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New York City rolling out new method to teach reading to all students: Phonics-based curriculum

NYC public schools changing reading curriculum for young students
NYC public schools changing reading curriculum for young students 02:27

NEW YORK - New York City Public Schools are embarking on a dramatic shift on how they teach reading, seeking to rectify a literary crisis. 

Half of students in grades 3-8 fail reading tests, and minority students are even less proficient. 

It's a pet project of Mayor Eric Adams, who was taunted as a child because he couldn't read. 

The way reading is taught in New York City public schools is about to make a 180-degree shift, from a system that teaches children to use picture clues to guess words to a phonics-based system that teaches kids to decode letters. 

"We are not going to allow another Eric to sit in a classroom, resenting, having his opportunities and believing his best day is when the teacher does not call on him," Adams said. 

The mayor was mocked mercilessly as a child because he couldn't read. He was dyslexic, and both he and the chancellor are determined to change the fact that the present way reading is taught has left too many students behind. 


  • 51% of city students can't read, but it's worse for minority students;
  • 64% of Black students fail reading tests,
  • And 63% of Hispanic students fail reading tests, also.

"They aren't reading because we've been giving our schools and our educators a flawed playbook," Schools Chancellor David Banks said. "With overlapping, contradictory, and sometimes just flat-out bad guidance." 

The program, which will be phased in over two years, will offer superintendents the choice of three different phonics-based programs, but every school in the district will teach reading in the same way. There's also a promise to provide teachers with specialized training. 

Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said that will be key. 

"We said no more drive-by training. It has to be embedded, and it has to be throughout the entire year. Now that's the plan. Again, I give the chancellor credit for saying 'You know what? I'm tackling this,'" Mulgrew said. 

But while the teachers union is supporting the switch, the principals union is not. 

"We don't agree that mandating a single curriculum across a given school district is how to reach this critical objective," president Henry Rubio said in a statement.

Knowing the move was controversial, officials convened a group of community leaders to praise its boldness. 

"Today in Brooklyn, hope was born again in the form of this plan to rescue our children from a system that had been failing," Rev. Jacques DeGraff said. 

The move places New York City at the forefront of trying to rectify a national literacy crisis. According to the chancellor, many places have the same problem. In Detroit, 91% of students are not reading at grade level. In Chicago, it's 80%. 

According to the chancellor, there are troubling side effects of the inability to read. He pointed out that 70% of incarcerated adults read below fourth grade level. 

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