DeWine wants all schools to use science-based reading approach

It’s not clear how much change would happen under the proposal as several schools already use phonics.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine wants all school districts in Ohio to adopt a reading curriculum based in science and is making that idea one of his top priorities in his budget proposal.

“Sadly, many Ohio students do not have access to the most effective reading curriculum,” DeWine said in his most recent State of the State speech. “So in our budget, we’re making sure that all Ohio children have access to curriculum that is aligned with the evidence-based approaches of the science of reading.”

The new requirement would mean all public and charter schools could only use a reading curriculum approved by the Ohio Department of Education. It prohibits what is commonly referred to as a whole word approach, which teaches kids to read by memorizing words. Ohio doesn’t currently regulate what programs school districts can and can’t use for reading.

DeWine said the budget would direct the Ohio Department of Education to work on a plan informed by research and evidence to ensure all Ohio students have access to curriculum giving them the best chance of success.

Under the plan, charter schools would also get money to pay for curriculum based on the science of reading and for teacher professional development.

In the 2021-22 school year, 59.8% of third grade students tested proficient in reading, while in the 2018-19 school year — the last one before the pandemic — 66.7% of third-graders tested proficient in reading. Proficient means that a student can read the words and understand what they mean.

Eighteen school districts in the region had reading proficiency scores below the state average as of last year, according to the state.

DeWine, as governor of Ohio, can’t pass the budget. But the idea he is proposing has been gaining traction.

State Senator Andrew Brenner, R-Delaware, and the chair of the Senate Education committee, said he is currently working on a bill that would cover the science of reading.

Several area school districts already use phonics-based approaches, which generally fall under the science-backed approaches. Huber Heights, for example, started a new curriculum recently, switching from one phonics approach to a different one, and retrained their teachers to use it. Many area school districts, including Centerville, had already required teachers to use a phonics-based approach for several years.

Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association, one of Ohio’s largest teachers’ unions, said it’s not clear yet what the practical implications are for teachers across the state. He said he doesn’t think anyone at the state level knows exactly how many districts have not yet gone in the phonics direction.

“Without having that information on the front end, it is really hard to know whether this is just simply reinforcing what’s already happening, whether it’s picking out just a relatively small number of districts that haven’t gone this direction yet, or if it’s going to be a wholesale change of direction,” DiMauro said.

Ohio has been making changes to the way reading is taught in schools already. Under a state law that goes into effect next year, schools across Ohio will administer a one-time dyslexia screening for all students in kindergarten through grade three.

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