District Turns to Phonics After Decades of Handicapping Students with Quackery

      After decades of handicapping children using discredited methods for “reading” instruction, a major school district in Texas is finally turning to phonics, drawing praise from advocates reading reform but surprisingly few calls for accountability. The new phonics program is replacing the “whole language” quackery starting this school year as the trend gains momentum nationwide.

      According to multiple news reports, Midland Independent School District (ISD) in Texas was suffering from catastrophic levels of reading failure, with about half of third graders unable to read at a proficient level. A new Associate Superintendent for teaching and learning, Ashley Osborn, plans to change that by adopting what she and many others have started referring to as the “science of reading.”   

      “For us, there’s no debate: Students deserve the best instruction possible, and when it comes to reading instruction, particularly for our youngest learners, phonics is the most-effective method according to the vast body of research available,” Osborne was quoted as saying in media reports. “Phonics breaks down not only the word, but also intellect letter sounds and how we blend those letter sounds.”

      Because English uses a phonetic writing system, where each letter represents one or more sounds, it is critical that people learn phonics to be able to read. However, for almost a century now, government schools across the United States have in essence been teaching children to memorize whole words as if the words themselves were symbols. Experts have warned about this since the mid-1800s.

      Osborne, who has been in her role at Midland ISD for about half of a year, has been advocating for the change to phonics as critical to students. “Reading is the foundation of all other learning, and literacy has a strong tie to success as adults,” she said. “We work to ensure that all students are prepared and ready for college or career, and establishing solid literacy skills is a key component to realizing our mission.”

      And solid literacy skills come only from learning phonics, she explained, correctly. “In those primary grades – so kinder, first, second – …it is critical that our students have access to phonics-based approach so that they can gain those skills to be able to decode and encode words, and be able to put those together and actually read,” said Osborne, one of a growing number of education officials nationwide.

      Students already damaged by the quackery will have an opportunity to get some remedial instruction, too. “Older students who were taught via the whole-language method are included in the phonics curriculum,” said Andrea Messick, executive director of teaching and learning. “That’s why we’re implementing a suite of methods that teaches children phonics from the outset and catches any students who didn’t have phonics in their primary years.”

      This change will benefit students in many other ways. “A student who can’t read will fail in all other content areas,” Messick added. “By moving to a phonics-based reading curriculum, we’re confident students will see a lift as a whole academically. Students who have strong reading comprehension have greater self-esteem. And they’ll carry this confidence with them beyond graduation.”

      The district and many others across the country are tacitly admitting what experts have been exposing since Horace Mann first introduced whole-word methods in Massachusetts — that the quackery used by public schools under the guise of “teaching reading” was actually doing the opposite, leaving children permanently disabled and unable to learn how to read properly. 

      How there can be no major calls for accountability for the millions of victims whose lives suffered as a direct result of this is beyond astounding. Perhaps even more stunning, though, is that any parent with common sense could ever trust government schools to “educate” their children. It is time for accountability and real investigations into what happened.  

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