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Changing how we teach kids to read

New York Teacher
Mary Vaccaro

Mary Vaccaro
VP for Education

Learning to read is one of the fundamental purposes of education, but for many years the Department of Education did not give New York City teachers and students the resources and curricula they needed to ensure that every student would become a successful reader. The result has been that half of city students in grades 3–8 are not reading at grade level. Our union agrees that urgent change is necessary.

By next September, the DOE will require the use of one of three evidence-based literacy programs grounded in phonics in all elementary and middle schools: HMH Into Reading, Expeditionary Learning Education or Wit & Wisdom. Elementary and middle schools in 15 community school districts and District 75 will begin using these curricula this fall, with the remaining districts making the transition in September 2024. This quick rollout will be a challenge, but we have heard from many of you that this shift to phonics in our schools is long overdue.

To make sure this important effort succeeds, it’s essential that the DOE provide educators with appropriate, ongoing professional development opportunities to support them. To kick things off, the UFT Teacher Center designed and offered a free course this summer on the science of reading.

Over two weeks in July, I was excited to welcome hundreds of New York City public school educators to Shanker Hall at UFT headquarters for “Reading for All: The Science of Reading Across Curriculums.” The course, which was a mix of in-person and virtual sessions, introduced participants to these new curricula. The teachers learned techniques each curriculum offers to support the development of foundational literacy skills such as connecting sounds with symbols and understanding how prefixes and suffixes are used in vocabulary. Participants also found out about additional digital resources, learned strategies to address their students’ social-emotional needs, and received guidance on how to use these curricula with diverse groups of learners. Teachers of English language learners were especially excited to learn about how to use translation technology to ensure that their students had full access to the new curricula.

Now that September is here, the DOE must ensure that all educators using the new curricula this school year have the help they need to make a successful transition. The UFT Teacher Center is committed to doing everything it can to support them. We have 16 new Teacher Center district coaches who will provide regular assistance to educators in the 15 community school districts and District 75 who do not have a Teacher Center based in their building. The Teacher Center will also offer literacy workshops and office hours throughout the year. And teachers in schools with a Teacher Center site coach will receive ongoing professional development tailored to their school’s specific needs.

Changing how we teach reading in every classroom is no small feat. But the research tells us that we must forge ahead down this path to ensure that every New York City public school student has the opportunity to become a confident and fluent reader. Your union and the UFT Teacher Center are here to support you every step of the way.

UFT provides support for phonics-based curricula

Hundreds of UFT members took advantage of a free UFT Teacher Center course on the science of reading in July. The course, which combined in-person and virtual learning, was part of the union’s effort to support educators as the Department of Education embarks on a major change in how reading is taught in elementary schools.