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Letter: Parents Need to Question Curriculum at Beecher Road School

Beecher Road School has used Columbia Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Workshop (TCRW) for the past decade.  The program works upon the premise that children learn to read naturally and it needs to be coaxed out of children.  It is based on the philosophy of the Whole Language Approach.  However, this approach has been found to not be the most effective way to teach children how to read.

In 1997, the United States Congress commissioned the National Institute of Child and Human Development to work with the U.S. Department of Education to establish a National Reading Panel that would evaluate existing research and evidence to find the best ways of teaching children how to read.  The National Reading Panel was made of 14 members which included lead researchers on reading, reading specialists, teachers and administrators.  They reviewed over 110,000 studies on how children best learn to read.  This is what they found, “Systematic and explicit phonics instruction is more effective than non-systematic or no phonics instruction.  Systematic and explicit phonics instruction significantly improves kindergarten, first-grade children’s word recognition, spelling and reading comprehension levels.  In addition, systematic and explicit phonics instruction is beneficial for children who are having difficulty learning to read and who are at risk for developing future reading problems.”

The panel also found that literature-based programs such as TCRW that emphasize reading and writing activities only focused on phonics incidentally.  According to the founder of TCRW Lucy Culkins, phonics instruction is “drill and kill”.  No independent non-biased study has been done on TCRW to show its effectiveness.

In response to this research, The Connecticut State Department of Education sent out a memo asking districts to not use the whole language approach.  My question to the Board of Education for the Town of Woodbridge was why is such an approach used with our children when it is not recommended?  When I spoke at a meeting in July 2016, there was no response.  In fact the video tape of the meeting went missing.

At a recent report to the Board of Selectman, Beecher Road School reported that there has been in increase in children needing special education services.  So my other question is, do these children need help or does the way we TEACH our children need help?

Michelle Cubanski

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