Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #81

Welcome to Hall Pass, a newsletter written to keep you plugged into the conversations driving school board politics and governance.

In today’s edition, you’ll find:

  • Deep Dive Part 2: The science of reading debate
  • Share candidate endorsements with us!
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • Virginia school board election preview—Prince William County Public Schools 
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Candidate Connection survey

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Deep Dive: The science of reading debate

Part two of our deep dive into the debate over the science of reading 

Click here for part one of this series. 

Is the science of reading settled science? 

This week, we examine the following views on the science behind the science of reading: 

  • The studies phonics advocates cite to support an evidence-based approach to reading instruction, emphasizing decoding and sounding out words. 
  • Arguments about whether studies point to the effectiveness of one type of reading instruction over another. Has the debate been settled? 

What is the science behind the science of reading?

Scientists focused on literacy research have conducted thousands of studies seeking to understand the science of reading. The selected studies below are frequently cited by phonics proponents to support their approach to reading instruction:

  • Project Follow Through (PFT) was a government-funded study of about 700,000 students from 1968 to 1977 on the effectiveness of reading instruction programs. A  2018 meta-analysis of PFT and more than 300 other studies found the direct instruction approach to teaching reading (which focuses on phonics instruction) “was the only intervention that had significantly positive impacts on all of the outcome measures.”
  • The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s National Reading Panel published a meta-analysis in 2000 assessing the results of 38 studies conducted between the 1970s and 2000. The studies indicated that a strong awareness in early grades of how words are made up of smaller sounds (a skill known as phonemic awareness) predicted greater reading success in higher grade levels. 
  • The National Early Literacy Panel government meta-analysis published in 2008 found children who received instruction on how to sound out or decode words scored better (equal to a 50th percentile to 79th percentile improvement) on phonemic awareness assessments.

The debate: Is the science of reading settled?

The arguments below demonstrate differing views on whether research points to the effectiveness of any specific type of reading instruction: 

Decoding “The Simple View of Reading” | Mark Seidenberg, Reading Matters

Seidenberg writes that although scientific studies offer insights into how children learn to read, claims that “we know how to teach kids to read” are inaccurate. He argues the simple view of reading (SVR)—a term he uses to describe the belief that children “learn to read by learning how the written code represents spoken language they already know”—is accurate, but doesn’t necessarily support a particular instruction program or amount of phonics instruction. Seidenberg says, scientific studies “have magnified the expectation that the SVR should also have further implications for instruction. It doesn’t.”

We Know How to Teach Kids to Read | John McWhorter, The New York Times

McWhorter writes that scientific data proves reading instruction focused on phonics is the most effective for teaching young students to read. He specifically argues that the phonics-focused direct instruction model is an evidence-based program with scientifically proven results. The direct instruction model focuses on teaching children to sound out or decode words so they can connect them to words they already know from spoken language. McWhorter says, “Scientific investigators of how children learn to read have proved repeatedly that phonics works better for more children.”

Next week, we’ll look at the debate over whether the science of reading should influence policymakers. 

Share candidate endorsements with us! 

As part of our goal to solve the ballot information problem, Ballotpedia is gathering information about school board candidate endorsements. The ballot information gap widens the further down the ballot you go, and is worst for the more than 500,000 local offices nationwide, such as school boards or special districts. Endorsements can help voters know more about their candidates and what they stand for. 

Do you know of an individual or group that has endorsed a candidate in your district? 

Click here to respond!

School board update: filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications

Ballotpedia has historically covered school board elections in about 500 of the country’s largest districts. We’re gradually expanding the number we cover with our eye on the more than 13,000 districts with elected school boards.

November elections

Nov. 7 is the biggest election date of the year, and voters across the country will decide state and local races—including for school boards (subscribe to our Daily Brew newsletter for Ballotpedia’s coverage and analysis of elections up and down the ballot). 

Over the next month, we’ll bring you in-depth coverage of school board battleground elections—those we expect to have a meaningful effect on the balance of power on each board or to be particularly competitive or compelling. 

Click below to learn more about elections in the following districts:

We’re covering school board elections in the following 16 states on Nov. 7:

In seven of those states—Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington—we are covering all school board elections on Nov. 7. 

Virginia school board election preview—Prince William County Public Schools 

In last week’s edition, we previewed elections in the Douglas County School District, just south of Denver, Colorado. Let’s continue our preview of school board battleground elections with a look at the races for Prince William County school board in Virginia on Nov. 7. Virginia is one of 10 states in which we are covering all school board elections on that day.

