New York Is Forcing Schools to Change How They Teach Children to Read (2023)


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Half of children in grades three to eight fail reading tests. The city’s schools chancellor, who has faulted the current approach, will begin rolling out new curriculums next year.

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New York Is Forcing Schools to Change How They Teach Children to Read (1)

By Troy Closson

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Hundreds of public schools have been teaching reading the wrong way for the last two decades, leaving an untold number of children struggling to acquire a crucial life skill, according to New York City’s schools chancellor.

Now, David C. Banks, the chancellor, wants to “sound the alarm” and is planning to force the nation’s largest school system to take a new approach.

On Tuesday, Mr. Banks announced major changes to reading instruction in an aim to tackle a persistent problem: About half of city children in grades three through eight are not proficient in reading. Black, Latino and low-income children fare even worse.

In a recent interview, Mr. Banks said that the city’s approach had been “fundamentally flawed,” and had failed to follow the science of how students learn to read.

“It’s not your fault. It’s not your child’s fault. It was our fault,” Mr. Banks said. “This is the beginning of a massive turnaround.”

Over the next two years, the city’s 32 local school districts will adopt one of three curriculums selected by their superintendents. The curriculums use evidence-supported practices, including phonics — which teaches children how to decode letter sounds — and avoidstrategiesmany reading experts say are flawed, like teaching children to usepicture clues to guess words.

The move represents a sea change in a city where principals have historically retained authority over approaches to teaching at their individual schools.

Half of the districts will begin the program in September; the others will start in 2024. Waivers to opt out will only be considered for schools where more than 85 percent of students are proficient in reading, a threshold that only about 20 schools meet.

The nation’s biggest district joins a push to change reading

The move represents the most significant reading overhaul in New York City since the early 2000s, when some of the programs that the chancellor is now trying to uproot were first ushered in. It will immediately place the city at the forefront of a growing national movement to reform reading instruction.

Experts, lawmakers and families have pushed to abandon strategies that a mass of research shows do not work for all students and to embrace a set of practices known as the “science of reading.”

The stakes are clear: Children who cannot read well by third grade are at a disadvantage. They are more likely to drop out of high school, face incarceration and live in poverty as adults.

Still, curriculum reform is an enormous undertaking. The challenges are perhaps nowhere more apparent than in New York City, a sprawling system of some 700 elementary schools and a large population of disadvantaged children.

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The city has been among the top markets for a beloved “balanced literacy” curriculum. The approach aims to nurture a passion for books, but has been criticized at times for including too little systematic instruction in core reading skills. Mr. Banks called the approach an “old way that has failed far too many kids.”


The new plan is backed by the teachers’ union, but has attracted immediate skepticism from some teachers, who often say major changes come with insufficient training. It has also drawn ire from the city’s principals’ union, which has called a uniform curricular approach “pedagogically unsound” in such a large system.

But New York City has never offered the “the right blueprint” on reading, Mr. Banks said. It has left teachers blamed for failures that were not their own, he said, and families without answers to what went wrong when their children fell behind.

As national reading scores have stagnated, nearly 20 stateshaveprioritized phonics alongside work to expand student’s background knowledge, vocabulary and oral language skills, which research shows most children need to grasp how to decode words and understand what they read.

“I’m thrilled,” Susan Neuman, an early literacy development expert and a former U.S. assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, said of the city’s plans.

“This is a bold effort,” she said. “And I think it’s very much the right way to go.”

Changing reading instruction will mean changing teachers

If New York City’s announcement is the starting line, a challenging road lies ahead.

Research shows that a new curriculum alone does not boost student outcomes. Major changes require teachers to reshape their existing practices and understanding of a subject through intensive training and coaching. Otherwise, they may lean on old instincts.

Even supporters of the plan admit that much can go wrong. Some worry that the other side of literacy — writing — needs more substantial attention. Or that unaddressed pandemic learning losses could hinder progress.

And addressing how elementary schools teach reading to younger students will not help older students who missed learning those skills.

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The city will also need to overcome the frustrations of many school leaders over the plan’s rollout, as well as the fervent belief that some have in the programs they now use.

Hundreds of elementary schools in 2019 used a popular balanced literacy curriculum from Teachers College known as Units of Study, a report by two local news outlets, Chalkbeatand The City, shows. The curriculum has received failing marks from one major organization that rates program quality. But many school leaders value its attention to developing children’s passion for books, as well as its robust professional development offerings for teachers.

