Candidate biography: Joseph Campbell has worked in and around Montessori education his entire life. Currently he publishes books about Montessori education. Visit CampbellForSuperintendent.com
Are you happy with third grade reading test scores in California? If not, what changes would you make to improve them?
I would introduce more Montessori strategies into public instruction and give extra support to students who are struggling.
Montessori early childhood education includes a phonics-based literacy program that makes learning to read and write fun for most young children. In Montessori schools written language learning begins at a young age, but there is no high-pressure academic instruction, and young children are never expected to sit still for long periods of time. Instead, young children “play” with multisensory materials like sandpaper letters for learning sounds and small cardboard cut-out alphabets for learning to build words. Short individual and small group lessons, and independent follow-up work, are integrated into the children’s school day. The Montessori framework gives teachers freedom to incorporate relevant local culture into the curriculum. Most Montessori children develop enthusiasm for language learning and enter first grade with proficiency at or above grade level. Montessori strategies have a lot to offer public instruction.
Dyslexia affects 15-20% of the population, and children with dyslexia need more than phonics. On average, children are diagnosed with dyslexia around age 9. By that time, they may be far behind their peers. This can put them on a dire educational and life path, and can inhibit them from future success.
Early intervention and remediation are key. In some cutting-edge highly inclusive Montessori schools, children are continually assessed from an early age, and given language instruction, therapy, and remediation at the intensity level they need. All children receive appropriate care and attention so they can learn to read and write to the very best of their ability. No one “falls behind.” This could be a reality for all California schools. No child should wait until third grade for intervention. Montessori strategies, along with individual instruction and therapy for children with dyslexia, can help strengthen the educational framework of early literacy.
Do you believe the state should take a stronger hand in setting the policies and options for curriculums for achieving universal reading proficiency by the end of third grade, or should this be left to local control?
Yes. The State Board of Education, as well as the state superintendent, need to encourage local education agencies to provide increased dyslexia screenings, interventions and language therapy to students.
I would like the state to advocate for proven phonics-based curriculums integrated into play-based early childhood programs. In early childhood, language instruction should be holistic and excessive academic instruction is inappropriate. Individualized one-on-one and small group lessons are ideal.
Education policy should set a broad framework that enables teachers to include culturally relevant material from their communities. A lot of educators tell me they like Montessori because it provides them with a framework in which educational sovereignty and liberation are possible. While I believe the state must advocate for sound educational practice, I feel strongly that state policies should enable local control of curriculum and content as much as possible.
How would you hold districts accountable for ensuring all children can read at grade level by the end of third grade?
I will personally review struggling districts and consider ways to support them. I would strive to provide resources and funding to local agencies, including offering early childhood teachers basic Montessori materials and training.
There are many reasons why literacy rates are comparatively low in California. We are a sanctuary state, and we welcome immigrants, many of whom enter our public schools still learning English. We embrace our linguistic diversity and offer instruction in many languages. We pride ourselves in teaching our children social justice and equity, not just academics. Our learners are more diverse, and unfortunately, the disparity between the wealthy and the poor is greater here. Over half a million students in California are currently experiencing homelessness.
Despite how our scores compare with other states, California continues to lead the nation. The best and the brightest are born and raised here, and come up through California public schools. We are leaders in industry, art, music, and science.
We can get literacy right in this state and there is a huge opportunity for Montessori education to help. Surely, districts will face many challenges in the years to come, but overall trends are improving, so we must continue to collaborate, fund, and pursue proven methods to foster literacy.
Should the state increase its funding for resources to improve early literacy like the $500 million proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in the 2022-23 state budget to fund literacy coaches and reading specialists for teachers in elementary schools?
As a child, I struggled to learn to read and write. My mom was a Montessori teacher. In second grade she intervened. For months she worked with me every morning before school, but I didn’t really “catch up” until I graduated from college. Today, there is more awareness around dyslexia, but many children still do not receive the intervention and support they need.
One-on-one or small group work with reading specialists can make a huge difference. Without intervention children may face an educational situation which can prevent them from achieving success later down the road. I hope Gov. Newsom’s proposal will start with strong support to students in first grade. We should want every child to have literacy skills above and beyond any standards.