Tuesday News: Re-hooked on Phonics?


BERGER AND TRUITT PUSH BILL TO SHIFT READING INSTRUCTION: North Carolina Senate Republican leaders want schools to emphasize the use of phonics to help deal with how many young children are having challenges learning to read. The Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021, which was filed on Monday, requires Pre-K and elementary school teachers to be trained in the “science of reading,” a method of reading instruction that stresses phonics. The legislation comes as reading scores have dropped in the state despite the efforts of the Read To Achieve program to improve early childhood literacy. “Training teachers in the science of reading is a crucial strategy for literacy improvement,” Senate leader Phil Berger, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said at a news conference Monday.

ANOTHER DEMOCRAT STEPS INTO 2022 U.S. SENATE RACE TO REPLACE BURR: The mayor of a small North Carolina coastal town is getting into next year’s race for the U.S. Senate, saying the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol motivated him to step up and defend democracy against violent actors. Beaufort Mayor Rett Newton plans to announce his bid for the Democratic nomination in early April, the Carteret County News-Times reported. Republican Sen. Richard Burr has said he won’t seek reelection in 2022. Newton, a retired Air Force colonel and current doctoral student at Duke University studying marine science and conservation, would join a growing pool of announced candidates, particularly among Democrats. “We have such great national challenges that I just can’t sit on the sideline, certainly not when our democracy is under attack,” he told the newspaper in an interview. “I am committed to running for the U.S. Senate in 2022.” Former state Sen. Erica Smith, current state Sen. Jeff Jackson and virologist Richard Watkins are among those already in the Democratic primary race. Advisers of former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley said this month that she’ll soon enter the race.

ELON STUDENTS WORKING ON DOCUMENTARIES ABOUT WYATT OUTLAW: For the past several weeks, the pair has worked to gather as much information on Outlaw as possible. Outlaw is famous for being the first black constable and commissioner in Graham. His eventual death at the hands of Ku Klux Klan members served as the catalyst for a conflict against armed white supremacists and North Carolina Gov. William Holden. That conflict would come to be known as the Kirk-Holden War. Both Nelson and Brown, who are not from the Alamance County area, said the project has been a learning experience for them. "I'm actually from New York," Nelson said. "I don't really know the area that well and I didn't really know about the social justice activities in North Carolina, and I didn't know about Wyatt Outlaw before." Brown, a North Carolina resident, echoed Nelson. "I actually live in Charlotte but I had not heard of Wyatt Outlaw until I was attending Elon," Brown said. "I heard about him...during some local protests." What happened to Wyatt Outlaw needs to be taught in schools statewide.

JURORS WATCH (IN HORROR) FULL VIDEO OF GEORGE FLOYD BEING MURDERED: As the video played on television monitors set up around the socially distanced courtroom, several jurors visibly reacted, including one who drew a sharp breath as Floyd was heard saying, “I can’t breathe.” One put a hand to her temple, while another was seen looking away. One juror — a White woman in her 50s who works as a nurse — gripped the armrests of her chair. “You can believe your eyes,” Blackwell told the jury during his roughly one-hour opening statement. “It’s a homicide. It’s murder.” Behind him, Chauvin, 45, sat at the defense table, occasionally looking up at the video and taking notes on a yellow legal pad. He appeared to be avoiding eye contact with the jury. Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department before he was fired in May, has pleaded not guilty to second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Floyd’s cause of death is expected to be a key point of contention during the trial. The other three officers who were at the scene with Chauvin — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tou Thao — are charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter. Those officers, who were also fired, are scheduled to stand trial in August. Prosecutors opened their case with testimony from three witnesses — including a 911 dispatcher who phoned a Minneapolis police supervisor after she saw Chauvin and the other officers kneeling on Floyd on a police surveillance camera that overlooks 38th and Chicago. Blackwell previewed dispatcher Jena Scurry as a witness during his opening statements, saying that after watching Floyd’s arrest on a surveillance feed, “she did something that she had never done in her career. She called the police on the police.”

