Explain It To Me: Huge Steps Forward toward Reading Reform at Bipartisan Hearing

Mar 3, 2023 | Wisconsin Voices Blog

Additional context from IRG’s Senior Research Director Quinton Klabon

What happened? Cheers to Rep. Kitchens, Sen. Jagler, DPI, and Dr. Burk for a remarkable, newsworthy hearing on fixing reading for students! In short, Department of Public Instruction officials publicly signaled new support for literacy best practices. DPI put many IRG priorities on the table, including appropriate levels of in-school reading coaches, universal “screeners” to identify strugglers (something Gov. Evers previously vetoed), streamlined reading recovery plans for those strugglers, and revising how education majors learn to teach. What remains are fixing our Forward Exam, which overestimates how many kids are reading well, and exclusively using phonics-based curricula backed by research. DPI argued that some districts use bad curricula but get good scores, which is like saying that you can eat 6 patty melts a day but still run an 8-minute mile. It may be true, but short-term and long-term results would improve if you got everything on track. View the hearing here, and thanks to all who got Wisconsin to this new high.

Why is it important? As you already know, Wisconsin is way, way behind in reading. Few states teach reading like we do, with states like Ohio becoming the latest to do things the right way. Florida and Mississippi pioneered phonics as the way forward and now have the 2 highest reading scores in the nation despite being 46th and 44th in per pupil spending, adjusted for cost of living. Wisconsin is 17th in spending but in the middle of the pack in reading.

What’s next? The Department of Public Instruction is friendlier to phonics now than it has been, and Governor Evers and Speaker Vos have indicated that it is a place where they can get things done. Let’s not be the last in America to figure this out!