Joseph’s family told the Los Angeles Times she died Thursday. The cause of death was not disclosed.
A former top adviser to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Wilson Riles, Joseph began advocating for education reform when her grandson was having trouble reading.
At the time, schools were applying a literacy theory called whole language approach, which uses literature as a teaching tool and emphasizes learning through the context of words. Joseph began compiling research that showed children learned better by breaking down words phonetically and sounding out the words.
She championed phonics-based reading, drawing on her 12 years of working in the Department of Education to talk to policymakers.
In 1994, she was appointed to a state task force charged with improving beginning-reading instruction to respond to test scores showing more than half of fourth-graders couldn’t read well enough to understand basic text.
The group agreed to combine whole language and phonics, and the Legislature later passed a bill that mandated the use of phonics in reading instruction.
“She was a force of nature. She had tremendous energy, amazing commitment and she was not going to let go of this issue,” said Bill Honig, who served as state superintendent of public instruction from 1983 to 1993.
Family members said during her last days, Joseph urged them to keep working toward ending education inequity by ensuring strong reading skills for all.
“If children could still not read because the education system was not serving them appropriately … something was not right and should be fixed,” her granddaughter Rachel Joseph said. ”She was telling people, all of us, that we had work to do and that this fight needed to be continued.”
Joseph is survived by her son Daniel Joseph, daughter Nancy Kinsel and three grandchildren.
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