PRESIDENT BIDEN CONTINUES FOCUS ON DIVERSITY WITH HIS JUDICIAL NOMINEES: In a statement early Tuesday, the president announced the nominations of 11 people to serve as federal district or appeals court judges, moving faster than any president in decades to fill open positions in the courts. His nominees — led by Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — included three African-American women for appeals court vacancies and candidates who, if confirmed by the Senate, would be the first federal judge who is Muslim, the first Asian-American woman to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Circuit and the first woman of color to serve as a federal judge in Maryland. “This trailblazing slate of nominees draws from the very best and brightest minds of the American legal profession,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “Each is deeply qualified and prepared to deliver justice faithfully under our Constitution and impartially to the American people — and together they represent the broad diversity of background, experience, and perspective that makes our nation strong.” The Chicago-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit is a case in point. After the only African-American judge serving there stepped aside in 2017, Mr. Trump had four chances to make a racially diverse pick for the court. He did not take the opportunity, instead naming four more white judges. Allies say Mr. Biden, a former longtime chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee with a deep background in judicial nominations, is determined to install judges with different sets of experiences from the mainly white corporate law partners and prosecutors who have been tapped for decades by presidents of both parties. Mr. Biden has also promised to appoint the first African-American woman to the Supreme Court.



But heaven forfend that Berger...

or even Truitt think to actually ask early education teachers what they think about teaching reading. Because when setting education policy it's just obvious that the very last people you should ask are those who actually...teach reading. I know several elementary teachers, none of whom like Read to Achieve and wish the state would let them teach reading as an integrated whole, as actual teachers know it must be. The whole "science of reading" thing is garbage, just another salvo in the long history of the reading wars that wage between cognitive researchers and educational theorists without ever bothering to consult teachers and the actual on-the-ground processes of students learning to read. Probably the best statement of this whole problem was written by Peter Greene on his education blog Curmudgucation in the halcyon days of December 2019. What he rightly points out is pretty straightforward:

Why is this so hard? You can't have reading without decoding. You can't have reading with only decoding. Reading involves a whole complex of skills, and none of those skills can be taught or acquired outside of the business of actually reading. Every reading student brings a different web of experience, knowledge, interest and processor power, which means that teachers need a toolbox filled with many tools.

This is the essence that non-educators like Berger can never understand. Truitt should know better, but she's spent too long out of the classroom (and was never an early education teacher to begin with) and has forgotten who she should be listening to in this debate. Instead, we have her backing Berger in introducing another one-size-fits-all limited program that will fail as spectacularly as Read to Achieve did, for the simple reason that any program like this will fail. Until we get back to educators actually setting policy for the nuts and bolts of education, that will continue to be true.

The main issue ...

... that Berger is trying to solve is that NC's standardized test scores for reading are down.

This really looks like a distraction from the GQP elephant in the room. Can these lower scores really just come down to the quality of teachers that NC has been able to attract and keep in the classroom and the as Berger and Company have plummeted teacher pay to practically the lowest in the nation? How much are these lower scores due to overloading our teachers by legislative micromanaging of the curriculum for one conservative cause or another?

And just how much of this push for Phonics is a piece of red meat to throw at homeschoolers, who just love them some antiquated teaching materials hawked by religious publishers?

A fair bit of any actual problems come from...

the micromanaging by non-educators and from the Legislature's willingness to underfund real teachers by diverting money to charters and vouchers. But it also comes from reliance on the idiocy of standardized testing (what many education wags call "the BS test" as an acronym for both "Big Standardized" and for what they really are) that doesn't really make decent judgements about what students can actually do, merely how well they can take the BS test. Most standardized tests of reading are especially problematic (including NC's) and neither give good data on student progress nor give teachers any useful information on how they might help students. One of the few good things that our Legislature has done in education policy recently was to eliminate most of the high school level standardized tests (the NC Final Exams) that weren't Federally mandated. If they'd do the same with the rest at all levels, we'd be better off. When you tests whose number one predictor of student scores is the income level of their parents, you're not really learning anything useful. It's been shown time and again that the best predictor of student performance is their past teacher-generated grades. We know our students and we know how to measure what they learn under our care. It's long past time that we got back to being trusted to do our jobs, because we have been despite ever obstacle thrown in our way by politicians who wouldn't know good teaching from a hole in the ground.