Several city principals have defended that curriculum publicly. Another Brooklyn principal, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, called the rollout demoralizing and said their school had seen good results from a modified version of Units of Study paired with a phonics program.

Henry Rubio, head of the principals’ union, said a recent survey showed that three of four school leaders were “dissatisfied” with the plan’s rollout.

“It’s the lack of respect for the community and school leader to get buy-in to make this work,” Mr. Rubio said. “What does that do to trust and morale?”

Schools will have a limited menu of reading curriculums

Under the plan, all school districts will adopt one of three curriculums that have received high marks from national curriculum review groups.

Carolyne Quintana, the deputy chancellor of teaching and learning, said officials weighed factors like text quality and accessibility for students, before narrowing down options with a small group of superintendents.


The three choices have some significant differences:

  • Wit & Wisdom is known for its robust focus on knowledge building, which is important for helping students understand what they read. It does not cover foundational skills like phonics, and would therefore be paired with a phonics program like Fundations, which many schools already use. Baltimore schools, where about 60 percent of children are low-income, reported modest gains after adopting it.

  • Expeditionary Learning has an explicit phonics program, and includes texts that draw from concepts in other subjects such as social studies and a more robust writing component. It also has significant amounts of extra teaching materials and guidance thatschools may need additional help to absorb. The curriculum is used in Detroit, which has seen some progress since its rollout.

  • Into Reading is the most traditional option, a “basal” program that uses texts written specifically to teach reading. It was selected by most districts in the rollout’s first phase, though some teachers and principals have worried overa recent New York University report that found its content “likely reinforces stereotypes and portrays people of color in inferior and destructive ways.” Ms. Quintana said the company has assured officials it is “adamantly working on making revisions.”

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Mr. Banks said he believes the changes will, ultimately, “make life easier for everyone.”

Many teachers spend long hours searching for — or even creating — materials to fill gaps in existing curriculum. And when children lack stable housing or change schools often for other reasons, it can be tougher to jump back in when classrooms use different approaches.

The chancellor has found one key ally in Michael Mulgrew, the president of the teacher’s union, who has long advocated a more uniform citywide approach. “We are supportive of this idea,” Mr.Mulgrew said.

“But there will be pessimism throughout schools,” he added.

Will it be the end of the reading wars?

The shift marks the latest — and what the chancellor says ought to be the last — major swing of the pendulum in the city’s reading instruction.

Twenty years ago, during the Bloomberg administration, Chancellor Joel Klein ushered in the era of balanced literacy at city schools, until a lack of progress led him to pilot other approaches. Years later, another chancellor, Carmen Fariña, a believer in independent reading time and having students choose their own books, again encouraged schools to adopt those strategies.

Richard Carranza called the city’s patchwork of practices unfeasible when he led the system, but his tenure overlapped with the first year of the pandemic and reading moved to the back burner.

Mr. Banks, and the mayor, Eric Adams, who has dyslexia, has said reading would be one of the top priorities for the administration. Already, Mr. Banks has required schools to adopt phonics programs and opened several new programs for students with dyslexia.

Teacher training on the new programs will begin this week and continue over the summer, and coaching will continue during the school year. The goal is for teachers to return in the fall with their first unit fully planned, officials said. Early childhood providers will also receive training in the coming months.

The first stage of rollout will include several areas where children have struggled most, such as Harlem (District 5), the northeast Bronx (12), East New York (19) Brownsville (23) and southeast Queens (32).

Sharon Roberts, a special education teacher at P.S. 9, the Walter Reed School in Queens, said she was “hopeful for the first time” in years.

Ms. Roberts said that it has long been left up to her “to fill the gap” and find materials that work for her students’ needs. But for the plan to be successful, she said teachers need to be “treated with respect again.”

“We’re tired of being blamed for so many things that are out of our reach,” she said.


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New York Is Forcing Schools to Change How They Teach Children to Read? ›

New York Is Forcing Schools to Change How They Teach Children to Read. Half of children in grades three to eight fail reading tests. The city's schools chancellor

schools chancellor
List of New York City Schools chancellors. Individuals who have led the New York City school system include: David C. Banks 2022–present. › New_York_City_Schools_Chancellor
, who has faulted the current approach, will begin rolling out new curriculums next year.

Has the school education system changed? ›

Yes, the overall educational system has changed in many regards. However, the way we are taught has not. A teacher at the front and the children seated is the optimal way to learn for some students, but others struggle in this environment. Children learn best in different ways.

When did New York City schools desegregate? ›

The New York City school boycott, also referred to as Freedom Day, was a large-scale boycott and protest against segregation in the New York City public school system which took place on February 3, 1964.

