Under Carmen Farina: Sanity and Balanced Literacy Returning to New York City Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

New schools chancellor, Carmen Farina, continues to return sanity to NYC public schools. Her latest policy is to encourage more principals to adopt aspects of balanced literacy, including its emphasis on allowing students to choose many of the books they read. The move, while cheered by proponents of this method, is seen by some as a departure from recent trends in the city and nationwide. As reported by the New York Times:

“The city’s Education Department turned away from balanced literacy several years ago amid concerns that it was unstructured and ineffective, particularly for low-income children. And Ms. Fariña is facing sharp resistance from some education experts, who argue that balanced literacy is incompatible with the biggest shift in education today: the Common Core academic standards.

Ms. Fariña, who relied on balanced literacy as a teacher and a principal, said in an interview last week that she did not believe it was at odds with the Common Core, a more difficult set of learning goals that has been adopted by more than 40 states.

She said she thought the strategies of balanced literacy were particularly useful for children who arrived in classrooms with little knowledge of English, including immigrants. “They’re going to feel frustrated, alienated,” she said. “You need to put them on something they can accomplish and do fluently.”

The Common Core demands that students frequently read books at and above their grade level, and some of its proponents take issue with the idea of allowing struggling students to read easier books. Susan Pimentel, an architect of the Common Core standards, said that the philosophy was “worrisome and runs counter to the letter and spirit of Common Core.”

Balanced literacy, so called because it combines several approaches to reading and writing, has a relatively long history in American education. It emerged as a product of the progressive movement of education in the 1970s and ’80s, when teachers were searching for an alternative to the top-down, textbook-driven approach to literacy in many schools. It was based on the idea that children were natural readers and writers; teachers needed only to create the conditions to unleash their talents.”

During her six months as chancellor, Ms. Fariña has reduced the role of standardized tests, increased collaboration among schools and shepherded through a new contract for teachers that includes more training and more communication with parents. But her push for a revival of balanced literacy may have some of the most far-reaching implications in the classroom.

Good move, Chancellor Farina!



Comments are closed.