What are the “Reading Wars” and How Can the Education Community Help Schools Navigate Them?

U.S. education is in the midst of a resurgence of what has been dubbed the “Reading Wars.” For more than 40 years, there has been a conflict between proponents of explicit phonics instruction – structured literacy – and those who promote the whole-language approach. The heightened focus on this debate may have been ignited by Emily Hanford’s American Public Media “Sold A Story” podcast. Or it may have been brought on by an increased spotlight on student achievement, exacerbated by learning loss resulting from the disruption of the pandemic.

Using an evidence-based approach to structured literacy instruction –  called the “science of reading” – has become law in more than 30 states in the last few years. And while the 2022 NAEP scores for reading weren’t as dismal as they were for math, they also didn’t demonstrate growth in literacy skills development.

While the experts continue their debate, teachers, school leaders, parents, and students are experiencing major changes in literacy instruction. Whether your company does or doesn’t provide programs for teaching reading, you can still support teachers, schools, and families as they navigate this evolving instructional landscape. Here are some ideas:

  • Acknowledge Increased Demands on Teacher Time: Recognize that many schools and districts are in transition when it comes to literacy instruction and are striving to comply with new state and local policies. Veteran and new teachers alike may have to learn different ways of approaching reading instruction and there will be increased demands on their time for professional development. When you design your approach to professional development, think about how you can efficiently and effectively reach teachers with the information they need in light of the new demands on their time. And remember the stress of these changes will weigh especially heavily on elementary school teachers who are charged with developing new readers.
  • Create Teacher and Family Resources: Think about ways you can provide teachers and schools with resources to explain structured literacy vs. whole-language reading instruction to families so that they understand the changes being made at their children’s schools. There is a great list of science of reading professional development books for teachers on WeAreTeachers.com that can help inform your teacher resources or marketing campaigns.
  • Think About Reading Across the Curriculum: As the oft-repeated saying goes, “Every teacher is a reading teacher.” Consider ways that your programs and products can support teachers across the curriculum as they help students develop critical literacy skills. This is another great opportunity to develop resource materials (or marketing campaigns) that help them use your curriculum – no matter the subject – or your technology tools to help students build skills across the reading construct.
  • Listen to Educator Needs: Ask…don’t assume. Sounds simple, right? But, in the middle of making a change like this in teaching (in addition to everything else educators are dealing with), your customers might have new or different needs. A short conversation could reveal new and innovative ways that you can support and encourage them that will ultimately strengthen and expand your relationships.

Education companies, like yours, are also navigating this evolving instructional landscape and, as always, MDR is here to help you position your products and services and create marketing campaigns that will share your important story with current and prospective customers. Reach out to us today at mdrinfo@dnb.com.