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Is your child having trouble learning to read? Gov. DeWine pushes for more emphasis on phonics

Data shows 40% of all 3rd graders in Ohio are not proficient in reading
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Posted at 4:34 PM, Mar 08, 2023

WILLOUGHBY HILLS, Ohio — The way elementary school students in Ohio learn to read could soon change after elected leaders say some of the methods being used aren't working.

Governor Mike DeWine called out in his State of the State address in January for a renewed focus on literacy, especially on a phonics-based approach.

An Ohio Department of Education report points out that 39.9% of all Ohio 3rd-grade students are not considered proficient in reading.

The announcement marks a change from what were called “new” and “progressive” approaches back to traditional phonics.

For Dr. Anna Iacovetta, an education professor at John Carroll University, it was a struggle watching her son learn to read using a balanced literacy approach, which was a different approach from how she was taught as a child and from how she trains educators in the state.

"How do you go from one week learning 'play' and the next week you go to 'because?'" Iacovetta asked. "I see how my son is learning and he’s confused. He’s just simply confused. You don’t want to see your child struggle at all. Nobody does."

What's the difference?

A phonics approach involves breaking down a word letter by letter and a student sounding out the word.

Other methods can teach words as a whole, not individual letters, based on taking context clues such as other words in a sentence or pictures as a way to recognize and remember the word.

Gov. DeWine's plan to improve literacy

"There is a great deal of research about how we learn to read and today, we understand the great value and importance of phonics," DeWine said during his State of the State. "Not all literacy curriculums are created equal, and sadly, many Ohio students do not have access to the most effective reading curriculum."

Watch DeWine's full 2023 State of the State Address below:

Dr. Stephanie Siddens, Ohio's interim state superintendent of public instruction, is in charge of implementing governor DeWine’s proposed $250 million reading investment in the budget focused on improving literacy through ideas like expanding preschool, helping train teachers and improving access to instructional resources.

Literacy support includes:

  • Early childhood education - $92.2 million in additional support over two years
  • Educator professional development - $86 million over two years
  • High-quality instructional materials - $64 million over two years
  • Literacy coaches - $18 million over two years
  • Dyslexia screener - $1.2 million in fiscal year 2025

"In Ohio, like many other states, teachers kind of were exposed to different approaches to teaching that may not have been the most effective ways," she explained. "This is really investing in a significant statewide approach."

Last year, the podcast "Sold A Story" brought the issue of how children learn to read to the forefront.

“Teachers and parents and policymakers are waking up to the fact that there’s a problem,” senior correspondent at American Public Media Emily Hanford reported in the first episode.

Skepticism over proposal

However, for Ohio Education Association President Scott DiMauro, some red flags fly up when proposing a mandated approach for Ohio’s nearly 2 million children.

DiMauro points to the failed federal “No Child Left Behind” program and the need for choices when it comes to teaching a wide learning range of students.

"It's not just enough to focus on one piece of the puzzle," he said. "When I talk to our members, I don't know anyone who is 100% pro-phonics or anti-phonics. I don't know of anyone who's 100% pro-balanced literacy or anti-balanced literacy. I think teachers use the strategies that they know work."

In Iacovetta's case, her son was being taught a hybrid or balanced approach to reading, involving some phonics lumped together with reading and spelling.

"Maybe some parents think this is truly phonics, but it’s not; it’s a mix of everything put together," she said.

DiMauro says the next steps will be key when it comes to the state possibly implementing these proposals.

"I think we all recognize that many of our students need extra support and intervention, and we should all be using strategies that are tested based on research and not simply a reflection of the shiny object that a particular publisher or curriculum provider does a good job in marketing to different school districts," DiMauro explained. "This is the time for respect and mutual support, not a time to point fingers and to focus on things that aren't working. Let's really focus on what does work together. It is the state's job fundamentally to set the learning standards for what our students should know and be able to do. And it's up to local school districts to decide what is the best curriculum and instructional strategy to get them there. "

Clay LePard is a special projects reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow him on Twitter @ClayLePard or on Facebook Clay LePard News 5

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