Did the children have to go to school in New York? ›

Children must attend school from age 6 until the end of the school year in which he or she turns 17. If children under 17 do not attend school then law enforcement officers may become involved.

How do you help students who hate school? ›

Give your struggling student something accessible and doable and celebrate their success. Gradually increase the challenge level and watch them. Provide supports where necessary and leverage your relationship to cheer them on.

What is the best education system in the world? ›

Denmark. Denmark is certainly a top mention when it comes to discovering the best education system in the world, with a whopping 99 percent literacy rate. Denmark offers free education from kindergarten to university.

Is America behind in education? ›

The U.S. ranks near the bottom in a survey of students' math skills in 30 industrialized countries and many Americans are in denial. The same survey showed that one-third believed their own schools were excellent, but only one-sixth believed the same of other schools.

What is the Education inequality in NYC? ›

found that New York City has one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation. In a recent New York Times story, a national report on education found that only 11 percent of Latino senior high school students were proficient in math and 22 percent in reading.

What is the most segregated school district in America? ›

Three large school districts – LAUSD, Philadelphia and New York City – all fall in the top 10 most racially segregated for white-Black, white-Hispanic, and white-Asian segregation based on average levels from 1991-2020.

What is the inequality in NYC public schools? ›

Today's school populations are roughly 41% Latino, 24% Black, 17% Asian, and 15% White. Over 8 in 10 Black students and over 7 in 10 Latino students attend a school where more than 90% of their classmates are students of color; 34% of White students are enrolled in a school that is over half-White.

What happens if you don't send your child to school in NY? ›

Penalties for Parents

For a first offense, parents who do not send their children to school may be fined $10, or put in jail for ten days. Subsequent offenders can be fined $50 or put in jail up to 30 days.

Is it illegal to not go to school in New York? ›

The compulsory attendance law in New York State requires that all children between the ages of six and sixteen be provided with a program of instruction, either at a public school or elsewhere.

When did it become illegal to not go to school in us? ›

Early Compulsory Education Laws in the U.S.

Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to enact a compulsory education law in 1852, having already passed a similar law in 1647 when it was still a British colony.

What percentage of students hate school? ›

In a nationwide survey of 21,678 U.S. high school students, researchers from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the Yale Child Study Center found that nearly 75% of the students' self-reported feelings related to school were negative.

Which country has the most stressful education system? ›

Ques. Which are the hardest education systems in the world? Ans. The countries with the hardest and most difficult education systems include South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, etc.

Which state in US has the best education system? ›


Massachusetts has the highest rank for public schools across the country. The quality of education is exceptional, and safety is also high. It ranked highest in math and reading test scores out of all states.

What country is no 1 in education? ›

United States

What rank is the US in reading? ›

The U.S. performs relatively better in reading, average instead of below average. It ranks 13th out of the 79 countries and regions, according to the 2018 PISA scores in reading. As with math, U.S. performance hasn't changed much since the first PISA tests in 2000.

What rank is America in education? ›

The U.S. ranks 14th among 37 OECD and G20 countries in the percentage of 25-34 year- olds with higher education, at 42% - above the OECD average (38%), but far behind the leader, Korea (65%) (Chart A1. 1).

What country has the best educational system? ›

Switzerland. One of the best education systems in the world can be found in Switzerland. This small, mountainous country has several top-ranked universities, as well as a rigorous system of higher education that prepares students for successful careers.

Where does NYC rank in education? ›

New York also ranked first for the highest per-pupil spending, and ranked fifth for the highest math scores. Here are the top 10 best public school systems in 2023, according to Scholaroo. Here are the top 10 worst public school systems in 2023, according to Scholaroo.

Why does New York have high income inequality? ›

Large urban areas such as New York City are now among the most unequal places, owing largely to strong demand for skill pushing up wages for those toward the top of the wage distribution.

What is the main cause of educational inequality? ›

Unequal educational outcomes are attributed to several variables, including family of origin, gender, and social class. Achievement, earnings, health status, and political participation also contribute to educational inequality within the United States and other countries.

What state has the most diverse school districts? ›

Diversity in US public schools varies greatly by state and between school districts (2020-21). US public schools have an average diversity score of 0.69. The most diverse state is Hawaii, with a diversity score of 0.80. The least diverse state is West Virginia, with a diversity score of 0.20.

Are NJ schools among the most segregated in America? ›

New Jersey has among the most segregated schools in the nation, experts have said, and this affects the poorest communities in the state, which tend to have large Black and Hispanic populations.

