Governor Hochul Encourages New York Schools to Embrace the Science of Reading

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Eight months following the announcement of a major literacy reform in New York City, Governor Kathy Hochul outlined her own plan on Wednesday to encourage school districts across the state to adopt new reading curricula.

This effort comes in response to mounting pressure to improve literacy, as many states have already implemented initiatives to enhance reading instruction based on the “science of reading,” a well-established research body on how children learn to read. Despite less than half of students in grades 3-8 being proficient in reading on state tests, New York has not made similar proposals in recent years, making it one of the few states lagging behind in this regard.

Hochul’s objective is to move schools away from the “balanced literacy” approach, which includes a popular curriculum developed by Professor Lucy Calkins from Teachers College. This approach, including mini-lessons and independent reading time, is designed to generate enthusiasm for literature and help students practice reading skills on their own. However, experts argue that this method often falls short for struggling readers, particularly those with learning disabilities like dyslexia.

Instead, the state will prioritize programs that emphasize phonics lessons, teaching the explicit relationship between sounds and letters, an approach that is supported by research. Hochul indicated that her plan aims to eliminate discredited methods commonly found in balanced literacy programs, such as relying on pictures to guess word meanings.

“We’re going to abandon the old methods, bid them farewell as they didn’t prove effective, and return to basics,” stated Hochul during a press conference at an elementary school in Watervliet, New York.

The governor’s proposal is unlikely to bring about significant changes in New York City as the city’s Education Department has already implemented its own comprehensive curriculum mandate, which appears to align with Hochul’s plan. Whether the governor’s proposal will lead to significant changes in other parts of the state remains uncertain, given the challenges and expenses associated with curriculum overhauls.

The state’s authority is also limited since local school districts are responsible for choosing their own curriculum materials. A spokesperson for Hochul suggested that the state’s plan would require science of reading principles to be incorporated as part of a district’s offerings.

“I believe she is trying to address those who have heard about the so-called ‘reading crisis’ but is being cautious not to step on districts’ toes,” stated Jennifer Binnis, a curriculum designer who has worked with teachers in New York State.

Hochul’s plan will task the state Education Department with developing a series of “instructional best practices” related to literacy skills, including phonics, decoding, and comprehension. By September 2025, school districts will be required to certify that their curricula, instruction, and teacher training align with these best practices, according to a press release. (Officials declined to provide the exact legislative language supported by Hochul.)

The governor also proposed a $10 million partnership with the state’s teachers union to train 20,000 educators and expand the efforts of the city and state university systems in educating teachers about the science of reading, a top priority for state officials.

Hochul’s plan received support from union officials, advocacy groups, and numerous lawmakers. The state’s Education Department refrained from commenting directly on the proposal until more information becomes available. While some experts applauded Hochul’s emphasis on literacy instruction, they remained doubtful that her proposal would result in significant changes.

“It’s a good starting point and a positive step,” said Susan Neuman, a reading expert at New York University and former federal education official.

However, she expressed skepticism that meaningful changes in classrooms could occur without a more substantial commitment to rigorous training, funding for new resources, and clear accountability measures. “Unfunded mandates are ineffective,” Neuman concluded.

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