By Megan Henry
Ohio Capital News
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine wants to make sure children learn how to read correctly and in a way that’s backed by the science of reading — which is a portion of his proposed budget.
“I truly believe there’s nothing more important than the science of reading, and making sure that every single child in the state of Ohio, as they are learning to read, has the benefit of the science,” DeWine said Thursday morning at a Literacy Matters event, hosted by Ohio Excels.
DeWine’s proposed budget has a $162 million science of reading proposal that includes $64 million for science of reading curricula, $43 million each year for the next two years to offer science of reading instruction for educators, and $12 million to to support 100 literacy coaches in schools and districts.
The science of reading is based on decades of research that shows how the human brain learns to read. However, not every Ohio school district is teaching the science of reading to students.
“Not all reading curriculums are created equal,” DeWine said. “And sadly, many Ohio students do not have access to the most effective ones. We absolutely must change it.”
Forty percent of Ohio’s third-grade students are not proficient in reading and 33% of third graders were not proficient in reading even before COVID-19, DeWine said.
DeWine signed an executive order Thursday that will recognize schools that are teaching using the science of reading and students are making significant progress in reading. He also wants other state agencies to develop ways to encourage reading. For example, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Correction could take a look at literacy rates in prisons.
DeWine recently visited two schools Thursday to talk about the science of reading — Lockland Elementary School in Cincinnati and Northridge Elementary School in Dayton.
As of August, 29 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws or implemented new policies related to evidence-based reading instruction since 2013, according to Education Week.
What’s in the budget proposal?
The budget proposal includes funding professional development and high-quality instruction materials.
The budget would include stipends for teachers to access professional development, said Stephanie K. Siddens, the Ohio Department of Education’s interim state superintendent of public instruction. There would be $1,200 stipends for teachers in grades K-5, English language teachers in grades 6-12, intervention specialists and instructional coaches. There would also be $400 stipends for middle and high schoolers teachers in other subject areas.
“Teachers trained in the science of reading are key to our goal to raise literacy proficiency and it’s critical that every single educator across content areas and grade levels understand language and literacy development,” Siddens said.
The budget proposal would direct ODE to solicit a list of “approved high-quality instructional materials that are aligned to the science of reading.”
“When it comes to moving the needle for our kids, it’s not just about who’s teaching, but what they are teaching with and how they are teaching that matters,” Siddens said.
When talking to reporters, DeWine didn’t explicitly say school districts would get rid of books and instruction materials that don’t align with the science of reading.
“None of us want our children to have second-rate anything and certainly not second-rate instruction material,” he said.
Ohio teacher preparation programs
DeWine said he wants to look to at teacher preparation programs in Ohio’s colleges and universities and review the curriculum used by colleges and universities to provide training and literacy instruction. Under the budget proposal, ODE would work with the Ohio Department of Higher Education to make sure teacher preparation programs are aligned with the science of reading teaching methods and courses.
“Our goal is to understand how teachers are being trained, because that’s the first key,” DeWine said. “Literacy is their ticket for higher learning, and certainly eventually for employment.”
It’s unclear which Ohio colleges and universities are not instructing their students who want to be teachers using the science of reading.
“I don’t think we know that,” DeWine said when speaking to reporters. “We have to gather more information.”
Mississippi turned reading scores around
Carey Wright, the former Mississippi State Superintendent of Education, helped the state go from having the nation’s lowest performing readers to the most improved and shared the lessons she learned at the event.
In 2013 (when Wright became State Superintendent), Mississippi fourth-graders ranked 49th in the nation for reading proficiency. By 2019, Mississippi has risen to 29th in the nation.
Mississippi passed laws in 2013 and 2016 that require the state to provide training for teachers in scientifically-based reading instruction and intervention. They also use reading coaches and students with reading difficulties get individual reading plans.
The training included professional development for teachers called Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS).
“Once teachers got involved in it, they thought it was some of the best professional development they’ve ever had,” Wright said. “We had teachers coming out in tears saying ‘I failed all the children before me because I didn’t know this.’ And our message was you can’t go back, but you can move forward.”
Mississippi’s laws didn’t ban specific types of teaching methods, Wright said, but instead focused solely on the science of reaching.
“Three cueing or balanced literacy has had a foothold for a long, long time, but you can’t guess your way into reading,” she said. “You have to be taught explicitly how to read.”
Three-cueing encourages children to read words by asking three questions: Does it make sense? Does it sound right? Does it look right?
For example, there could be a picture of a horse on a book’s page and a student may say “pony.”
“Comprehension-wise, that child may understand that this was about a horse, but if you put p-o-n-y in front of them, it is not h-o-r-s-e,” Wright said. “You’ve got to know the sounds and symbols and you’ve got to know what they stand for and what they mean and that’s explicit instruction. That’s not something you just learn by looking at the pictures.”
Balanced vs. structured literacy
There are different approaches as to how students learn to read — including balanced literacy and structured literacy.
Structured literacy is an approach to reading instruction that includes explicit and systematic instruction in foundational reading skills, including phonics.
Balanced literacy is an approach to reading instruction that does not teach phonics in an explicit, systematic way, but prioritizes students’ comprehension of a text.
The science of reading shows most children need explicit phonics when learning how to read.
“There’s so much research to support (the science of reading),” Wright said. “Why throw something up against the wall and hope that it sticks when you know what works.”