In a bid to address the pressing issue of low reading scores, the New York City school system has mandated that all elementary schools within the district, the nation’s largest, must select one of three approved literacy curricula. However, the most favored choice among schools, Into Reading, is proving to be less effective than anticipated. This article explores the shortcomings of Into Reading and the reasons behind its popularity among educators.
The Prevailing Approach: Balanced Literacy
For over two decades, New York City has championed the “balanced literacy” approach to teaching reading, with Lucy Calkins as one of its leading figures. This approach emphasizes the use of authentic children’s literature and offers teachers a significant degree of autonomy. Despite criticisms of traditional basal readers as low-quality and overly scripted, many teachers in the city consider themselves “balanced literacy” practitioners.
The Approved Curricula
While media coverage suggests that the three approved curricula – Wit & Wisdom, EL Education, and Into Reading – are of equal quality, it’s essential to examine their differences.
- Wit & Wisdom and EL Education: These curricula are recognized for effectively building knowledge that enables students to comprehend complex texts. They delve deeply into specific topics, providing students with grade-level or above text through teacher read-alouds and class discussions.
- Into Reading: New York City’s choice, Into Reading, received high ratings from EdReports, particularly for “building knowledge.” However, it faces challenges similar to traditional reading textbooks.
Into Reading’s Shortcomings
Donna Kanipe, an educator with experience in using Into Reading, highlights several issues with the curriculum:
- Emphasis on Comprehension Skills: Into Reading prioritizes comprehension skills over the content of the texts, making it difficult for students to grasp the meaning of stories. Most assessments focus on skills rather than content.
- Broad and Superficial Themes: The curriculum’s themes are often broad and superficial, lacking the specificity and depth found in other approved curricula.
- Limited Text Complexity: Into Reading mainly includes texts at or below grade level, limiting students’ exposure to complex texts.
- Overstuffed Curriculum: The abundance of material makes it challenging for teachers to cover it all effectively.
- Leveled Reading Restrictions: The curriculum restricts students to reading books at their individual reading levels, potentially limiting their exposure to diverse topics.
- Lack of Connected Writing Assignments: Few writing assignments are provided, and most are unrelated to the texts students have read.
Educators’ Choice of Into Reading
The choice of Into Reading by educators, both in Tennessee and New York City, can be attributed to several factors:
- Familiarity with Leveled Readers: Many educators are accustomed to leveled reading and believe it aligns with their teaching experience.
- Resistance to Change: Educators may be wary of adopting a knowledge-building curriculum due to concerns about text difficulty and student engagement.
- Availability of Leveled Readers: The inclusion of leveled readers in Into Reading may have influenced educators’ decisions.
The Importance of Knowledge Building
While phonics instruction is essential, it’s equally crucial to build knowledge and vocabulary. As students progress through grade levels, comprehension becomes increasingly dependent on knowledge rather than isolated skills.
Former New York City education official Joel Klein’s experience underscores this point. His decision to supplement balanced literacy with a phonics program led to improvements in lower-grade reading scores but not in eighth grade. He realized that building knowledge in elementary grades is critical for understanding complex texts.
The widespread adoption of Into Reading in New York City schools poses a potential challenge to students’ long-term reading success. While familiarity and the presence of leveled readers may have swayed educators’ decisions, it’s essential to prioritize knowledge-building curricula that offer richer content and guidance for effective teaching. By doing so, we can equip students with the skills and knowledge needed to comprehend complex texts and improve reading outcomes.