First, some brief background on this district:

  • Nineteen candidates are running for seven districts and the chairman’s seat
  • The Prince William County Public Schools board consists of eight members elected to four-year terms.
  • The board’s chairman is elected at-large, while the rest are elected by district. 
  • The board’s chairman and incumbents in five of the seven districts are running for re-election.
  • Jennifer Wall, the incumbent in the Gainesville district, is the only unopposed candidate.
  • The district, located west of Alexandria, had approximately 90,070 students as of the 2020-21 school year—making it the second largest district by enrollment in Virginia. Eight House of Delegates districts overlap the Prince William County Public Schools’ boundaries. Democrats currently represent all eight of those districts. In the 2021 gubernatorial election, Terry McAuliffe (D) won Prince William County, defeating Glenn Youngkin (R) 57% to 42%. In the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden (D) defeated Donald Trump 62.64% to 35.61%.   

School board races in Virginia are non-partisan, but the local political parties typically issue endorsements. The Prince William County Democratic Party has endorsed a candidate in all seven contested elections—including all five incumbents running in those races. The Prince William County Republican Party has endorsed a candidate in six of the seven contested elections. The current board has a 7-1 Democratic-endorsed majority.  

The election for the at-large chairman seat has had some of the most noteworthy endorsements, including from incumbent members of Congress. High-profile endorsements from state and federal officials have become more common as school board elections have increasingly reflected national political debates. 

Incumbent Chairman Babur Lateef, first elected in a 2018 special election, Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco, and Carrie Rist are running. The Prince William County Democratic Party endorsed Lateef, while the Prince William County Republican Party endorsed Rist. U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D), the 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee, endorsed Lateef. Kaine is the only incumbent U.S. Senator to have endorsed a candidate in the Prince William County Public Schools elections. State Rep. Nick Freitas (R) endorsed Rist.

Here are some of the issues candidates are discussing in this race.

Lateef said, “If you were to listen to these folks tonight, you’ll hear folks who are talking about that the sky is falling. And I’ll tell you that the sky is not falling. I believe we are one of the best school divisions in the country and certainly one of the best in the Commonwealth.” Mehlman-Orozco said, “The Virginia Department of Education found that Prince William County Schools were out of compliance, found that these schools had discriminated against kids and had denied them a free and appropriate education.” Rist said, “Every single teacher that I talk to in door-knocking or in the community has said that they’re concerned about lack of discipline and lack of support. We have to fix the school safety crisis.” 

Click here to learn more about the candidates in this race, including their statements and the individuals and organizations who’ve endorsed them. 

If you know of an interesting school board election we should cover in your community, just reply to this email!

Extracurricular: education news from around the web

This section contains links to recent education-related articles from around the internet. If you know of a story we should be reading, reply to this email to share it with us! 

Take our Candidate Connection survey to reach voters in your district

Today, we’re taking a look at responses from two candidates facing off on Nov. 7 in the nonpartisan general election for Academy School District 20 school board, At-large, in Colorado. Four candidates are running for the two seats on the ballot. In the Sept. 27 edition of this newsletter, we featured responses from incumbents Heather Cloninger and Will Temby, who were, at the time, the only candidates to have completed the survey. 

Since Sept. 27, the other two candidates in the race have completed the survey. Let’s look at responses from Derrick Wilburn and Amy Shandy

Academy District 20, which includes the northern parts of Colorado Springs, is the 10th largest district in the state, with an enrollment of around 26,600 students.

Here’s how Wilburn answered the question, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?

“I am personally passionate about the erosion of parental rights. With very rare exceptions, nobody cares more about the welfare of children than their parents. They raise and nurture to the best of their abilities for 18 years. The very idea that a public institution, like the school system, can work against parents or be actively involved in deceiving or keeping information from parents ought to give pause to all. Schools must partner with the families.”

Click here to read the rest of Wilburn’s responses. 

Here’s how Shandy answered the question, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?

“I am passionate about returning D20 back to a focused mindset where the main things are the main things: reading, writing, math, science and civics. Implementing board policy that reflects the community’s vision and values for things like age-appropriate library books will help alleviate the distractions and return to an academic focus mindset.”

Click here to read the rest of Shandy’s responses.

Everyone deserves to know their candidates. However, we know it can be hard for voters to find information about their candidates, especially for local offices such as school boards. That’s why we created Candidate Connection—a survey designed to help candidates tell voters about their campaigns, their issues, and so much more. 

In the 2022 election cycle, 6,087 candidates completed the survey. 

If you’re a school board candidate or incumbent, click here to take the survey. And if you’re not running for school board, but there is an election in your community this year, share the link with the candidates and urge them to take the survey! If you’re a school board candidate or incumbent, click here to take the survey.