School privatization was born of manufactured crisis, and one of the so-called crises today is reading instruction. Not that reading shouldn’t be debated and improved when it’s called for, especially for children experiencing learning disabilities.
Still, the frenzy surrounding reading in this country has become fever-pitched. It has divided teachers who want to do what’s best for students.
Like various governors nationwide, New York’s Kathy Hochul plans to replace reading instruction with the Science of Reading in her Back to Basics movement.
It’s still unclear what basic programs she’ll hitch that state’s star to. It might be programs mandated in New York City, and their $100 million NYC Reads also focuses on the Science of Reading.
HMH Into Reading and Great Minds Wit and Wisdom are two of the chosen NYC curricular reading programs, and there are questions about why they’re Science of Reading. I want to focus on the third program, EL Education because it’s more than reading instruction.
EL Education used to be called Expeditionary Learning. It’s a school reform model from Harvard and Outward Bound, the outdoor character and leadership-building program for youth and adults. They partner with school districts nationwide, often as charters or, sometimes, community schools, and teachers teach their curriculum, emphasizing high achievement, character growth, and teamwork.
According to Wiki, EL became one of 11 proposals for the New American Schools Development Corporation NASDC, a private nonprofit corporation created in 1991 under the H.W. Bush administration and part of the America 2000 initiative to develop schools to increase student performance.
The reform movement that launched these programs, was based on the manufactured crisis of A Nation at Risk.
According to Influence Watch, EL Education has big investors, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, John Templeton Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Klingenstein Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Bezos Family Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, and MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos donated an unspecified amount. Robin Hood, a nonprofit that fights poverty, also donated an unspecified amount to EL Education for pandemic relief.
Teachers in public schools whose school districts choose EL Education likely have teacher certification, but EL Education has an independent credentialing program, and a big question is whether this will be the wave of the future.
To ensure quality programming across the network, EL Education began a “credentialing” program in 2013-14. To qualify for the program, schools must meet a benchmark score on EL Education’s Implementation Review. Once met, schools are then required to outline their overall program, highlight successes, and show competency in three primary categories: Student Mastery of Knowledge and Skills; Student Character; and High Quality Student Work.
Here are programs and prices. Will it replace university teacher preparation?
The Science of Reading
How is EL Education the Science of Reading? One review comes from other nonprofits which support school privatization. Teachers are the most influential in teaching reading, so what do they think of EL Education?
A Chalkbeat teacher interview says that EL Education’s uniqueness is texts that provide the students the opportunity to learn about real-world issues. But Teachers have used texts to teach reading since the dinosaurs.
The Chalkbeat also reports:
The weakness [EL Education] is the difficulty of navigating all of the materials. Even after using EL for four years, it can still be tricky to find the end-of-unit assessments and to make sure you have all of the materials necessary for each lesson. There is a teacher’s guide, supplemental materials book, and student notebooks. The assessments are sometimes in any of these books. At my school we find it necessary to supplement the writing by giving weekly writing assignments, where the students use familiar texts to answer text-dependent questions.
Reddit provides these comments:
EL Education ELA curriculum obliterated my joy in teaching – it’s boring, repetitive, too high for EL students to reach and too low for advanced students. The pacing expectations are completely ridiculous and I cannot wait to be done with this. Kids deserve better and this year – mitigating learning losses for the last two years, was NOT the time to start something new that doesn’t meet students where they are.
Expeditionary learning? A plague! Teach “around” it if you can.
Ours is a “Pilot” of EL, so the district C & I is in our classrooms and prep periods regularly to “Gather data.” AKA policing compliance
Another Reddit page includes more comments.
Kindergarten teachers also note concerns facing students with EL Education. This includes the lack of understanding how dull scripted programming can be, and that one size does not fit all.
But Common Core has been around since 2010, embedded in many curricular programs and followed by most teachers in classrooms nationwide. If anything, Americans unhappy about reading scores, should ask what’s wrong with these standards.
The EL Education website states:
What started as a concept has grown into a movement. Our mission, now as then, is to create classrooms where teachers can fulfill their highest aspirations and students achieve more than they think possible, becoming active contributors to building a better world.
EL Education’s emphasis on character education raises questions outside of their reading program, especially that they subscribe to Common Core State Standards with fidelity and rely on billionaire donors.
Is there community awareness about programs like EL Education when school districts sign on? Parents in North Carolina believed EL Education involved Critical Race Theory and didn’t seem to understand the program.
A community and its teachers and students should be involved in the selection process of a reading program and understand it. Many programs are foisted into schools, seemingly with little feedback, especially from teachers who become responsible for teaching the program.
School boards should enlist the expertise of teachers, parents and those who will be involved in teaching reading to students, to determine whether these programs are what they claim. University education schools should also step up to evaluate such programs with authentic, independent peer review studies not connected to the program or the push to privatize public schools.
Beyond all this, EL Education demonstrates how the Science of Reading lacks clarity and mostly opens the door for commercialized programs that could privatize public education.