New York City is stressing phonics in its newly announced revision of its reading curriculum, calling it a “historic day” for the city.

Chancellor David Banks, head of the city’s Department of Education, announced Tuesday that schools in New York will switch to the science of reading to educate students because they are falling behind on reading scores. 

“Before kids can learn to love to read, we first have to teach them how to read. And the science on that, on how kids learn to read, is now pretty clear. We must give children the basic foundational skills of reading, teach them to sound out words, teach them to decode complex letter combinations and build them into confident readers,” Banks said at a press conference. 

The switch is part of a long debate between the science of reading, which stresses teaching students phonics and sounding out words, versus balanced literacy, which focuses more on teaching students to read by showing them cues or using context clues to understand a book.

Banks said some schools are ready to adopt this new approach now, while others will begin at the start of the new school year in September. 

“This is the beginning of something new,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) said in the announcement of the new reading curriculum. 

The debate between the two reading styles is not new, but the support for the science of reading has grown, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic and students were found to be far behind in reading. 

The switch to the science of reading in New York City schools will be massive, with hundreds of schools having to go from balanced literacy to the science of reading. It will also require teachers to change how they have been teaching reading for a long time.

“This is the framework of what a solid reading foundation actually looks like,” Banks said. “It’s not just phonics. It is a very comprehensive approach. But phonics and phonemic awareness are the bedrock of that. It has been missing in far too many of our schools, and we’re going to fix that.”