When was the last segregated school in America? ›

The last school that was desegregated was Cleveland High School in Cleveland, Mississippi. This happened in 2016. The order to desegregate this school came from a federal judge, after decades of struggle. This case originally started in 1965 by a fourth-grader.

What percentage of students in NYC are white? ›

As the Composition of NYC Public School Students chart below shows, 40% of students identified as Hispanic, 26% as Black, 16% as Asian/Pacific Islander (PI), and 15% as White during the 2017-2018 school year2.

What is the racial makeup of NYC schools? ›

Students at New York City Public Schools

The student body at the schools served by New York City Public Schools is 14.6% White, 24.7% Black, 16.1% Asian or Asian/Pacific Islander, 41% Hispanic/Latino, 1.2% American Indian or Alaska Native, and 0.5% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.

What is the racial breakdown of NYC? ›

White alone, percent 39.8%
Black or African American alone, percent(a) 23.4%
American Indian and Alaska Native alone, percent(a) 0.5%
Asian alone, percent(a) 14.2%
57 more rows

Can a 12 year old stay home alone in NY? ›

Is this acceptable under New York State law? According to the law, there is no set age at which you can leave a child alone. The parent is responsible for deciding whether or not the child is mature and responsible enough to understand the circumstances and take care of her or himself.

How many days can a kid miss school in NY? ›

Parents must provide a reason for absences. Follow-up and new outreach is required after ten missed days in a row, and when students in pre-K through eighth grade miss any 20 days.

Is kindergarten mandatory in NY State? ›

As part of Education Law, all children between the ages of 6 and 16 must attend school. Therefore, prekindergarten is not considered compulsory education.

What is the birthday cut off for school in New York? ›

With a late-August birthday, your child just makes the cut-off date for independent and private school kindergarten programs in New York City that require a child to turn 5 years old by September 1st.

Is not going to school illegal in USA? ›

The rule of law has made school attendance from the ages 6 to 17 mandatory in every state for the past 100 years. If you aspire to have your child be a slacker, don't enroll them in a Californian school, where the truancy laws are among the harshest.

Is it legal to not go to school in America? ›

School attendance is compulsory in every state. Although the laws vary and there are some exceptions for homeschooling, there is nonetheless a general requirement that students attend school from age 6 to 16.

What state has the highest dropout rate? ›

The states with the highest percentage of students not graduating on time were New Mexico (28.9%) and Oregon (23.3%). On-time graduation rates are lowest in Wheeler County, Oregon, where 74% of children fail to complete high school on time.

What school has no rules in USA? ›

The name 'Sudbury' originates from the Sudbury Valley School, founded in 1968 in Framingham, Massachusetts, near Sudbury, Massachusetts. Though there is no formal or regulated definition of a Sudbury Model school, there are now more than 60 schools that identify themselves with Sudbury around the world.

Could girls go to school in 1776? ›

Girls were sometimes educated, but they didn't go to college. Blacks were mostly forbidden to learn to read and write, and Native Americans were not part of the colonial education system. They relied mainly on oral histories to pass down lessons and traditions.

What if you don't want to teach anymore? ›

If you don't want to work in a classroom anymore but love working with and helping students, a guidance counselor might be a great fit for you. But guidance counselors don't just work at schools. There are also positions for them in adult career centers, companies, charities, and even government.

How do you teach an unwilling child? ›

20 Strategies for Motivating Reluctant Learners
  1. Don't Be Boring. “In our engaging classrooms, we have to have a set of procedures and routines,” Perez said. ...
  2. Vote. ...
  3. Set Goals. ...
  4. Form Groups. ...
  5. Quick Writes. ...
  6. Focus on the ABCs: Acceptance, Belonging and Community. ...
  7. Continually change the “state” of the classroom. ...
  8. Empathize.
Mar 3, 2016

What should a teacher do when the students don't listen? ›

Unless it is severely serious, I would suggest holding back from giving a final sanction straight away. Allow the time for both you & the student to cool down so that you can have a rational & calm conversation. This may mean sending them to another class or to another part of your institution.

What schools have the unhappiest students? ›

20 Colleges With the Unhappiest Students
  • St. ...
  • Suffolk University. ...
  • Truman State University. ...
  • United States Military Academy. ...
  • United States Naval Academy. ...
  • University of Tennessee, Knoxville. ...
  • University of Texas at Dallas. ...
  • Xavier University of New Orleans.

