The NYC Department of Education is Making One Giant Leap for Student-Kind

By Anthony Paradiso

Recently, the New York City school’s chancellor David Banks announced that a major change will take place in the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE), which is the largest school district in the United States. It has been called the NYC Reads Program and is supported by Mayor Eric Adams as a way to address shortcomings that city public schools have had when it comes to improving the literacy of the over one million students that they serve.

So, here’s what is happening: the NYCDOE has mandated that all of their school districts will adopt a new Reading curriculum that is based on the “Science of Reading” over the next two school years. One of the reasons why New York City made this decision was the 2022 National Assessment Education Report (NAEP), or the Nation’s Report Card. It showed a 6% increase in the number of fourth and eighth graders testing below the basic level for reading compared to the 2019 NAEP. Additionally, reading scores for Black and Latino students decreased by five and four points, respectively.

Brian Vieira is the president and founder of ScholarSkills for Stars, a non-profit organization “that provides training and resources to help schools achieve a higher level of literacy among all students.” One of the organization’s missions is to provide tutoring to students who come from “economically disadvantaged” households.

According to, an incredible 75% of the 1,007,610 students who went to NYC Public Schools during the 2021-22 academic year, are “economically disadvantaged.” But this data is not the biggest problem weakening student performance. Vieira has taught in the City’s public schools for two decades, which gives him insight into how the pandemic exacerbated the issues students have been having with regards to learning in city public school classrooms.

The latest test results show that 51% of the city’s third through eighth grade students did not score proficient in reading. If you look deeper, the problem gets worse: nearly 63% of Latino students and 64% of Black students did not score proficient in reading, which just reflects basic ability on any of the national exams given. This devastating failure has been occurring since they started doing the numbers in the 1990s.

The current struggle over how to teach our children to read has been called “the Reading Wars.” The combatants are those who support teaching “phonics” and those who support the “balanced literacy” approach. In the 1980s, “a groundswell of opposition” rose against the long-established “whole word language” reading instruction. Vieira explained how this changed the educational landscape.

“That system of whole word language …has basically been the basis for reading instruction until 1980s, when there was opposition based on a government study that said we need to go back to phonics… The approach taken by most schools when the government report came out was to create something called ‘Balanced Literacy’ where we’d incorporate some of the phonics, which means sound-symbol relationships, but primarily would teach children to read by immersing them in reading.”

The Reading curriculum that’s been used by most American schools for the last three decades has been heavily influenced by one giant educational figure. That figure is Lucy Calkins who currently teaches at Columbia University and founded the Teacher’s College Writing and Reading Workshop (TCRWP) in 1980. TCRWP “provides training to some 700 schools across the U.S.” according to the New York Times. Calkins and her involvement in New York City’s school system have come under heavy fire following last year’s national test results and recently, she has reportedly decided to revise her curriculum due to what she’s learned about the Science of Reading.
While the Science of Reading seems like it can improve the literacy of NYC students, Vieira explained why the Chinese proverb which says “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” foresees that improving the literacy of one million students is going to be a long and possibly daunting process.

“Sometimes, success can be the greatest failure. I think the science of reading can lead to the greatest debacle in reading. Schools will try to implement this, teachers will get training, kids will learn [but] the problem is that’s not all they need to learn. If I get you to decode a paragraph symbolically and read it orally, that doesn’t mean you understand what you’re reading. There are levels to understanding. The first level must begin with decoding—and that’s a victory. But if that’s where they stop, what will happen is that five years from now, [the NYCDOE] will measure the gains and when they see no gain on the reading test, they will declare the science of reading a failure.”
The desire for U.S. school districts to adopt the Science of Reading began when Mississippi took the lead and mandated it. This produced better reading scores for that state, but it wasn’t easy, which is something that Vieira wanted to make clear.

“Mississippi introduced the science of reading, they introduced coaching at every level, spent millions to get teachers retrained and they waited years for the results. Everyone thinks it’s like ‘Betty Crocker,’ you take Mississippi, put it in the oven and we’re good. No, you have to have patience and you have to regain the culture of education.”