, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Photo credit: groovy history.com

Americans are coming to the unsettling realization far too many—not all by any means—of our public schools are failing their essential mission: teaching kids the basic knowledge and skills they need to be functioning, productive citizens of a representative republic. There are actually a relatively small number of reasons for this failure, the primary reason being the failing that causes the failure of any institution or business: failing to do the basic, elementary things for which that institution or business exists. Today, gentle readers, we speak of perhaps the most fundamental skill: literacy.


credit: mothenaturenetwork

In 23 Baltimore City Schools, zero students tested proficient in math in 2022, according to a report by Project Baltimore.

Through an analysis of 150 Baltimore City Schools, 23 of them, including 10 high schools, eight elementary schools, three high schools and two middle schools, no students met math grade-level expectations, according to a report by Project Baltimore.

In the rest, horrifyingly small numbers of kids were proficient.


In 55 Chicago Public Schools, not one student met grade level expectations in either math or reading during the 2021-2022 school year, according to a Wirepoints report.

Out of 649 Chicago Public Schools, 22 schools have zero students who met grade level expectations for reading while no students were proficient in math in 33 schools during the 2021-2022 school year, according to a Wirepoints report. The data analyzed is from the Illinois State Board of Education annual report, which details how schools within the state are performing.

Just as in Baltimore, in the remaining schools far too many kids weren’t up to grade level. One need spend little search engine time to find even more of this sort of intentional destruction throughout the nation.

But this is about math! Not quite. If kids can’t read fluently, they can’t do math, or much of anything else. By “fluently” I mean the ability not only to understand the base information inherent in a written argument, or even a sentence–to derive meaning from the symbols on the page or screen–but the ideas and possibilities suggested. Competence in reading is fundamental to intellectual development and mere survival. Even NPR—NPR!–in 2019, recognized the problem: 

credit: georgiastateuniversity

Jack Silva didn’t know anything about how children learn to read. What he did know is that a lot of students in his district were struggling.

Silva is the chief academic officer for Bethlehem, Pa., public schools. In 2015, only 56 percent of third-graders were scoring proficient on the state reading test. That year, he set out to do something about that.

‘It was really looking yourself in the mirror and saying, ‘Which 4 in 10 students don’t deserve to learn to read?’ ‘ he recalls.

Bethlehem is not an outlier. Across the country, millions of kids are struggling. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 32 percent of fourth-graders and 24 percent of eighth-graders aren’t reading at a basic level. Fewer than 40 percent are proficient or advanced.

Let us, gentle readers, for the purposes of this single article, accept that anything that distracts teachers from teaching the basic, essential skills and knowledge of their disciplines, particularly reading, is wrong. One would hope agreement on such a universal concept would be, well, universal, but we know better, don’t we?  Here I speak of assemblies for the hundreds of groups, organizations, causes and businesses that want time to address captive student audiences. I speak of educational fads that promise a new, previously undiscovered way to achieve unheard of academic wonders. I speak of wasting actual months of instructional time drilling for mandatory, high stakes tests. I speak of political and sexual indoctrination. And I speak of teachers who really aren’t qualified to teach, or interested in teaching, their disciplines.

In 2023, the tendency will be to blame abject educational failure on Covid lockdowns and school lockouts. Apologists are blaming a virus, and the kids, for what they imposed, and their general failure in teaching the basics. Let’s visit the Washington Examiner, where Max Eden explains:

There is no Democrat or Republican way to teach reading. There is a correct, scientifically based way and an incorrect, guess-work-based way. It just so happens that conservatives have long championed the correct way, and progressives have long been enchanted by the incorrect way. With rampant learning loss, and states still flush with COVID-19 relief cash, it’s time to follow the Deep South’s lead and focus on the science of reading.

And what is this mysterious science? Phonics, the reality and universal practice that at one time made Americans virtually universally literate.

If public education manages to turn the corner, history may record that journalist Emily Hanford did more to promote literacy than the combined might of American philanthropy. That’s because her recent, compelling podcast series homed in on the single most important — yet somehow broadly ignored — policy question: Why do so many schools get basic literacy instruction wrong?

Sold a Story explains how, from a scientific perspective, the ‘reading wars’ have long been settled. Although some children will learn how to read naturally, most need an appreciation of phonics — the ability to sound the words out — in order to develop reading mastery. Yet the public education establishment was sold a different story: that, actually, children don’t need to learn to sound words out. Instead, children can learn to read by being given engaging books and then guessing the words they don’t know. Teachers could provide cues, known as the ‘three-cueing’ method, asking students to think about the hint a picture might give, to think about whether they know any words that make sense in the context, or words that start with the first letter of the word they don’t know. Hanford’s podcast explains how this theory traveled from New Zealand to America, where it was baked into some of America’s most widely adopted early reading curricula.

