Mayor Eric Adams, who has dyslexia, has made boosting literacy a top priority, arguably his administration’s most clearly articulated education plan yet. Schools Chancellor David Banks is calling on schools to improve, and in some cases replace, reading curricula. The administration has also launched pilot programs to identify students with dyslexia earlier and enhance interventions.

But overhauling literacy instruction is a huge and fraught undertaking.

Now, to garner support, the administration has convened a “literacy advisory council.” The group of nearly 60 literacy experts, educators, nonprofit leaders and parents is meeting monthly. But unlike many government task forces, the council will not issue recommendations for the administration to consider.

The council’s main goal, said Jason Borges, who heads up literacy initiatives at the city education department, is to inform and refine the administration’s plans and build buy-in to support implementation.

“It’s about getting input to advise on what we’re going to be doing,” Borges said. He acknowledged the skepticism when it comes to the efficacy of government task forces, but said he hopes this group will not only contribute to the vision but help execute it.

“To me this literacy advisory council is critical because it brings together expertise and diverse points of view [to] sustain support for the initiative going forward,” said Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children New York and a member of the council. “To bring everyone together and get them rowing in the same direction is a massive undertaking.”

Educators and experts said they are pleased to see the city finally try to tackle literacy. But already, the obstacles are coming into focus.

Rolling Out Research-Based Reading Instruction

Banks has said schools must follow the research on what works best to teach reading, by increasing phonics instruction and phasing out curricula such as the popular Teachers College “reading workshop” developed by Lucy Calkins.

That curriculum has come under intense criticism in recent years for glossing over phonics and encouraging students to use context clues that can cause bad habits. Now schools must choose from an approved reading curriculum or supplement the curriculum they already have with stronger phonics lessons.

However, many teachers have been trained to use the Calkins’ strategies and those like it for decades, and some continue to teach those lessons. Retraining teachers and buying new materials will take time and money, which is difficult to do when many schools have faced budget cuts.

Moving Toward A Universal Screening for Dyslexia

The city has rolled out new dyslexia screeners at 40 elementary schools across the city, and will add 120 more in the coming months. But advocates have said the screening is only the first step.

Schools also must be equipped to meet the needs of students with reading disabilities. But families with children with dyslexia almost always have to seek diagnoses and support outside the public school system, often suing the city to reimburse private school tuition. Some critics said the administration has made it even harder to help students with dyslexia in-house by reorganizing and reassigning literacy coaches and coordinators, increasing their portfolios and stretching them thin.

Dyslexia Pilot Programs

The city launched two new dyslexia pilot programs this fall, at schools in the Bronx and Manhattan, with instructors who are specially trained to teach students with reading disabilities. Parents who helped create the programs said they are off to a promising start. But the programs are small and scaling them up will be difficult given the enormity of the school system and all the special training needed. .

While Adams has said he wants to see dyslexia-specific schools in each borough, he has not detailed how he plans to accomplish that goal.

Still, despite these significant challenges, Sweet applauds the administration for putting the spotlight on literacy.

“I believe it’s extremely important that the NYC Public Schools change the way that they’re teaching reading,” Sweet said. “To do that is going to require a gargantuan effort.”