Is school a main cause of depression? ›

School is usually not the main cause of depression. However, it can be a factor in causing or increasing teen depression due to the various stressors that occur in school, including bullying, academic pressure, and challenging peer relationships.

How many kids actually enjoy school? ›

The extent to which students are happy at school depends on whether we look at students in fourth or eighth grade. While about half of fourth graders (49 percent) say they are happy in school “all or most of the time,” 26 percent of eighth graders say this (Table 1).

Is school refusal a disorder? ›

School refusal is considered a symptom and may be associated with diagnoses such as social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobias, major depression, oppositional defiant disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and adjustment disorder, among others.

What is 504? ›

504 Plan Defined

The 504 Plan is a plan developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives accommodations that will ensure their academic success and access to the learning environment.

Why is my 17 year old son refusing to go to school? ›

There are many possibly causes for a teen's refusal to attend school, including anxiety, depression, social anxiety, problems with peers or teachers, bullying, or exposure to a traumatic incident at school that causes school avoidance.

How has the education system changed in recent years? ›

The use of technology in the classroom has been one of the most significant changes in recent years. With computers, tablets, and smartboards now commonplace in classrooms across the world, technology has greatly enhanced both learning and teacher effectiveness.

Has education changed in the last 10 years? ›

Over the past ten years, education has changed in many different ways, leading to more collaboration, more educational options, and better access to education for people from all backgrounds.

What has changed in education in the last 50 years? ›

A lot more people have joined schools, many schools have been opened around the country, teaching techniques have changed and there are more teachers than there was 50 years ago. Technology has really played a big part in making modern education more interesting for students.

How has teaching changed over the years? ›

Over the years, being a teacher has changed in a number of ways. Chalkboards are now smart boards. Students are using standing desks and stability balls instead of chairs. With changes in education, K-12 teachers have had to adapt to new initiatives and reforms.

Is the US education system good? ›

Many families all over the world aspire to and strive for an American education for their children. That's because American schools are well known for providing high-quality education through a balanced, tried-and-tested curriculum.

How can we fix the US education system? ›

5 Ways Policy Makers Can Improve the Quality of Education
  1. Acknowledge and address overcrowding.
  2. Make funding schools a priority.
  3. Address the school-to-prison pipeline.
  4. Raise standards for teachers.
  5. Put classroom-running and curriculum-building decisions in the hands of the community.
Apr 7, 2019

Who changed the education system? ›

On July 1, 2013, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) that overhauls how California funds its K-12 schools.

What is the hardest year of education? ›

While each year of high school will have its own stressors, many will say junior year is the most challenging. Junior year can be the hardest for several reasons, but with the right prep and expectations, high school students can make the hardest year just a little easier.

What will school be like in 2050? ›

Augmented reality and AI

Adaptive learning systems driven by artificial Intelligence (AI) will have become integrated into the school environment by 2050. Personalised learning experiences will take into account learning styles and create adaptive assessments that adjust in real-time based on performance.

What American ended his education at age 10? ›

Benjamin Franklin was born the 10th son of the 17 children of a man who made soap and candles, one of the lowliest of the artisan crafts. He learned to read very early and had one year in grammar school and another under a private teacher, but his formal education ended at age 10.

What was the biggest problem with American education in the 1950s? ›

The number-one issue involving education in the United States during the 1950s was school integration. For decades, qualified black Americans had been denied admission to whites-only colleges and public schools.

What did education look like 100 years ago? ›

Most American kids in the 1800s and early 1900s went to one-teacher, one-room schoolhouses for first through eighth grade. Depending on the population of the nearby area, there could be anywhere from a handful of students to more than 40.

Was there a lack of education in the 1950s? ›

At the dawn of the decade, the average American worker had not graduated from high school. In 1950, just 58.2 percent of all fifth graders went on to receive secondary school diplomas. One of the incentives for adults to continue schooling directly related to salary and quality of life.

What will teaching look like in 2030? ›

In 2030, adaptive learning software will replace direct instruction. Adaptive learning software is computer software that uses AI to move students up and down through a grade level's content based on student performance on assessment questions. Adaptive learning is faster and more efficient than even the best teachers.

What is the old way of teaching? ›

The old-fashioned way of teaching was all about recitation, for example students would sit in silence, while one student after another would take it in turns to recite the lesson, until each one had been called upon.

How is teaching different now? ›

In prior years, the teacher lectured the same lessons, while the students listened or yawned. The teaching methods today allow students to play a more active role in their learning. By utilizing inquiry and project-based learning concepts they stay engaged in the lessons.


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