Roper: Why can’t Vermont kids read? Left Wing ideology trumped evidence

And this isn’t just the case with education policy!

by Rob Roper

Earlier this month Seven Days ran a remarkable story titled, Too Many Vermont Kids Struggle to Read. What Went Wrong — and Can Educators Reverse a Yearslong Slide in Literacy? It’s long. 5000 words, but very much worth the time. The piece details how for over two decades our public schools have been using unscientific, non-evidence-based teaching methods born of ultra-Left-wing, touchy-feely ideology resulting in a generation of insufficiently literate Vermonters.  

The consequences of teaching kids the wrong way to read – which is the consequence of our Left-leaning colleges teaching teachers the wrong way to teach – is dramatic and tragic. According to the story, “Today, only about half of Vermont third graders read proficiently. Results are far worse for children of color and those with disabilities or living in poverty. Once ranked second nationally for reading achievement among fourth graders, Vermont has dropped to the middle of the pack,” now tied with Mississippi.  As the Seven Days article points out, “Low literacy is linked to a host of negative effects, including poor health, poverty and incarceration. And there are less obvious costs. Being unable to read proficiently causes deep hurt and shame.”

One parent, Julie Brown, fed up with how the public schools were failing her own child, got a master’s degree in language and literacy and ultimately started a program teaching reading the proper way in Woodstock. Again, according to Seven Days, “The results have been striking. Of the roughly three dozen students who completed the program and were reevaluated, about two-thirds were able to leave special education entirely and only a handful still showed signs of a reading disability.” Think about that for a minute. How many kids have been diagnosed and stigmatized as “special education” in Vermont – and at what taxpayer expense – not because they had a learning disability, but because the school was actively undermining their ability to learn to read proficiently!  

The culprit behind the decline is a curriculum called “balanced literacy” pioneered by Lucy Calkins and her organization the Reading and Writing Project which was, until last month, affiliated with ultra-Left wing Columbia University’s Teachers’ College. The glaring failure of the program, which was never based on evidence or science, became too much even for Columbia to ignore – it just took forty years. Still, Leftist educators bought into it hook, line and sinker and stuck with it in our schools for a quarter of a century, much to many a child’s detriment.

So why did we abandon a scientific, evidenced-based method of teaching kids to read that worked and had for decades – “phonics” – for one that isn’t and doesn’t? Or, as Louisa Moats, a nationally known reading expert described it to Seven Days, how was it that “Vermont and other states fell victim to the ‘philosophical entrenchment of wrongheaded thinking’ [my new favorite phrase to describe our State House] in classrooms and colleges and universities?”

Moats, who according to the article describes herself as a liberal Democrat, answered her own question: “she believes the politicization of literacy — with phonics often being thought of as a Republican cause — is one reason that scientific knowledge about reading hasn’t been put into practice widely.”

Huh…. Really….

So, the scientific, evidence-based, “Republican” policy worked, but was rejected by Leftist educators (who always, you know, “follow the science”) because it was a Republican idea in favor of a steaming pile of psycho-babble and unicorn farts spawned by so-called experts from so-called elite universities leading to disastrous, tragic results for individuals and society at large. Got it!

I’m grateful to Seven Days for shining a spotlight on this issue, but I think it’s actually just one example in a broad pattern of public policy failures driven by the ‘philosophical entrenchment of wrongheaded thinking’ on behalf of Leftists policy makers wherever they are in government.

Like, for example, the inanely unscientific and non-evidence-based notion that defunding the police, refusing to prosecute crimes such as shoplifting and open-air drug dealing, eliminating cash bail, etcetera would make our communities safer. (Click Here for “WRONG!” Buzzer Sound Effect.) This, as opposed to the evidence-based Republican “broken windows” strategy implemented by Major Giuliani and Commissioner Bratton that worked to dramatically reduce crime and increase safety in New York in the 1990s and 2000s.   

Like, for example, the non-evidence-based fantasy that adopting a national open border combined with sanctuary city policies would lead to greater equity, social justice, and economic opportunity for everyone as opposed to a humanitarian crisis overwhelming our social services, contributing to rising crime, homelessness, drug trafficking, and threatening “destroy” our cities, to use NYC Mayor Eric Adams word for what’s actually resulting.

Like, for example, the idea that if we separate people by race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. and encourage everyone to seek identity and meaning only within their tribe by competing for intersectional victim status it will bring the nation together instead of, as the evidence would indicate, rip us apart.

