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Ohio Lawsuit Strikes Back in Battle Over Reading Instruction

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When Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio set out to revamp reading instruction in his state, it appeared as though the longstanding debate over how to teach reading had reached a turning point. Ohio joined a growing number of states that now require schools to adhere to the “science of reading,” an approach that emphasizes phonics and other direct teaching methods. However, a recent lawsuit by the Reading Recovery Council of North America, a nonprofit that supports balanced literacy, challenges Ohio’s new mandate and highlights the financial and ideological factors influencing the national debate.

The Reading Recovery program, which has come under scrutiny for its effectiveness, targets first graders in the bottom 20 percent of their class. The program partners with universities to train teachers and school district leaders. However, the shift towards the science of reading has created pressure for established players in education who deeply believe in their methods and fight to maintain their position in the market.

In the lawsuit, the Reading Recovery nonprofit claims that Gov. DeWine violated state law by implementing reading policy changes through a budget bill rather than specific legislation. The governor dismisses the lawsuit as self-interested, stating that they are upset about the loss of revenue. The new mandate in Ohio prohibits the use of three-cueing, a practice criticized by proponents of the science of reading for diverting students’ attention from the written text. While the Reading Recovery Council defends the use of three-cueing in certain instances, they maintain that it is not a strategy they endorse for later stages of reading development.

The Reading Recovery program was brought to the United States by Gay Su Pinnell, a champion of balanced literacy, in the 1980s. Pinnell, who is a significant donor to Ohio State University and a volunteer board member for the Reading Recovery Council, has contributed financially to support the program. However, she has declined to comment on the lawsuit due to its pending nature.

Reading Recovery cites studies that demonstrate positive outcomes, including a federally funded study in 2016. However, a follow-up study by the same researcher found negative long-term outcomes for students receiving Reading Recovery intervention. These results surprised researchers, who went through multiple checks to ensure accuracy. One theory for the negative results is that students were taught strategies that proved ineffective as they progressed to more advanced reading material.

Overall, the lawsuit in Ohio sheds light on the ongoing debate surrounding reading instruction and the clash between the science of reading and balanced literacy approaches. While proponents of each method argue for their effectiveness, the lawsuit underscores the financial and ideological stakes involved in this discussion.

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