is yet another example of SC jumping on a flawed educational bandwagon (this time copying Mississippi), the “science of reading” movement that has resulted in harmful educational policy such as increased grade retention, over-screening for dyslexia, and prescribing “one-size-fits all” instruction for students.

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the largest professional organization for English teachers in the U.S., has issued a strong policy statement rejecting third-grade retention supported by decades of research showing grade retention remains harmful for students. Dorothy C. Suskink also recently posted at NCTE that the “science of reading” movement is deeply misleading in its use of the term “science,” misrepresentation of the National Reading Panel, dependence on discredited reports from the National Council on Teacher Quality, and claims of crisis from NAEP scores.

Prominent literacy scholars David Reinking, Victoria J. Risko and George G. Hruby have also challenged the many flaws in the “science of reading” movement that are now included in Bill 3613. “When the teaching of reading is framed as a war, nuance and common areas of agreement are casualties,” they conclude, adding: “But worse, our children can become innocent victims caught in a no man’s land between those more interested in winning a conflict than in meeting individual needs.”

As has been proven by Read to Succeed so far, the most vulnerable students in our state will be harmed by the policies in this bill the most while political leaders in the state continue to lack the political will and courage to address the root causes of educational challenges across SC—poverty and racial inequity.

I urge political leaders in SC to think differently about our students, our teachers, and our schools; notably, I strongly recommend that we seek ways to create homes, communities, and schools that allow our students to grow and excel in the literacy development. Continuing to tinker with prescriptive and punitive reading legislation is a dereliction of political and ethical duty; we can and must do better, by doing differently.