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California School District Spends Millions and Most Students Can’t Read

In the abstract, the picture appears great on paper. It appears that the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) has a spending budget of $750million that is supposed to teach around 34,835 students. It is more than $21,000 for each pupil. The district is not only adequately funded, but it is managed by a big-headed administrator who earns the benefits and salary package that is worth more than $425,500 per year. What is the reason why the elementary schools of this district rank in the lower 50 percent among all California schools, and boast average literacy of 34percent, compared with the average for state schools of 50 percent? What is the reason that only 18 percent of Black students and 23 percent of Hispanic students are on track to read by fourth grade?

The truth is that what is at fault is a spoiled bunch of educators who place SJW trends over the well-being of their children. The story is based on an unlikely source: an article in TIME Magazine titled “Inside the Massive Effort to Change the Way that Children are Taught to Read.” The headline is misleading since it's actually about a rebellion against the insanity that has impeded students from mastering a basic ability.

As an educator at the school in Oakland, California, Kareem Weaver was able to help struggling fourth and fifth grade students learn to read making use of a highly structured literacy program that was based on phonics, known as Open Court. It was effective for the kids, however, it wasn't so great for teachers. “For seven years in a row, Oakland was the fastest-gaining urban district in California for reading,” says Weaver. “And we hated it.”

The teachers were viewed as robotic curriculum agents, and pushed back. “This seems dehumanizing, this is colonizing, this is the man telling us what to do,” says Weaver in describing their reaction to the method. “So we fought tooth and nail as a teacher group to throw that out.” It was replaced in 2015 with the curriculum that was based on the richness of literature. “Those who wanted to fight for social justice, they figured that this new progressive way of teaching reading was the way,” says the teacher.

Now Weaver is leading an initiative to force his former school district to bring back some of the practices which teachers had a hard time resisting, specifically the systematic and consistent teaching in phonics and phonemic awareness. “In Oakland, when you have 19% of Black kids reading–that can't be maintained in the society,” Weaver says. Weaver who got an early, vivid lesson on the importance of literacy in 1984 when his cousin was released from prison and informed him that other prisoners had stopped yelling at him after they discovered he could read their messages to them. “It has been an unmitigated disaster.” In January 2021, the local chapter of the NAACP filed an administrative complaint with the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) to request it for “explicit instruction for phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension” within its curriculum.

This raises the question: if you are not willing to teach children how to read by combining words with symbols and speaking them out loud until they've been proficient, what's your strategy?

There are a variety of opinions regarding the best way to assist in this endeavor, however the most common disagreement has been on whether children should be taught to pronounce words clearly or, if you provide them with enough time and examples, they'll discover patterns. This latter view, also called whole language, states that teaching phonics can be tedious and monotonous and a lot of English words are not in line with the guidelines. However, if you involve children in beautiful tales you'll inspire them to break the code and be able to identify every word. It is counter-arguable that reading is as linked with hearing just as sight is. It all begins with phonics, according to a phonics advocate, and speech. This concept, as well as the evidence that supports it, has been referred to as the study of reading.

The debate was supposed to have ended in the year 2000, when The National Reading Panel, a large collection of specialists in reading who reviewed hundreds of studies on the kinds of instruction kids require to be able to read, published the report. It recommended that explicit instruction be given in the areas that the petition demands the following: the phonetic awareness of phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. This was a win for the camp for phonics. It's not the same thing to say that an end to war and another thing to divide territories.

The article continues to give a comprehensive overview of what States are doing in order to return to the fundamentals of education.

I don't think that the problem as outlined from Weaver is that unique. What is happening to teaching is not all that different from what is happening to many professions. While children undergo Third Grade reading once (hopefully) and for teachers it's an experience that is a Groundhog Day experience. If they decide to make it a career, then they'll be teaching this same class, using the same method, for about 45 years. This is the reason why police departments are able to have “taskforces,” SWAT teams as well as kiddie porn viewing groups and many manpower sumps, all at the expense of police in patrol cars and on the streets. The cop may walk through the streets a couple of times. The cop is doing every day throughout his career. As a junior lieutenant in what was at the time a “Basic” Combat Training battalion (Fort Leonard Wood, MO), drill sergeants were looking to take a break from marching on the road and were also teaching close order drills and marksmanship for rifles since they were doing every week. However, when they strayed from their tried-and-true methods, the trainee test scores plummeted.

The reason why the issue of teaching reading is so harmful is that without reading there is nothing else that can be done. It is not possible to catch up until the child is reading. Should you be a believer in “school-to-prison pipeline” bullsh**, this is the place where the process begins. Children leave school at around the age of nine because they are unable to comprehend the concepts they're taught in every class. If we have a good idea of what works, we're giving the teachers who believe they're superior to their students to stifle a generation of children because they're bored and arrogant and spoiled to stick to a program.

The other week, I wrote about Ron DeSantis' new program to help veterans enter Florida's classrooms. Ron DeSantis' Veterans-to-Teachers Program is a brilliant Idea, if not for one major flaw. In the post I wrote:

I'm a big fan of anything that draws people who are normal in the classroom, who spend more time instilling the fundamentals of education into students, rather than telling them stories of sexual exploitation. But the solution to our educational system's problems isn't in putting bandages on a chest injury that is sucking by increasing the number of candidates. The solution lies in innovative educational models which aren't subject to fashions or trends, and do not create barriers that keep skilled and committed people away from the classroom.

Teaching techniques in the critical areas such as math and reading shouldn't be left to innovators in the field of academic education, or the ignorant who are drawn to the field of education in the same way that Lint is drawn to Velcro. The basics of teaching are not the place to be able to showcase your personal theories or show your originality. Until, and unless, we solve the issue of teachers who refuse to adhere to an approach that is effective instead of a system which makes them feel happy and feel good about themselves, we will continue to spend billions of dollars on an unworkable system that doesn't work because it doesn't perform as intended.

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