Lucy Calkins Retires on Phonics in Fight Over Reading Curriculum
The program, which will go on sale this summer, also includes a 20-page guide for teachers summarizing 50 years of cognitive research on reading.
“We’re all imperfect,” she said in an interview at her office, perched above the Columbia campus. “Over the past two or three years, what I’ve learned about the science of reading work has been transformational.”
It may not inspire political campaign ads like critical race theory does, but the debate about how to teach children to read – perhaps the foundational skill of all schooling – has been equally consuming for some parents, educators and policy makers. Over the decades, classroom practice has moved back and forth, phonetics moving in and out of style.
Margaret Goldberg, a Bay Area literacy coach and leader in the science reading movement, said Professor Calkins’ changes cannot undo the harm done to generations of students. Even before the pandemic deepened educational inequities, only a third of U.S. fourth and eighth graders were reading at the grade level. Black, Hispanic and low-income children have suffered the most.
“So many teachers like me have believed that a teacher at Teachers College, an Ivy League institution, should know about reading research,” she said. “The fact that she was disconnected from this research is proof of the problem.”
How Professor Calkins came to influence tens of millions of children is, in a sense, the story of education in America. Unlike many developed countries, the United States does not have a national curriculum or teacher education standards. Local politics are constantly changing as governors, school boards, mayors and superintendents move in and out of jobs.
Amidst this turnover, a single charismatic thinker, supported by universities and publishing houses, can wield enormous power over how children learn and what they learn.