Schools Move to Reintroduce Phonics in Reading

School districts such as Oakland, California, had shifted from phonetic reading instruction at the request of teachers who felt constrained by the curriculum.

Teacher Kareem Weaver described the sentiment at the time as, “This seems dehumanizing, this is colonizing, this is the man telling us what to do. Those who wanted to fight for social justice, they figured that this new progressive way of teaching reading was the way.” 

Seven years after the district moved to emphasize “rich literary experiences,” teachers are leading the effort to move back to phonics as the basis for learning to read. The trend is nation-wide, with 18 states having passed laws in the last two years to require phonics usage.

Many school districts felt compelled to act when confronted with low literacy rates, even before pandemic disruptions took their toll. Only 35% of 4th grade children were at the appropriate reading level in 2019, with rates lower in minority communities. 

Weaver praised the return to phonics, commenting, “There have been choices made where our children were not in the center. We abandoned what worked because we didn’t like how it felt to us as adults, when actually, the social-justice thing to do is to teach them explicitly how to read.”

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