Give parents an Education Savings Account with $10,000 so children can learn phonics

By LIV FINNE  | 
Aug 14, 2019
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Investigative reporter Emily Hanford has revealed that teachers are still using the “whole language” method to teach reading, a method rejected two decades ago. It is settled science that deep instruction in phonics, not whole language, is the best way to teach young children to read.

The reading wars of the 1980’s led to this discovery. Back then, the argument got so heated the federal government appointed the National Reading Panel to report on what the science shows. In 2000 they reported that instruction in phonics is the best method.

Unfortunately, Aira Jackson at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) admits Washington’s teachers ignore the science and use whole language instruction, reports The Seattle Times. Yet Jackson disapproves:

“We know how to teach children to read,” she said. “There’s really no debate anymore about what skills are necessary to learn how to read.”

But teachers resist teaching phonics because most schools of education do not educate teachers about the settled science. Teachers who do teach phonics are going against the grain.

This has hurt children. Sixty percent of Washington’s fourth-graders score below proficient in reading on the nation’s report card, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a number that has hardly budged for 25 years.

Children need deep instruction in phonics to learn how to read confidently. Children with dyslexia, a common learning disability, especially benefit from phonics instruction.  

Parents are turning to private schools for help.

For example, Our Lady of the Lake, a Catholic school in the middle-class Seattle Wedgewood neighborhood, where tuition is $8000 a year, knows how to teach kids who struggle to read and write. Vice Principal Bonnie Meyer says:

“If all teachers would use a structured literacy approach, and we did it in elementary schools, we’d see far fewer kids struggling.”

Last year the legislature created the Dyslexia Council to make recommendations about phonics instruction. Aira Jackson of OSPI promises the Dyslexia Council will change the way reading is taught in Washington’s schools.

This promise of hope and change asks the public to engage in a kind of magical thinking, like the belief in fairies and pixie dust. It’s been twenty years since the National Panel Report, and forty years since the reading wars. Hard experience shows the public schools will stick with whole language, and are likely to ignore the Dyslexia Council, just like they ignored the National Reading Panel.     

Parents can’t engage in magical thinking. Their children need to learn how to read.

The solution is to give parents direct aid to help their children. That’s what real caring about the education of children would look like.  

Lawmakers should give families with dyslexic and other students having trouble learning to read the sum of $10,000 a year in an Education Savings Account, to pay tuition at a private school that provides instruction in phonics.