Did you know that New York State has nearly 800 public school districts? (Source: nysed.gov). This ranks New York in the top 10 states with the highest number of school districts per state (Source: nces.ed.gov). Within those districts exist some of the largest and smallest in the country. In a small village between the Shawangunk Ridge and the Catskill Mountains, Ellenville Central School District (CSD) serves 1,475 students in seven different communities. On the drive to Ellenville, you will face highways that bleed into long, windy roads, and just before you approach the village, seemingly out of nowhere, you will be greeted with a beautiful view of a mountain in which Ellenville sits at the base of. When you talk to an Ellenville Blue Devil, there is no shortage of pride and love for their sprawling community. This district is committed to its students and bettering itself to create more equitable outcomes.
During speeches in January, several state leaders kicked off the year with strong commitments of money and resources to improve literacy in their schools through the immediate implementation of evidence-based reading instruction, often referred to as the “science of reading.” The governors of New York and Massachusetts offered guidelines, not mandates, for school districts to focus on adopting reading instruction practices and materials that are evidence-based. The Maryland State Board of Education approved a resolution declaring that all public schools must be aligned to the Science of Reading effective School Year 2024-25. With this resolution, Maryland joins over 35 other states and the District of Columbia that have committed to full alignment with the science of reading over the past ten years. These states’ goals are overarchingly the same, but their plans, timelines, and benchmarks differ. What do they need to consider and include to be successful in improving student reading outcomes?
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In 2009, Professor Tina Seelig looked over her class of Stanford business students and assigned a simple challenge. Working in groups, the students were given $5 and 2 hours to make the highest possible return on their money. They had a week to plan their strategy with almost unlimited creativity. At the end of the challenge, each group gave a 3 minute presentation to share their process and results with their peers. Most people faced with a similar challenge would follow one of two logical routes to secure a return on investment (ROI): Focus on the money and try to “flip” it - buy an item for $5 and sell it for $10 Focus on the time allotment of 2 hours and try to “side hustle” - engage in “gig economy” jobs to make additional income
Take a casual stroll through the past predictions I made about education, leading up to 2024. You'll see they were pretty spot-on. Over the last few years, I've called several major trends in education that hit the nail on the head. Digital skills? They've become a big deal in classrooms everywhere, just as I anticipated. Hybrid learning – a blend of online and traditional classes – really took off, especially when the pandemic stirred things up. I was also right about schools taking mental health more seriously, with unprecedented support now for students' emotional well-being. Career and tech education received a major upgrade, equipping students with cool tech skills for the future job market. And, oh boy, did AI and machine learning make a splash in education, personalizing learning experiences and reducing administrative burdens.
As a kid, I loved designing and building things! All my dolls had their own custom- made furniture and Lego cars. I recently had the opportunity to design and build a maker space for educators to implement making and tinkering in their libraries and classrooms. Talk about a dream project-it was easy to get caught up in the fun of purchasing new equipment, gathering supplies, and designing experiences. The most important thing I learned is the vital role a maker mindset can have on students in stretching their critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration skills. Maker spaces provide students with a platform to learn academic content while honing important life skills.
Getting Off The Bench If you are anything like me, you know that the “Science of Reading” is a lightning rod in the world of education right now, but feel more comfortable sitting on the sidelines and letting the experts engage. I decided it was time to jump into the conversation and wanted to share a few things that I learned along the way. As it turns out, I have a strong opinion on the matter, given my experience as an elementary and middle school educator and my dedication to building more equitable learning environments for all students. I now understand from my research and exploratory conversations that the Science of Reading promotes stronger reading and literacy skills. It also plays a central role in developing positive student identities when school districts support the implementation of DEI and SEL curricular tools. The magic potion for cultivating the most positive impacts for students includes the implementation of explicit phonetic instruction together with a culturally responsive curriculum. This language-rich and holistic learning environment sets students up to fully engage with academic material and grow to reach their full potential.