‘Science of Reading’ Bill’s Death Is No Mystery. The Union Did It

The measure would have mandated a phonics approach, which the teachers union said would not meet the needs of English learners.
‘Science of Reading’ Bill’s Death Is No Mystery. The Union Did It
Children's books in the Mary Wilson Branch of Orange County Public Library in Seal Beach, Calif., on Sept. 9, 2023. (Sophie Li/The Epoch Times)
Micaela Ricaforte

A California Assembly bill that would have required a “science of reading” approach to teaching young children to read has died after a strong “no” from the teachers union.

Assembly Bill 2222, introduced in February by Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, would have mandated all schools use the “science of reading” approach, which focuses on phonics, or sounding out letters, groups of letters and syllables to form words.

However, the bill will not advance this year, Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas told education news outlet EdSource last week, saying it should be reviewed by all key stakeholders before there is a “costly overhaul” of how reading is taught in the state.

“I want the Legislature to study this problem closely, so we can be sure stakeholders are engaged and, most importantly, that all students benefit, especially our [English learners],” Mr. Rivas said.

The bill’s authors estimate training teachers would cost $250 million to $300 million, which they consider money well spent if it reduces illiteracy.

The bill was supported by several literacy and education advocacy groupsincluding Decoding Dyslexia California and Families in Schoolsand education policy organization EdVoice.

In a February press release, EdVoice referenced a study by the California Early Literacy Coalition that reported that only three in 10 third-grade students from low-income communities can read at grade level compared with six in 10 of their higher-income peers.

The organization said it backed the bill because it ensured a “comprehensive, evidence-based approach to teaching all of California’s elementary school students how to read and addressing the deep inequities around reading achievement for California’s most vulnerable students.”

However, the California Teachers Association—the state’s largest teachers union representing 310,000 members—sent a March 28 letter opposing the bill to Al Muratsuchi,  chair of the Assembly’s Education Committee, where the bill had been referred for a first vote.

The union claimed it would not meet the needs of English learner students and would cut teachers’ freedom to choose the best methods for their classrooms.

“Restricting instructional methods stifles teachers’ creativity and innovation in the classroom. Educators should have the flexibility to adapt their teaching strategies based on their students’ needs, interests, and the content being taught,” the union’s statement read.

The letter also said the bill’s language was “one size fits all” and it would not allow educators to differentiate, support special education students, and meet the diverse needs of California’s English learners. For these reasons, we respectfully request your ‘NO’ vote when the bill is heard in the Assembly Education Committee.”
Many schools in California have already adopted the “science of reading” method, but some still use what’s known as the “balanced literacy” method, which teaches “sight recognition,” or memorization, of words in addition to phonics.

Advocates point to California’s literacy rate as an indicator of the need for change.

State-administered assessment results for 2023 indicate that only 43 percent of California’s third-graders read at grade level, while the rate was even lower—30 percent—among low-income students.

Spokespersons for Mr. Rivas and Ms. Rubio were not immediately available for comment.

Micaela Ricaforte covers education in Southern California for The Epoch Times. In addition to writing, she is passionate about music, books, and coffee.