Give parents an Education Savings Account with $10,000 so children can learn phonics

  • Thursday, September 26, 2019 1:53pm
  • Opinion
Liv Finne. COURTESY PHOTO

Liv Finne. COURTESY PHOTO

By Liv Finne, Washington Policy Center, for the Auburn Reporter

Teachers are still using the “whole language” method to teach reading, a method rejected two decades ago. It is settled science that deep instruction in phonics, not whole language, is the best way to teach young children to read.

The reading wars of the 1980’s led to this discovery. Back then, the argument got so heated the federal government appointed the National Reading Panel to report on what the science shows. In 2000 they reported that instruction in phonics is the best method.

Phonics instruction teaches children the sounds of letters, and of pairs of letters, to teach children how to decode new words. Whole language instruction teaches children to guess at words, using nearby pictures and context, rather than breaking down words into their parts and sounding them out.

Unfortunately, the Seattle Times reports Washington’s teachers are ignoring the science and using whole language instruction. State officials do not approve of using whole language to teach reading. Aira Jackson at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) said:

“We know how to teach children to read,” she said. “There’s really no debate anymore about what skills are necessary to learn how to read.”

But teachers resist teaching phonics because most schools of education do not educate teachers about the settled science. Some say phonics is a boring way to teach and to learn reading. Teachers who do teach phonics are going against the grain.

This has hurt children. Sixty percent of Washington’s fourth-graders score below proficient in reading on the nation’s report card, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a number that has hardly budged for 25 years.

Children need deep instruction in phonics to learn how to read confidently. Children with dyslexia, a common learning disability, especially benefit from phonics instruction.

Parents are turning to private schools to help.

For example, Our Lady of the Lake, a Catholic school in the middle-class Seattle Wedgewood neighborhood where tuition is $8,000 a year, knows how to teach kids who struggle to read and write. Vice Principal Bonnie Meyer says:

“If all teachers would use a structured literacy approach, and we did it in elementary schools, we’d see far fewer kids struggling.”

Last year the Legislature created the Dyslexia Council to make recommendations about phonics instruction. Aira Jackson of OSPI promises the Dyslexia Council will change the way reading is taught in Washington’s schools.

This promise of hope and change asks the public to engage in a kind of magical thinking, like the belief in fairies and pixie dust. It’s been 20 years since the National Panel Report, and 40 years since the reading wars. Hard experience shows the traditional public schools in our state will stick with whole language, and are likely to ignore the Dyslexia Council, just like they ignored the National Reading Panel.

Parents can’t engage in magical thinking. Their children need to learn how to read.

The solution is to give parents direct aid to help their children. That’s what real caring about the education of children would look like.

Lawmakers should give families with dyslexic students (and other students having trouble learning to read) the sum of $10,000 a year in an Education Savings Account to pay tuition at a private school that provides instruction in phonics. States like Florida, North Carolina, and Tennessee give parents Education Savings Accounts so they can help their children learn how to read. It’s time Washington did too.

Liv Finne is director of the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center (WPC), an independent, nonprofit think tank that promotes sound public policy based on free-market solutions. Through its research centers, WPC focuses on core areas of public policy, including education.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@auburn-reporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.auburn-reporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Opinion

Richard Elfers is a columnist, a former Enumclaw City Council member and a Green River College professor.
Age of insanity for the left and the right

Do you feel that, like the COVID-19 pandemic, insane behavior is spreading… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Should the King County sheriff be elected or appointed? | Roegner

The question for King County residents is more complicated than it appears.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Who will advance to the November election? | Roegner

Races underway across state and King County.

Maybe there’s one silver lining in this current dark cloud

The pandemic has revealed President Trump’s weaknesses like never before.

Cartoon by Frank Shiers
Editorial: Reopen schools in fall, but do it safely

Don’t bully schools into reopening. Protect our students.

Guests gather to view a photo of Pilchuck Julia during the naming ceremony of the Snohomish River boat landing named for her in August, 2019. (Kevin Clark / Herald file photo)
Editorial: What history is owed through our monuments

The decisions regarding whom we honor in our public squares require deliberation and consensus.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Points of contention on police inquests in King County

Inquests frequently unfold against a backdrop of sadness and drama: Family members’… Continue reading

Jayendrina Singha Ray is a PhD (ABD) in English, with a research focus on the works of the South African Nobel Laureate John Maxwell Coetzee. She teaches English Composition and Research Writing at Highline College, WA, and has previously taught English at colleges in India.
The search for selfhood

What really matters is the desire to find.

Cartoon by Frank Shiers
Editorial: Stopping COVID is now up to each of us

With a resurgence threatening, we need to take greater responsibility to keep the virus in check.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Defund the police department? | Roegner

Our country is at a defining moment in our search for true… Continue reading

Why this newspaper is capitalizing Black | Editorial

Moving forward, the Auburn Reporter will capitalize Black when referring to the… Continue reading

Doreen Davis, left in mask, waves at parade participants on May 2. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo
Wear your face-hugging, ever-loving mask | Editorial

“Don’t make me come down there.” — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo,… Continue reading