Ohio Gov Pushes for Science of Reading as Only Approach

Ohio could soon join the rush of states requiring schools to use the “science of reading” in all its classrooms by fall 2024 — going even further than many states by banning other literacy approaches that have lost credibility. 

Currently, state law allows districts to teach reading however they want. Under his proposed bill, Gov. Mike DeWine would force them to pick only phonics-based science of reading materials from a list the Ohio Department of Education will create. DeWine has also asked the state legislature to ban use of any “three cueing” materials or lessons — an approach considered the foundation of popular teaching methods known as whole language, balanced literacy or, particularly in Ohio, reading recovery. 

“The jury has returned,” DeWine, a Republican, said in his State of the State speech where he led off his address with the importance of the science of reading. “The evidence is clear. The verdict is in.”

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

DeWine is seeking $129 million from the legislature to retrain teachers and replace elementary school textbooks. 

With hearings on the bill just beginning, it’s still unclear whether DeWine’s ban, which other states are also considering, will win support. 

While DeWine’s plan to back the science of reading won strong applause at his speech and praise from some Republicans, there has been no debate yet on his ban, which only became public when bill language was released a week ago. And one of the state’s teachers unions has raised concerns about mandating a single approach to teaching reading. There could also be logistical issues to such a dramatic shift going into effect in less than 19 months.

How many Ohio schools or teachers will need to change how reading is taught remains unclear: The state does not track how many teachers are trained in the science of reading or how many elementary schools are using it to teach children. The state education department could only say that “many” teachers are not trained in the science of reading.

Additionally, the state’s Department of Higher Education said  it does not know which reading methods colleges and universities are training prospective teachers in.

DeWine’s ban also puts Ohio State University’s reading recovery, a widely used reading intervention program based on three-cueing, in his crosshairs. Officials of the program did not respond to requests for comment.

The so-called “reading wars” of the last decade have pitched supporters of phonics against those who back related methods like whole language and balanced literacy in which students are taught to guess words they don’t know from cues such as context, pictures or letters.

“This story was produced by The 74, a non-profit, independent news organization focused on education in America.

Learn more about the science of reading.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash.

Patrick O’Donnell is a correspondent at The 74, covering the impact of the pandemic on America's education system @paodonne patrick@the74million.org

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