Like, for example, a foreign policy of appeasing and legitimizing terrorist organizations and the nations that harbor them in the Middle East would lead to peace in the region…. Covid lockdowns…. Renewable energy policies that they religiously believe will save the planet but only result in dead whales, ruined ridgelines, blighted pasture lands and, when all is said and done, flooded villages and higher costs for people trying stay warm in winter.

All of these negative policy outcomes are the result of the “philosophical entrenchment of wrongheaded thinking.” Rejections of evidence, obvious realities, and common sense in favor of a weird faith in an unsubstantiated radical ideology.

Happily, it looks like there is now some movement in our schools to return to the evidence-based phonics program, despite its boogeyman Republican association, so kids will be able to learn to read again. Let’s hope this sparks a broader trend of getting back to effective, evidence-based policies on crime, energy, economic growth, healthcare, taxes, environmental conservation….

Rob Roper is a freelance writer who has been involved with Vermont politics and policy for over 20 years. This article reprinted with permission from Behind the Lines: Rob Roper on Vermont Politics, robertroper.substack.com

Rob Roper is a freelance writer who has been involved with Vermont politics and policy for over 20 years. This article reprinted with permission from Behind the Lines: Rob Roper on Vermont Politics, robertroper.substack.com

Categories: Uncategorized

11 replies »

  1. This is brilliant! The same applies to Social, Emotional, Learning, which is a tool to indoctrinate children into Critical Social Justice, aimed at making children social change activists. The SEL content at the Essex Westford School District addressed George Floyd, made children discuss police brutality relative to lynching in the deep south. One of the school’s recommend teacher reading resources is a book by the socialist and Marxist historian Howard Zinn.

  2. Thank you Mr. Roper for wrapping all of these societal failures into the comprehensive nutshell of the leftist philosophy and for exposing the hypocrisy of their “follow OUR science” arguments…”steaming pile of psycho-babble and unicorn farts spawned by so-called experts from so-called elite universities leading to disastrous, tragic results for individuals and society at large. Got it!”.
    This is one of your best writings of late…keep them coming…

  3. Decades ago, in Atlantic County, N.J., there was the “New School”. Alternative and special. Students wound up lacking basic skills. One boy, the stepson of a friend of mine, was transferred to public school. He was failing in basic math, etc. This incident was a serious factor in the closing of the school.

  4. Right, on , Rob. Smart voters will see the terrible tragedy of this warped social thinking. Wrongheadedness has prevailed in our Legislature and in our culture for far too long. Thanks for wrapping this up in such a concise bundle.

  5. Until school teach academics and not DEI crap and pronouns and it’s great to cut off your pee pee things won’t improve

  6. So, rather than try to promote common sense education from within the education bureaucracy, let’s work on a legal strategy to undermine the education monopoly via the courts. Multiple parents are pursuing a VT Supreme Court ruling that it’s a violation of the VT Constitution’s Common Benefits Clause to force students to accept a crappy education when a voucher would give those kids multiple choices for a demonstrably superior educational opportunity. Contact bobfrenier@gmail.com for details.

    • Such a case would turn on the defining of a “crappy education” and “demonstrably superior education”. I’m thinking that the stronger objection would arise from the forcing of the citizenry to accept a menu of teachers and curriculum they don’t want.

  7. “What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic”.

    Carl Sagan

    “If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them”. – George Orwell

  8. Thank you for sharing this important quote. People who can’t read and have no understanding of history are easily controlled. Politicians count on the fact that people don’t read anymore, especially progressives who are more than happy to tell their uninformed constituents how to feel on any one given issue. These feelings are always relative to oppression.

  9. They stopped teaching cursive writing. The result is many historical documents (Constitution) cannot be read or understood, a legitimate identifing signature cannot be done or verified, etc. Society steered into writing and reading in 40 characters or less. Slang, acronyms, and abbreviations become accepted grammar that is unclear, unconcise, and lazy. Death by a thousand cuts and lulled right into it by design. Good thing there are “smart” phones and “smart” apps to control and monitor the malleable ignorant populace.

  10. A properly implemented Balanced Reading Program includes systematic daily instruction in Phonics and other proven strategies.
    I have a difficult time connecting this instructional failure to “politics”. More plausible is a lack of understanding on the part of teachers and the apparent failure of the supervisory system.