Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed an overhaul of how reading is taught in public schools across New York on Wednesday, previewing the second major proposal of her annual State of the State address, set for next week.
Hochul’s “Back to Basics” plan will require school districts across the Empire State to adopt the literacy curriculum known as the “Science of Reading,” a method that focuses on teaching phonics, decoding, vocabulary and comprehension. The announcement follows Hochul on Tuesday previewing other State of the State proposals to eliminate insulin copays and strengthen consumer protections.
During a Wednesday morning news conference unveiling the proposal at an Albany school, the governor said the way reading is taught in New York needs to change because the current method is leaving too many children without the necessary literacy skills. Less than half of New York’s third graders were proficient in reading on state tests over the past year, according to state data.
“Today we’re going to turn the page on how we teach young people to read,” Hochul said. “If you can’t read, people struggle in school, it’s hard to find a good paying job someday. But if you can read, so many doors open for you, right? You can go to college, you can go get skills, you can go work any place you want to work.”
The move would return the state to using the Science of Reading, which was the common way to teach literacy up until the past couple of decades when there was a pivot to another method known as “Balanced Literacy.” That approach, which focussed on teaching children to read independently and less through phonics, has increasingly been discredited by education experts.
‘You have to learn the basics first’
To illustrate the importance of first teaching the fundamentals of reading, Hochul compared learning how to read to picking up a new instrument.
“If you’re taking piano lessons for example, you have to learn the basics first,” Hochul said. “You don’t just go listen to some beautiful concert music from Beethoven and say ‘oh I can go do that.’ You have to learn the fundamentals, you have to learn the basics, no one questions that. We’re gonna make sure that our kids learn the basics.”
Hochul said she plans to pursue the curriculum change by introducing legislation, which will be included in her Fiscal Year 2025 budget, that will direct the state Education Department to draft best practices for teaching the Science of Reading. School districts around the state will be required to adopt those practices by next year.
It will be implemented at the earliest grade levels, Hochul said, due to it being harder for children to catch up if they are not proficient in reading by the third grade.
The governor’s plan also includes an allocation of $10 million to train 20,000 teachers and teaching assistants on the Science of Reading curriculum. Furthermore, the plan will expand teacher training on the method in SUNY and CUNY education programs.
The move follows similar actions by over 30 states and even New York City, which transitioned to the curriculum at the start of the current school year after Mayor Eric Adams announced the switch last spring. However, the city’s version of the curriculum has been criticized by some parents and educators as rigid and uninteresting.
Hochul already appears to have support from some Albany lawmakers, who she needs to pass the measure.
Assemblymember Robert Carroll (D-Brooklyn), who often speaks about the importance of child literacy, commended Hochul for the plan’s focus on training teachers in the Science of Reading method.
“I have been a staunch advocate for following the science of reading and as person with dyslexia know first-hand how important the use of evidence-based methods are,” Carroll said, in a statement. “The research is clear that all students do better when teachers are trained on the science of reading and evidence-based practices are implemented with fidelity and I look forward to continuing to work with the Governor to make this the reality in New York State.”