State Schools Superintendent Anne Fox says as far as she is concerned, people elected her to push phonics in public schools and she’s convinced it’s a good idea.
Fox told other members of the state Board of Education on Friday that when she ran for election in 1994, it was with the feeling that something was missing from the public school system - the teaching of basics such as phonics in reading.
“The patrons in this state elected me to get phonics back into the curriculum,” she said, as other board members questioned the need to spend an extra $500,000 pushing phonics. “I felt we were going in the wrong direction.”
Fox said she feels so strongly about it that she might consider the phonics issue her most important accomplishment once she leaves office.
Board member Roy Mosman, Moscow, said he continues to have his doubts about the need.
“Do we have a problem and what is it? That’s still a question,” he said.
He said the board won’t know whether Fox’s emphasis on phonics in reading instruction improves student performance until the board gets test results.
Phonics will save taxpayers money, Fox contends, by reducing the need for remedial reading instruction. She wants to require a phonics course for new teachers and mandate 45 minutes of daily phonics instruction for kindergartners and first-graders who don’t recognize the sounds of written letters.
She said there is very little training on phonics for teachers at Idaho universities.
Not all educators favor the Fox approach.
While Fox’s proposal recognizes good teachers use both phonics and whole language - teaching students to decipher words by their context - phonics won’t help all students who have trouble reading, said Kay Jones, principal at Twin Falls’ Lincoln School.
“If you use one strategy and only one strategy, children who don’t learn that way won’t learn,” she said. Lincoln reinforces phonics in all grades, Jones said.
When Mosman and others pressed her to show some results, Fox said that requires testing, which won’t show the impact of the new phonics emphasis until later grades.