BGSU alum awarded honorary doctorate for pioneering phonics work, international impact on reading and literacy

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – Bowling Green State University alumnus Wiley Blevins ’87, ’23 (Hon.) received an honorary doctorate at Summer 2023 Commencement for his indelible impact on education, shaping literacy development and phonics instruction for readers and educators worldwide.

“Wiley Blevins has been steadfast in his commitment to developing literacy skills and supporting other educators,” said BGSU President Rodney K. Rogers. “As a public university for the public good, founded by the state of Ohio as a teacher-training institution, Bowling Green is committed to graduating leaders who go on to create good in their industries and communities. Blevins absolutely embodies our University’s mission in all he does, creating a lasting and immeasurable impact.”

Blevins credited BGSU with giving him the foundation that led to his renowned career in educational instruction.

“I had a dream to be the first in my family to go to college, and BGSU made that possible,” Blevins said. “It’s an honor to receive this distinguished recognition from the institution that helped shape me into the educator I am today.”

His commitment to improving literacy and teacher instruction — born out of a passion for providing children with the invaluable gift of reading — has earned him international recognition as a leader in the field.

“My greatest joy has been teaching children to read,” Blevins said. “Reading is a gift that forever changes a person’s life, can never be taken away and opens up a world of possibilities for them. Some of my grandparents never learned to read, so I grew up seeing all the challenges a person faces when he or she can’t read.”

International impact

Throughout his career spanning more than 35 years, Blevins has worked with teachers and school districts internationally to help students build fluency, vocabulary and comprehension skills using evidence-based practices he developed.

He has written more than 15 books for teachers, including "Phonics from A to Z,” “A Fresh Look at Phonics” and “Building Fluency,” several of which have been used by faculty members in the BGSU College of Education and Human Development.

Additionally, Blevins has written more than 100 children’s books, developed widely adopted elementary reading programs and conducted extensive research on topics ranging from fluency to decodable text.

Blevins is regularly invited to speak at the International Literacy Association, has been published in numerous academic journals and hosts teacher training and professional conferences for school districts across the U.S. and world.

He helped redesign the reading curriculum at Pittsburgh Public Schools and, since 2018, has been training reading coaches and principals in foundational literacy skills at New York City Public Schools. He recently worked with several schools in Australia.

“The impact of Wiley’s work is significant,” said Dr. Dawn Shinew, dean of the BGSU College of Education and Human Development. “He has helped shape the field of reading and provided valuable resources for phonics-based approaches to literacy.”

‘Forward-thinking education program’

After graduating from BGSU in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, now known as inclusive early childhood education, Blevins has continued supporting his alma mater.

He served on the College of Education and Human Development’s Advocates Board and frequently visited campus to share his experiences as a teacher, author and publisher with BGSU students. Blevins also established two scholarships: one to support male students pursuing degrees in elementary education and the other to help first-generation students with the cost of books.

BGSU was founded as a teacher training institution in 1910 and has long been regarded for its education program, ranked as one of the top in the country by U.S. News and World Report.

“BGSU has a very forward-thinking education program,” Blevins said. “We prepared portfolios, which no other university was doing then. We were highly prepared and highly professional. I was very fortunate to have chosen BGSU.”

Blevins spent his early career teaching in Ecuador, Ohio and Maryland.

He earned a Master of Education degree from Harvard University in 1990. His successful career in publishing began when he interned at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 1989.

In 1991, he joined Open Court Publishing Company, where he worked as a project editor and senior editor until 1995. Blevins held numerous roles at Scholastic, Inc. from 1995-2005, including director of primary programs and director of special projects.

During most of the decade he worked at Scholastic, Blevins spent his mornings teaching reading at two New York City public schools while conducting research and testing instructional materials in the classroom.

Blevins used those experiences to improve the effectiveness of his resources for educators and students.

“My philosophy was that I couldn’t create great materials for teachers and students unless I was in schools with teachers and students every week,” Blevins said. “My job was to find problems teachers faced and devise creative ways to solve them through my instructional materials. I love making teachers’ lives easier and their instruction more effective.”

As vice president and editorial director for the Education Group at Macmillan/McGraw-Hill from 2005-2009, Blevins created a comprehensive reading/language arts and English language development program for California. It was the top program in the state and was purchased by the Los Angeles Unified School District, becoming the largest textbook sale in U.S. history.

Throughout his career, Blevins developed supplemental reading programs, created a national intervention program, two national pre-K programs and worked with educators in math, science and social studies to incorporate reading pedagogy, among many other notable accomplishments.

Blevins has also worked with Benchmark Education, Sadlier and TWIG Science.

“Teaching children to read is one of the greatest thrills I’ve ever experienced,” Blevins said. “You get to witness the magic of young children picking up a book and accessing what’s inside. It’s just phenomenal.”

Updated: 08/08/2023 09:34AM