Families and their advocates across New York City are sounding the alarm that schools have fallen short of preparing all students to learn how to read.
As of Monday, 70 organizations had signed onto a “Call to Collective Action,” pledging to fight for science-backed reading instruction with proper support in all city schools.
“Every parent sends their child to school assuming they will be taught to read,” said Kim Sweet, the executive director of Advocates for Children. “Yet when students struggle, parents often have to find help on their own.”
“As a city, we need to stop accepting that unacceptable outcome and provide the literacy instruction and support needed to make all children proficient readers,” she said.
Alongside the letter, a new report from Advocates for Children on Monday pushed for coordinated efforts across the nation’s largest school system to use evidence-based literacy curriculum, and support the teachers implementing those lesson plans.
Less than half of all 3rd through 8th graders in New York City were proficient in reading in 2019, according to state test data cited in the report. National studies suggest the pandemic and school closures likely made matters worse for students already trailing literacy benchmarks.
Among the families seeking reprieve is Rosana Arteta, who has seven kids including two with dyslexia and ADHD. Arteta told The Post she first ran up against barriers to getting them reading help when her son Matias, now 20 years old, was in the fourth grade.
“I just kept saying, hey, something’s not right — my son’s not reading right,” she recalled.
Arteta, a mental health counselor, said Matias never got the support he needed to read at the same level as other kids in his grade. Matias graduated in 2020 from an alternative public high school focused on internship experience — reading at the level of a fourth grader, Arteta said. He didn’t go on to college.
Typically, schools stop prioritizing reading after the early elementary grades, even though many students don’t master the subject before third grade, according to the report. Advocates for Children also found a lack of consistency in reading instruction and teacher trainings across neighborhoods, schools and classrooms.
“Many city schools continue to use old curricula that contain ideas and teaching methods that contradict the science,” read the report. “Some employ a hodgepodge of different programs and materials, throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks and creating enormous incoherence in the process.”
But when her younger child Constanza was also diagnosed with a learning disability, Arteta wanted to make sure the current sixth grader would graduate with not only a high school diploma, but also the ability to read.
“They keep passing her because she’s meeting the goals of an adapted program,” Arteta said of Constanza’s school, the Urban Institute of Mathematics in the Bronx. “But in reality, she has the capacity to be at grade-level.”
Public statements made by the current administration suggest they could be receptive to that goal. Mayor Eric Adams, who was diagnosed with dyslexia after graduating from the city’s public school system, recently allocated an additional $7.4 million to dyslexia screening and literacy programs.
“I know from my own life the challenges that a learning disability creates for a child and how they can be overcome with early diagnosis and the right support,” said Adams in a 50-minute address at Kings Theatre last week.
Schools Chancellor David Banks has also plainly stated that the city needs to rethink its approach to literacy to stress phonics at an early age. So far, the Department of Education has employed 400 reading coaches to support elementary school teachers, and Banks recently formed a citywide task force to advise the city’s literacy initiatives.
Advocates hope to push the city further to look into all schools’ lesson plans and figure out which sites need to replace their current programs — plus provide the funds and teacher-support needed to do so. Other recommendations included a citywide literacy “safety net” with a corps of tutors to help kids who may have fallen behind, using $250 million in COVID-19 relief funding designated for academic recovery.
A few months into the pandemic, the DOE referred the Artetas to an approved non-public school with more support available — but Constanza, who uses a wheelchair, is still waiting for a placement that can meet her learning and physical needs.
In the meantime, Constanza continues to attend a school that the DOE has already determined can’t provide an appropriate education given her disabilities.
After meetings with Constanza’s teacher about her special education plan, Arteta told The Post she’s had “to take time to cry it out.”
“It’s incredibly overwhelming,” she said.
In a statement, Nicole Brownstein, the director of communications and external affairs at the DOE, said: “We are excited to continue our partnership with Advocates for Children and promote a proven, culturally responsive approach to teaching children to read and supporting students at risk of dyslexia, and we look forward to sharing more news on this soon.”