Renewing Our Commitment To Reading
“Follow the science” is a familiar refrain. The earliest science-backed advice at the beginning of the pandemic was “wash your hands.” As emerging science pointed to the efficacy of mask-wearing, and now vaccines, “follow the science” has become ubiquitous with every new way to protect ourselves. It is also common in discussions about learning to read. More and more states are discerning what that means for their students, their teachers, and reading programs in general.
For over 20 years, the Albert Shanker Institute, alongside of the American Federation of Teachers, has been following the science with the goal of bridging research and practice. Our work on reading instruction has been guided by evidence collected in the National Research Council’s Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, including reading program priorities of explicit, systematic phonemic awareness and phonics instruction, fluency, vocabulary development, content knowledge, and reading comprehension instruction. We have produced several publications curating this evidence, such as Literacy Ladders, Let’s Talk: Oral Language Development, Let's Talk: Early Literacy Development, Preschool Curriculum: What’s In It for Children and Teachers, and videos such as The Early Language Gap is About More Than Words and Let’s Talk to stimulate public discussion about these issues.
ASI is renewing our commitment to students, families, educators, schools, and allies in strengthening reading instruction.
We commit our ability to convene, promote, and support the science of reading instruction and expanding it in these key ways:
- We commit to look beyond early reading instruction. It is clear why a majority of the science of reading discussions are focused on our youngest readers. Yet students who continue to struggle with reading into middle school, high school, or even adult basic education programs deserve our best teaching and thinking on how to master their reading skills.
- We commit to bring a systemic/organizational approach to implementing the science of reading. The lack of comprehensive reading programs embedded in the science of reading is frequently still disconnected from classroom practice. This is often blamed on teacher education programs or teacher’s lack of knowledge, when the reality is likely much more complex than this. It has to do with entire state- and district-wide systems or longstanding organizational decisions that need to be taken into account. We must all reflect on our work and make adjustments to make room for reading instruction based on evidence.
- We commit to bring fresh perspectives, especially established or emerging science that is culturally specific and focuses on multicultural and multilingual assets that students and families bring to literacy learning, and voices in the research and practitioner community that deserve to be amplified. Following the science means we must not remain in one place. We must look for evidence of promising progress that we have overlooked it in the past.
One of the core commitments of the Albert Shanker Institute is to “celebrate the power of ideas by expanding access to information, encouraging free and rigorous debate, and finding ways for intellectuals to test their ideas with practical action.” When it comes to what we know about the science of reading, our students deserve no less.
- Mary Cathryn Ricker