Greetings. Light posting with a lot of other work commitments. July will be light as well. A few items today. A seminar I did at Harvard on culture wars and school boards, a new WonkyFolk with a special guest, a caution on science of reading zealotry, a caution on stories that seem just too good to check, and a really big fish. Let’s go!
Here’s a brand new WonkyFolk, and Jed Wallace and I welcome our first guest…Macke Raymond! Macke joins to talk about the new CREDO study on charter schools, which really isn’t new but is the latest installment in a long running set of analyses including two previous national studies like this one. She’s led that work so who better to have on? We talk about the results, but also about how these studies are consumed and used – or more precisely often aren’t. Here’s a link to the podcast and notes. We do a YouTube version as well, and this week I wore my special charter school debate shirt. Or listen here:
Harvard’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government is hosting a series of discussions about school boards. I joined for one focusing on boards and culture wars. AEI’s Max Eden and Harvard’s Scott Levy were respondents. You can watch that and the entire series here. Gale Morrison reviews.
Don’t overcorrect on the reading wars.
A positive trend the last few years is renewed attention on teaching reading according to the best available evidence. That seems obvious, of course, but reading instruction for decades has been marred by politics and ideology. Every decade or so some journalist would actually look into this and write a story about how screwed up it all is but it would bounce off and everyone would go back to business as usual. Journalist Emily Hanford found traction a few years ago and has done vital work bringing these issues to light. Now other leaders across our sector are leaning in on the importance of evidence-based reading instruction and a knowledge-rich education. There is real work happening as a result.
And there is work to do. Just this week NCTQ released an analysis of where colleges and universities are on this issue. It’s not great! This and other evidence is redoubling calls for reform. That’s for the good but science of reading or “SOR” adherents should be careful that the power and momentum of moment doesn’t lead them to overstep.
One place (of several) that could happen is in how we even discuss and debate reading. I’m all for requiring teacher prep programs to teach teachers how to teach reading based on evidence. That seems like a pretty basic public policy matter. But you’re now starting to hear talk about getting anyone who doesn’t support SOR out of schools of education or to limit any teaching or research about other approaches.
This is fraught. There is a real difference between saying ‘here’s how we’re going to teach reading in this state in public education’ and then aligning policies and funding around that approach and trying to shut down debate altogether. Yes, in too many teacher prep programs going back decades pseudo-radicals have tried to tell teachers their job is to subvert the authority of public schools or do this or that rather than teach in them. There is plenty of ridiculousness. (I’ve been involved on the boards at two leading institutions, taught at one, have been on many task forces and committees around these issues, chaired the board at NCTQ at one point, so I’m not reflexively hostile to schools of education or teacher prep).
In general, and here, the way to beat bad ideas is with good ideas. We can tell prospective teachers this is how you will teach reading and here is the why behind that while also leaving space for those who disagree to continue their argument, marshall evidence, and try to get policymakers to change their minds. Not in the actual training of teachers but in the academy and consequently the public debate. One of those, training, is a policy question that should be made based on the best available evidence, the other is a question about the limits of academic freedom and debate.
Yes, there is an understandable lack of trust given the guerrilla reading war that whole language adherents have fought for decades where they misrepresent various approaches. Balanced literacy, for instance, was a fig leaf not balance. Still, leaving space for debate isn’t only the basic liberal thing to do with regard to higher education, it also matters to progress. This SOR movement is important and will benefit kids, it’s not flawless or some sort of educational immaculate conception. Over time new evidence will emerge, in the near term mistakes of implementation or policy will be made. The way drive progress is to embrace not shut down discussion and debate about all of that. That’s also the only way to have progress over time, allow for error and debate.
SOR proponents should be especially sensitive to these dynamics because they were shut out and shut down for decades. I get the frustration, it’s a stain on this sector that much of today’s reading debate is not new and how leaders allowed politics to infuse reading instruction. But just reflexively setting the scales the other way or salting the earth is a bad idea, if for no other reason than it needlessly creates a rallying point for opponents of evidence based reading instruction.
In a healthy field this takes care of itself as the field evolves. Geology departments do not find themselves ferreting out people who believe the world is flat or rocks are made of cheese and Chemistry departments don’t endlessly debate alchemy. We should wish for the same for education schools. We won’t get there, though, by shutting down debate.
Check Your Facts
Here’s Snopes on the “banning” of Amanda Gorman’s Inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb.” Not every account of a book banning is a false alarm, but nor should you credulously believe everything that ricochets around. I’m not saying everything that sounds outlandish or too good to check is, zealots on the right and left mean there is some crazy stuff happening, but I am saying you should check because this pattern keeps repeating.
Here’s education entrepreneur Jonathan Harber with a striped bass that barely missed being a world record for fly fishing.