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Gov. Hochul wants to mandate back to basics reading methods for New York's school children

A woman in a light blue pantsuit greets fourth grade students sitting on the floor in a classroom.
Darren McGee/ Office of Governor
Gov. Hochul visits a classroom at a Watervliet elementary school near Albany Jan. 3, 2024.

Governor Kathy Hochul announced what she says are fundamental changes in how reading is taught in New York that will help more children succeed.

The governor, speaking to 4th graders at the Watervliet Elementary School outside Albany, says if lawmakers accept her proposal, all schools in the state would teach young children to read using evidence based, scientifically proven techniques. The “new” method is actually similar to the older phonics based system to teach reading, which involves decoding the letters and the sounds in the words first. That fell out of favor about two decades ago, as more educators adopted the whole language approach, which teaches the entire word based on its context.

Hochul says the newer method has resulted in poorer reading comprehension skills for children. She wants to return to what she calls the “back to basics” initiative.

“There was this idea about 20 years ago. They thought, ‘Hey, there's a whole different way of learning. Why don't we just put kids in a room with books? And they'll figure it out’,” Hochul said. “Let's teach the kids what they mean. And that's the difference that has not been taught.”

A woman in a light blue pantsuit hands a 4th grader an award in a school library.
Darren McGee/ Office of Governor
Gov. Hochul hands an award to a 4th grader at a Watervliet elementary school Jan. 3, 2024.

If the plan is approved by the legislature and carried out by the state education department, New York would join around 30 other states that have already mandated the switch. New York ranks in the lowest third of all of the states in 4th grade reading proficiency.

Jeanne Lance, who has taught elementary school for over three decades. Her students sat in attendance for the announcement. She says her district has already implemented the change, and it’s made a difference in teaching a fundamental life skill to the students.

“We know the work that we do to teach them to read empowers them to do great things in our society,” Lance said. “Literacy is the bridge that connects us in so many ways.”

Hochul says the change could be implemented as early as the fall of 2025.

She says the plan includes expanding State and City University of New York programs known the Microcredential Program for Teachers focusing on the Science of Reading.

The governor also announced a proposal for a $10 million teacher training program to help with the change. She says the money could support the training of up to 20,000 additional teachers and elementary school teaching assistants.

A woman in a light blue pantsuit speaks to a group of 4th graders in a school library.
Darren McGee/ Office of Governor
Gov. Hochul speaks to 4th graders at a Watervliet elementary school Jan. 3, 2024.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment and interviews newsmakers. Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.