COLUMBUS, Ohio — APRIL 06: Second grade teacher Bernadette Monroe talks to her students during a visit by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, Principal Miracle Reynolds (left), and Interim Superintendent/CEO of Columbus City Schools, Dr. Angela Chapman, to observe the implementation of the Science of Reading program, April 6, 2023, at Southwood Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)
Ohio students will learn how to read using the science of reading.
The state’s two-year, $191 billion budget that Gov. Mike DeWine signed earlier this month includes a chunk of money that goes toward implementing the science of reading, which is based on decades of research that shows how the human brain learns to read and incorporates phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
The science of reading provisions in the budget include $86 million for educator professional development, $64 million for curriculum and instructional materials, and $18 million for literacy coaches.
Ohio now joins more than 30 states and the District of Columbia that have passed or implemented new policies related to evidence-based reading since 2013, according to Education Week.
“I believe we are doing more to support and encourage Ohio’s children to lead happy, healthy, and productive lives than ever before,” DeWine said in a statement. “Whether it is helping them get the healthiest start in life … to ensuring their teachers have the resources and skills needed to teach students how to read in the way their brains learn to read.”
Teacher unions and advocates are generally optimistic this will help students learn how to read, but have some concerns as well.
“The research indicates that these methods are better methods for our students,” said Ohio Federation of Teachers President Melissa Cropper. “I think we should be cautious in thinking this is going to be a silver bullet and see a drastic improvement in test scores overnight. … It is going to take time.”
DeWine has previously said that 40% of Ohio’s third-graders are not proficient in reading and 33% of third graders were not proficient in reading before COVID-19.
“There’s no magic wand to this,” Ohio Education Association President Scott DiMauro said. “What I’m afraid of is, if this isn’t implemented the right way, there could be a license for litigation. Something that should be very collaborative and should be very student-focused could be weaponized against teachers if not done well.”
He said the science of reading provisions don’t address some of the underlying challenges some students deal with such as chronic absenteeism.
The Ohio Department of Education is tasked with compiling a list of curriculum and instructional materials that align with the science of reading. Ohio schools must start using those materials by the 2024-25 school year.
“The Department is investing in tutoring, assisting districts in selecting high-quality instructional materials and creating professional development opportunities for literacy instruction,” spokesperson Lacey Snoke said in an email. “We also are in the process of adding 100 additional literacy coaches who will help schools with the lowest reading proficiency rates. All activities will be implemented to ensure alignment to the science of reading.”
It’s not clear what each individual Ohio school district currently uses when it comes to the reading curriculum, so the budget requires ODE to collect information on the curriculum, materials and reading intervention programs public schools are using.
Because of those unknowns, DiMauro said there could be a change in as many as 90% of Ohio schools or there could be a change in only 10% of schools.
“Until we see that list, the practical impact on schools is really hard to predict,” DiMauro said.
The budget includes stipends for teachers to go through professional development in the science of reading.
K-5 teachers, English language teachers in grades 6-12, intervention specialists, English learner teachers, reading specialists and instructional coaches will receive $1,200 stipends. There will also be $400 stipends for middle and high schoolers teachers in other subject areas.
All teachers and administrators must complete their professional development by July 2025, unless they have already completed a similar course.
Cropper was glad the Ohio Senate put more money back in the budget for the stipends, but said it’s “a bit of an overreach” to require all teachers go through the professional development. She thinks a better use of those funds would be to invest more in reading specialists who can work with older students.
The budget will also fund 100 literacy coaches who will help public schools with the lowest level of proficiency in literacy based on their performance in the state’s English language arts assessment.
The coaches will be under the direction of ODE, but won’t be employed by the department.
“I really hope the department finds a way to hire literacy coaches from within the district they already reside in so that we are not creating a shortage of teachers in high-needs areas,” Cropper said. “We already have a teacher shortage and my fear is that we’ll take the 100 best reading teachers in the state, pull them out of their district and use them across the state, creating a void in places where they are needed.”
The budget bans teachers from using the “three-cueing approach” in lessons unless a district or a school receives a waiver from the education department or a student has an individualized education program that specifically includes the “three-cueing approach.”
The budget defines the “three-cueing approach” as any model of teaching students to read based on meaning, structure and syntax, and visual cues.
The three-cueing method encourages children to read words by asking three questions: Does it make sense? Does it sound right? Does it look right?
Louisiana, Arkansas and Virginia have laws that ban curriculum that includes three-cueing.
President of the Columbus branch of the International Dyslexia Association Mike McGovern remembers when he first learned about three-cueing.
“I thought they could not be teaching that way,” he said. “That’s just absurd.”
But both state teacher’s unions don’t like how the budget bans a specific way to teach reading.
“We are disappointed that they felt the need to have to put a ban in place instead of trusting teachers to take advantage of the professional development and resources that are going to be available to them,” Cropper said. “We would have preferred to have that ban taken out.”
She said putting a ban in place “gives an opportunity in this politically charged climate for someone to weaponize that ban against our educators.”
Educator training programs
The budget requires the Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor to create an audit process that documents how every educator training program aligns with teaching the science of reading instruction. The audit must be completed with summaries publicly released by March 31.
The Chancellor will also be able to rescind the approval of educator training programs that don’t align with teaching the science of reading instruction a year after the initial audit, and programs would be evaluated every four years.
McGovern is thrilled the science of reading is now the law in Ohio.
“Science of reading really is the way you teach reading to all kids in the classroom,” he said.
McGovern’s adult son has dyslexia and said this law would have helped him greatly.
“He desperately wanted to read Harry Potter, but he couldn’t,” McGovern said. “If he didn’t have to go through that struggle of having to spell and read, his emotional well being and anxiety would have been just fantastic.”
Colleen Speer has seen how the science of reading has helped her third grade son with dyslexia and is glad the rest of her three children without dyslexia — an eighth grader, a fifth grader and a toddler — will also reap the benefits.
“This is going to benefit all kids,” she said. “This is not like a dyslexia only issue.”
Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on Twitter.
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