Photo of Senator Miller.

State Senator

Patricia Billie Miller

Representing Darien and Stamford

State Sen. Patricia Billie Miller (opinion): A Right to Read, for Every Student


What actions can we take right away to both respond to the inequity that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated to invest in a better, brighter future for all our Connecticut students?

For years I’ve led legislative efforts to improve the way Connecticut students are taught to read. Literacy is the foundation of all future learning, so students who struggle early to develop good reading skills often fall behind in all subjects, with serious implications for their future.

As measured before the pandemic in the statewide assessment of English Language Arts, nearly half of Connecticut’s public school students fell short of grade-level reading expectations, and outcomes were significantly lower for students of color.

This is the result of Connecticut’s “hands-off” approach to reading, which has failed to properly train all educators and to require proven, evidence-based practices and programs in every classroom. But this story isn’t new.

What is new is that the pandemic — which has exacerbated learning losses before our very eyes, in front of our computer screens, and at our kitchen tables — has allowed parents, advocacy groups, and state leaders to focus on this issue as a genuine crisis. If reading and writing are fundamental to our students and to Connecticut’s future, why aren’t we more intentional and effective at teaching our students so that they are able to meet or exceed grade-level expectations.

The good news is, we absolutely know how to get this right. In 2012, the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus developed the “Connecticut K-3 Literacy Initiative” (CK3LI), which was piloted with the UConn Neag School of Education. The program uses what’s known as “the science of reading,” relying on cognitive and educational research to build professional development in evidence-based literacy practices in Connecticut school districts.

Four years later, in 2016, a review of the pilot found that participating schools had more than doubled the number of students meeting grade-level goals for literacy, and had dramatically shrunk the number of students at risk for reading failure. It was a resounding success.

Now, after years of a sluggish push to expand the effort statewide, we have a willing and invested public, motivated legislative leaders, and an influx of new federal resources. The time is ripe for Connecticut to declare that, “Every student has a right to read!”

That’s why I’ve introduced legislation to build a statewide, research-based response to literacy. My bill (HB 6620) will finally acknowledge that there is a proven method for literacy instruction, and that we need to use it in all of our Connecticut classrooms. Our students are entitled to it. With the passage of this legislation, we’ll build an independent Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success that will review every school districts’ reading curricula to ensure that it’s aligned with the science of reading.

We’ll provide professional development and coaching to educators; collaborate with educator preparation programs so that teachers are also trained in these evidence-based practices before they join the classroom; and we’ll set the state up for an influx of federal dollars now available to launch and sustain this comprehensive plan.

A statewide crisis demands a statewide response that is thoughtful, comprehensive, and up-to-date, using the best research that tells us how young minds learn to read. Growing up, I knew that education was my way out of poverty — but it took literacy to access that educational opportunity. After everything students have endured through this pandemic, we owe them all this same chance. Each and every child has a right to read, and I’m committed to ensuring that right for all.