'NYC is lost. Totally.'

The following letter (sent via iPhone) is from Marilyn T., a teacher.  She has worked in the greater New York City area for many years and wants everyone to know how debased and crazy our classrooms have become.  She sums it up this way: “NYC is lost. Totally.”

Every American should be keenly concerned about understanding and saving New York City, because your own city is probably using the same bad methods and heading toward the same level of failure. 

The letter:

Rather than choose what works in our schools, we are often using poorly designed programs in order to meet some philosophical ideal. Cohesive Curriculum is now the buzz. Unfortunately too often our administration chooses weak programs because of the philosophical ideal rather than the efficacy of the program. 

Presently the administration spent thousands on a reading program which throws sight-words and phonics at the students simultaneously. Mixing these two at equal strength can set students years behind because sight-word instruction confuses decoding instruction. Rather a seamless program that is phonetic, systematic and explicit is best.

Sitting in a meeting about teaching reading with teachers who are not trained is painful. Today a first-grade teacher told the group that she thinks the kids should read a list of 50 sight-words in September to see if they can read. I tried to push the phonics assessments but the teachers believe this might be a waste of time since the administration is only concerned about the ‘level’ students are reading at.  The Fountas and Pinnell  leveled books are NOT diagnostic, that is, they do not tell us any useful information regarding word attack skills and systematic decoding ability; however this is how we are assessing our students. 

When the lead teacher asserted that our third-grade students are severely lacking word attack skills, the early childhood teachers didn’t seem to understand that their main job of teaching their students this important skill needs their utmost attention and study. 

In fact, a first-grade teacher remarked that she often prefers teaching sight-words because some kids get so frustrated with her phonics instruction. Sadly, this is the norm, simply because these teachers are not well-trained in how to teach students to read with a fun and powerful phonetic, systematic, program. This is not the teacher’s fault because they are told to do this and they are not properly trained or guided. 

In fact, poor beginning reading instruction is encouraged by the administration. For example, an administrator told the teachers that ‘picture walks are so important so kids can learn to read.’ This, in fact, is not true. The pictures in our books are there to enhance the written words. The written words must be decoded with extreme accuracy so that the author’s story is properly told. These picture walks encourage students to GUESS at the words, not crack the code. 

NYC has a decade of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Workshop culture in its pedagogy. Our new chancellor is a staunch supporter of this whole language methodology. It was created by the controversial Lucy Calkins.  People are starting to complain that she is ‘legally insane.’ Appropriately enough.

We have leadership that knows nothing and leaves us with poorly designed garbage and no one to train. We need all our teachers to undergo a training like LETRS (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling).

Then we need leadership that pushes what works! We have neither! It’s exhausting to work with these people.

I know an aide who works closely with a principal. She tells me the following, ‘He wants the kids to fail because that's where the money is; he gets more money for Special Ed so he wants to keep his Special Ed classes full.... He doesn't want them to learn to read. The charters are taking all the kids so he wants to have Special Ed and ELL classes to fill the school. That's where the money is.’ Honest! This is what she says. 

The charters are taking the kids, that's for sure. He needs to keep his register up to keep his job, so he keeps the special ed and the ELL machine working. Also, parents look to get their kids classified because they get extra money for the Special Ed classification. The situation is fairly depressing.

CODA: Marilyn T. has worked in corporate America and believes that the business world would fire her superintendent and principal for their lackluster results.  Her main point is that you have to use phonics.  She feels that any program of systematic phonics will do a better job than any of the programs used by the entire school system of New York City.

Bruce Deitrick Price  explains educational theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org.