Marion Joseph, California education reformer, dies at 95

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Marion Joseph, whose advocacy for phonics-based reading transformed the way reading is taught in California, has died. She was 95 years old.

Joseph’s family told the Los Angeles Times that she died on Thursday. The cause of death was not disclosed.

A former senior adviser to Superintendent of Public Instruction Wilson Riles, Joseph began advocating for education reform when his grandson struggled to read.

At the time, schools applied a theory of literacy called the whole language approach, which uses literature as a teaching tool and emphasizes learning through the context of words. Joseph began compiling research that showed that children learned best by breaking words down phonetically and speaking the words.


She has championed phonics-based reading, drawing on her 12 years working at the Department of Education to speak to policy makers.

In 1994, she was appointed to a state task force tasked with improving reading instruction in response to test results showing that more than half of fourth-graders couldn’t read well enough to understand. the basic text.

The group agreed to combine whole language and phonetics, and the legislature later passed a bill that mandated the use of phonetics in reading instruction.

“She was a force of nature. She had tremendous energy, incredible commitment, and she wasn’t going to let go of this issue,” said Bill Honig, who served as the state’s superintendent of public instruction from 1983 to 1993.

Family members said that in his final days, Joseph urged them to continue working to end education inequity by ensuring strong reading skills for all.

“If children still couldn’t read because the education system wasn’t serving them well…something was wrong and should be fixed,” her granddaughter Rachel Joseph said. “She was telling people, all of us, that we had work to do and this fight had to continue.”

Joseph is survived by his son Daniel Joseph, his daughter Nancy Kinsel and three grandchildren.

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