Reading wars rage on - The Centre for Independent Studies
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Reading wars rage on

Despite decades of bruising battles, the reading wars rage on — with a new review exposing persistent opposition to evidence-based reading approaches in schools.

The NSW Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) has put the contentious L3 (Language, Learning, and Literacy) programe under the knife. As many as three in five NSW government schools subscribe to the reading program — fully or partially — which ignores what’s clearly been identified as the best way to teach children to read.

L3 has persisted thanks to apparent pressure being placed on schools to participate in it, rather than it being backed by evidence.

Considerable taxpayer support has been committed for years to maintain the program, and the NSW Education Department has done little to deter educators from implementing the wayward method.

CESE’s move is a considerable blow to those who have resisted the phonics wave, as well as vindication for those who have been awake to L3’s evident flaws from the outset.

CIS research forcefully argued the case for reviewing the program in 2018 — pointing to the lack of evidence underpinning it at the time. The case against it has only mounted since then.

If it sounds like we’ve been here before, it’s because we have. A similarly dysfunctional programme — Reading Recovery — became defunct in 2018. Similarly, CIS research identified the lack of evidence supporting it as well.

As ever, children’s success in reading has been sabotaged by ideological commitment to constructivist learning approaches from a loud minority of education insiders.

A key battleground of the persistent reading wars is the role of phonics — the understanding of written letter and sound relationships — in learning to read.

One could be mistaken for assuming the war had already been won. Evidence from decades of research has stacked heavily behind use of explicit and systematic phonics as key to young learners’ reading success. And a growing number of policymakers — most notably the federal government — now actively promote the approach as a priority matter.

It’s well past time that education departments across the country better signal to teachers and schools which approaches have proved to be effective in the classroom — and those that aren’t.

Australian students have been denied the opportunity to become proficient readers and enjoy their best chance of educational success.

The task of reversing the damage caused by education’s evidence deniers remains a work in progress.