The pandemic has deepened the reading crisis in schools

States like Mississippi, Alabama, and Massachusetts have begun retraining phonics teachers and decommissioning outdated teaching materials. But some efforts have been halted or slowed by the pandemic.

At Capital Prep, Ms. John’s students have made great strides since September. She serves as a role model for her colleagues and the school provides professional development. Yet in February there were seven out of 23 open teaching positions at the school, with some students being taught by inexperienced substitutes. Steve Perry, the founder of charter school network Capital Prep, which has schools in Connecticut and New York, recently traveled to Puerto Rico to recruit educators.

Dr. Hogan, the Boston researcher, has a federal grant to provide intensive, small-group tutoring to children in high-poverty schools who are falling behind on early reading skills. She, too, struggled to fill vacancies, despite the fact that pay had dropped from $15 an hour to $40 an hour.

“I’m running on fumes,” she said.

It doesn’t help that there is a growing demand for private reading and speech therapy for children from affluent families. Fees can reach $200 per hour, allowing some educators to leave the classroom altogether.

Tamara Cella, a phonics specialist with a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University, left the New York City public school system in 2016, frustrated by the pressure of principal turnover. In addition to a job at a private school in New Jersey, she now moonlights as a phonics tutor for Brooklyn Letters, a company that offers in-home sessions.

“Tutoring pays extremely well,” Dr. Cella acknowledged.

She teaches children who face some of the same challenges as Capital Prep – missing basic phonics skills and difficulty moving from simple reading exercises to book comprehension. But Dr. Cella worries more about the students she no longer sees.

“This feeling of guilt overwhelms me,” she said. “What about the Bronx kids? »

Julio V. Miller