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    Huge victory for phonics


    In a historic vote, the California State Board of Education gave an “F” grade to the “whole language” reading method on Dec. 12, opening the door for school districts to choose proven phonics programs from an approved curriculum list.

    “This is a historic day,” said Bill Lucia, chief consultant of the Assembly Education Committee. “The board has taken a proactive step to return to systematic, explicit phonics. This is the final nail in the coffin for whole language.”

    In approving 16 textbooks and 10 publishers, the board rejected two sets of reading materials — by Rigby Books and the Wright Group — which emphasized whole language. The difference between phonics and whole language is that phonics teaches reading according to sound, while whole language attempts to teach by sight.

    “Phonics is not a method; it is a body of knowledge,” said Julie Anders of the National Right to Read Foundation. “Learning the 26 letters, 44 sounds and the 70 common ways of spelling those sounds is the only proven way to learn how to read.”

    When the State Board adopted whole language in 1987, reading proficiency plummeted and frustrated teachers had to literally sneak phonics books into the classroom. The latest tests show that 60 percent of California children can’t read proficiently by the end of the fourth grade. The impact of Thursday’s decision is that hundreds of local school districts will be able to choose phonics curriculum. One great addition to the state’s list is the Open Court curriculum, one of the best phonics textbooks available, according to the Capital Report in Sacramento.

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