Perspective | We need a common understanding of the science of reading
By Johanna Anderson, Dennis Davis, Rebecca Lee Payne Jordan and Kimberly Anderson - Posted Apr 12, 2021
Foreward from Johanna Anderson, Executive Director of The Belk Foundation
Since 2013, The Belk Foundation has been focused on early grade reading achievement. Our approach leans heavily on our grantee partners, educators, and experts to guide us toward high impact ways to invest and uphold our mission. Much of our learning in recent years has been understanding the research base, commonly referred to as the “science of reading,” and the ways evidence-based strategies are used in teaching children to read. The body of research is vast, evolving, and highly nuanced. That’s why I was so disheartened to see the recent oversimplified and combative coverage of our state’s momentum related to better applying this research to support reading instruction.
I wanted to write a response to clarify the research, explain why it matters and why we should be hopeful by the collective action in our state towards applying it. As I sat down to write, though, I realized that I’d be repeating a practice I’m trying to confront: not elevating the very experts who are some of our most valuable resources in this work.
Fortunately, three dedicated and knowledgeable experts in reading instruction answered my call to collaborate on a clarification statement on the science of reading. It’s their voices, and the voices of our effective teachers, literacy coaches, school leaders, and faculty, that too often get drowned out in conversations about literacy improvement. I am grateful for their willingness to help present the vast, evolving, and highly nuanced research base in a more digestible way for folks like me. And with that, I pass the pen.
North Carolina, we need a common understanding of what the “science of reading” really means.
In the past week, much has been written and said in reaction to the reference to science of reading in the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021. We’ve heard it called a phonics-based approach, a program, and even the victor in a long-running battle. Let’s be clear: Very few educators in North Carolina are resistant to using rigorous evidence to inform how reading is taught. But there is discomfort among many educators — including educational leaders and researchers — with the way the term “science of reading” has been politicized. Many of us worry that it has been turned into a catchy slogan — a bumper sticker that oversimplifies an immense body of scientific research about one of the most amazing and sophisticated human accomplishments: learning to read.