National School Choice Week

Why Did Schools Stop Teaching Kids How To Read? Live With Robert Pondiscio, Nick Gillespie, and Zach Weissmueller

Join Reason on YouTube and Facebook on Thursday at 1 p.m. ET for a discussion of American K-12 education policy with author Robert Pondiscio.


An "unbearable bleakness" has overtaken childhood education as a "pedagogy of the depressed" pushes a simplistic vision of "America the Problematic" on impressionable young students, wrote Robert Pondiscio in Commentary last year.

A former teacher, Pondiscio is currently a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of the 2019 book How the Other Half Learns: Equality, Excellence, and the Battle Over School Choice (Avery), a behind-the-scenes account of Success Academy, one of America's most accomplished (and controversial) charter school networks. (Watch Reason's interview with Pondiscio about that book.)

Public schools have failed to teach kids to read and write because they use approaches that aren't based on proven techniques based on phonics. Many schools have been influenced by the work of Columbia University's Lucy Calkins, who is the subject of a new podcast series from American Public Media, Sold a Story, "an exposé of how educators came to believe in something that isn't true and are now reckoning with the consequences—children harmed, money wasted, an education system upended."

"The South Bronx elementary school where I taught 5th grade for several years was a proponent of Calkins' approach," Pondiscio wrote in a 2022 New York Post op-ed. "We adopted her teaching methods and employed her literacy coaches for years, to very little effect. Her greatest sin against literacy comes after kids learn to 'decode' the written word, whether or not they are taught with phonics, which is just the starting line for reading."

How did this happen? Is the solution school choice—a system in which parents can opt out of traditional public schools and their flawed approaches to teaching reading? As Pondiscio argues, is withdrawing "concern for traditional public schools" equivalent to withdrawing "concern for our republic"?

Join Reason's Nick Gillespie and Zach Weissmueller for a live discussion with Robert Pondiscio on all these questions and more this Thursday at 1 p.m. ET. Watch and leave questions for Pondiscio on the YouTube video above or on Reason's Facebook page.