A battle over how to teach kids to read is playing out in Philly-area classrooms. Parents are losing trust

Maddie Hanna, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Lifestyles

PHILADELPHIA — As a first grader, Beth Taylor’s son had struggled to read. But in the years that followed, the Radnor Township School District suggested Taylor shouldn’t worry: Her son was close to reading at grade level, meeting the goals set by the district.

His main problem, teachers told her, was his behavior: “If he would just focus,” was the refrain Taylor often heard.

By eighth grade, the district determined her son no longer needed support with reading — noting adequate scores on reading comprehension tests. But Taylor saw he was still having trouble, as she spent hours at night battling him to complete homework assignments.

With the help of an advocate, Taylor asked the district to give her son specific tests that focused on basic reading skills. The findings were very different: As a ninth grader, her son had difficulty sounding out words and was reading at a fourth-grade level — somewhere above From Seed to Plant, but below The Little Prince.

Taylor was stunned that her son was so far behind — and that her top-ranked, well-resourced school district hadn’t caught it.

“If this is how it’s going with my kid,” she said, “how is it going with any other school district?”


The push for a new approach to reading

Around Philadelphia and nationally, a growing movement of parents and advocates have been challenging whether their schools know how to teach a basic skill: how to read.

And the roadblock isn’t necessarily whether districts have the money to do so.

The prevailing approach to teaching reading, for at least several decades, has been grounded in the idea that children can learn to read relatively naturally: Let them immerse themselves in books they choose, with guidance from teachers, and they’ll develop a love of reading. It’s a method often described as “balanced literacy.”


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