Are Oak Park and River Forest schools using the most up-to-date, evidence-based reading, writing and math curricula?

Are our schools aligning with authors and publishers whose programs are proven to help kids read, write and learn math?

Are such authors and publishers open to new research and willing to learn themselves?

Many school districts across the country are pivoting away from reading programs that de-emphasize the importance of phonics. 

Recent advancements in the science of reading, including brain MRIs, suggest a focus on phonics helps children learn to read. Teaching kids how to read should not be political, but history suggests politics and money have influenced curriculum decisions in our country. If you think the science of reading is simply an over-publicized podcast, I strongly suggest otherwise and so do recent academic outcomes. According to NAEP, one of our country’s longest, consistent studies of student achievement, better known as the Nation’s Report Card:

“The mathematics decline for 13-year-olds was the single largest decline we have observed in the past half a century. The mathematics score for the lowest-performing students has returned to levels last seen in the 1970s, and the reading score for our lowest-performing students was actually lower than it was the very first year these data were collected, in 1971.”

Closer to home, based on the official Illinois Report Card website, here are the current “proficiency” rates in the English Language Arts for our local school districts:

River Forest D90 Schools: 61.6% proficiency

Oak Park D97 Schools: 41.7% proficiency

Oak Park and River Forest High School D200: 56.9% proficiency

Of course, no single metric is perfect and a single data point is surely not telling us the entire story. Yet if our highly taxed and well-resourced districts are offering families reading proficiency rates in the 40s, 50s and 60s, something is not working as planned. Also recall that the national NAEP data is pointing to some of the most challenging academic student outcomes across the nation since the 1970s.

So yes, it is reasonable to assume that school districts across the country, including ours, should at least consider a different direction. We are all hopeful we have local school districts that are open to different ideas and also value diversity of thought.

I hope this open letter solicits a response from our school leaders and others in our community. I hope it starts an iterative conversation that results in better academic outcomes for all Oak Park and River Forest students. Why not start with evaluating the reading and phonics curriculum in our K-4 classrooms?

There is no greater educational gift than combining a truly rigorous and evidence-based education with a philosophy of agency for those trying to improve their lot in life.  I believe we can, and should do better.

Ross Lissuzzo
Oak Park native and current River Forest resident

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