This general, faulty concept is more commonly known as “whole language,” the idea that without the tools/knowledge to translate written speech into coherent sounds, and the sounds into information and ideas, kids will magically infer pronunciation and meaning from contexts and pictures. It’s rather like Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man, telling kids trying to learn to play horns to look at a score and “think G.” In my mid-sized Texas high school, most kids were literate. It was rare to find any that weren’t. But what was evident was many weren’t fluent, which means reading for enjoyment was generally beyond them, which means reading assignments was to be avoided. No one likes to be painfully reminded of their own incompetence.  Reading aloud, some obviously struggled with pronunciation, some painfully so. Some struggled with basic meaning, to say nothing of the deep meaning, the inspiration and possibilities, of sentences and ideas, which meant if the material wasn’t read aloud and discussed in class, many kids would never learn from it.  When kids arrive in high school, if they’re not fluent readers, their intellectual development is largely over. High school teachers can’t throw away their curriculum in favor or remedial reading instruction, though they often lose class time to doing just that.

credit: bbc

American universities have departments, even whole colleges, for teacher education. In theory, these institutions of higher learning should have sought out and spread the best practices in literacy instruction. It’s hard to think of a single thing that would have been more important for them to do. Why didn’t they? A big part of the problem was that they were too busy being woke. In 2019, I reviewed the program for the American Education Research Association’s annual gathering of over 14,000 education academics. I found 422 hits for ‘whiteness’ yet only 42 for ‘early literacy.’ As cognitive neuroscientist Mark Seidenberg, featured in Hanford’s podcast, has written, ‘the principal function of schools of education is to socialize prospective teachers into an ideology.’

Wokeness is, in most schools, a relatively recent development. I’m tempted to say it’s just another fad, but it goes beyond that. It’s a political religion, part of a concerted effort to “fundamentally transform,” as Barack Obama was so fond of saying, America into a Marxist utopia.

Perhaps I should explain the role fads have in transforming education—for the worse. Various school administrators go to a conference, where they discover a stunning “new” method of instruction that promises to revolutionize education. They want to be superintendents some day—that’s where the money, perks and power are—and they need that kind of transformational success on their resumes, so they implement it in their districts, from top to bottom, kindergarten to high school.

Competent teachers understand that alone is insanity. Elementary and middle school kids are very different in their intellectual—and social–development and needs, High school kids even more different. Let’s say this brilliant new method—which is actually nothing more than terribly failed, stupid ideas repackaged with new acronyms and terms—requires every teacher, at the beginning of each class to spend 10-15 minutes reviewing what they “learned” in the last class, and requiring students to criticize the teacher, their methods and intentions. If this sounds like a Maoist “struggle session,” you’re catching on. And at the end of class, the student must gain an “exit ticket,” taking 10-15 minutes to write, or perhaps do group work—the lazy teacher’s best friend—about what they learned.

Sound like a good idea? Consider classes these days are only about 45 minutes long. This brilliant new fad not only undermines teacher authority, it steals 20-30 minutes from each period, leaving teachers only 15-25 minutes to try to teach anything, which means they have no time to teach the basics. Losing even ten minutes is about 1/4 of each class.  They’re always talking about what they had no time to teach. My district imposed something virtually identical. We were a “data based” school district, and in contemporary education, to paraphrase Mark Twain, there are lies, damned lies, and data.

Schools of education can only prioritize ideology over literacy because states let them. Almost a decade ago, Mississippi decided to stop doing that. A study showed that not only were most prospective teachers not being taught the science of reading, many education professors and even deans had never even heard of it. So, Mississippi invested in workshops and coaching to make sure that teachers learned the basics of literacy instruction. From 2013 to 2019, we witnessed the ‘Mississippi Miracle’ – fourth-grade scores on the National Assessment for Educational Progress went up by about 10 points, bringing Mississippi from the bottom to the middle of the pack.

The “miracle” of actually teaching kids to read.

To be sure, the action hasn’t been entirely limited to red states. Colorado, for example, passed a law in 2019 requiring ‘evidence-based and scientifically-based’ reading instruction and required teachers to go through 45 hours of training to learn the science. But it may prove far easier for red states to act. Long before it was scientifically validated, conservatives had been partial to phonics instruction.

Final Thoughts: As the author notes, there is a difference between red and blue states, between the reality of Normal Americans who expect schools to produce capable, rational citizens fit for our constitutional republic, and the alternate realities of Democrats/Socialists/Communists who want little red guards ready to be the enforcers of “our democracy.”  Take the link to see what that actually means. To be fair, there are certainly competent schools in blue states, just as there are incompetent schools in red states. It’s just more common to find wide-spread, politically motivated lunacy in blue states and cities, Baltimore and Chicago being obvious examples, and don’t get me started on teacher’s unions.

Whether D/S/Cs are malicious, or merely confused, the result is the same: kids are denied the opportunity to learn. Likewise, for schools that aren’t overtly political, but are overrun with social/career climbers, or just people whose educational ideas are sincere, but disastrously wrong. They think they’ve discovered the educational Holy Grail, but all they’ve done is enrich hucksters who have repackaged and marketed badly failed mistakes.

During my teaching tenure, a brilliant new writing curriculum was forced down our throats. One of the innovations of that program was to replace “ideas” in writing, with “golden bricks.” When Johnny had an idea, we were supposed to tell him what a wonderful golden brick he discovered. Can you see, gentle readers, how that revolutionized the teaching of writing?  Yeah.  Neither could we.  As with every other fad, most teachers gave lip service, and went through the motions, but taught what made sense and actually worked. In about two years—the usual cycle–that fad was quietly abandoned in favor of the next brilliant fad that would revolutionize education.

More and more teachers and parents are coming to the realization phonics not only works–it’s the only thing that works–but “teaching” anything else is malpractice, even fraud, and the victims of that fraud are first, the kids who are denied the building blocks of intellectual development, which denies them future productivity, success, even happiness. Ultimately, that initial denial irreparably damages society, producing generations of kids who see themselves as eternal victims, the entitled, the incapable, the eternally aggrieved, takers, not makers, consumers, not producers. Any society where productive adults, and the failing elderly, are expected to provide for young adults, is doomed to extinction, and all because the intellectually and morally superior are determined to abandon, and extinguish, what works.