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In The News My Humble Opinion

Where Does Literacy Begin?

Well, according to Esther A. Jantzen’s article in the LA Times, literacy begins at home, and I couldn’t agree more. She had this to say about the study which found that Bush’s Reading First program is not working:

I doubt if anyone with experience in urban education is surprised at the announcement. We’re disappointed that, once again, a generation of public school kids didn’t get whatever is needed in order to learn to read well.

But we’re not surprised. We’ve been barking up the wrong tree a long time.

I’ve actually been watching and waiting for the inevitable finger-pointing that was bound to happen once the news spread about the lack of success the Reading First program has had in improving student performance in urban schools. It should come as no surprise that the blame be tossed around and passed down from office to office before finally landing in the laps of the schools and teachers. While I knew the finger would also eventually be pointed at parents, I didn’t expect it to be done this quickly.

Although I think some blame belongs to the schools and the administration of the program in general, I completely agree with the author’s views in regards to the importance of starting literacy in the home. She goes on to share the findings of an eye-opening study that was done on children’s vocabulary and literacy; an important one that most parents (and many educators) are sadly, unfamiliar with:

They found that by age 3 children of welfare parents heard 10 million words, those with working-class parents heard 20 million words, and those with professional parents heard 30 million words. In addition, with children 13-18 months old in welfare families, almost 80% of the feedback to the child was negative, in working-class families about 50% was negative, and in professional families more than 80% of feedback to the child was affirmative.

It turns out that verbal development is not so much about IQ, parental love or socioeconomic status. These skills are related to how much a child is talked to and the tone of the communications. Literacy is founded on words heard and words used. What this means is that the critical place that literacy develops is the home, not the school, and that the crucial intervention period is very early in the life of a child.

This is powerful information for any parent to have and act on! I wish every parent would make it his or her personal mission to assure that their child gets the best start possible by simply following what this study suggests: talking and interacting with your child in a positive manner as much as possible! Jantzen goes on to supply several realistic ideas for parents, companies, and the community at large to make this change happen in homes across the country. Having worked at a couple of urban schools myself where parental involvement meant calling a social worker, I can only hope that her message is heard.

I can at least help by spreading her word and by providing parents the knowledge to teach their kids to read at home through our site! Read the whole article here to find out more about her ideas.

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In The News My Humble Opinion

‘Reading First’ Not Working…Why Not?

The Reading First initiative is a federally funded program that aims to raise student performance by improving reading comprehension (as measured by state tests). The program has very strict guidelines that states and districts must follow in order to receive and maintain funding. Some of these guidelines include:

  • Having a reading coach – a person that works to train teachers and make sure they are up to date on the latest research on teaching the five components of reading. This person is to work side by side with teachers in and out of their classrooms to help them accomplish these goals.
  • Using approved scientific research-based curricula
  • Provide students with an uninterrupted 90-minute reading block each day
  • A set amount of time for teacher professional development in reading instruction

You’d think all of those efforts should pay off, right? Well, according to a preliminary report published by the Department Of Education, students who attend a Reading First school have shown no more gains than those whose schools lack the program. The program weighs in at about $1 billion dollars a year so far (for a total of $6 billion), so you can see why this would be disturbing to some. A final report that looks at the effects of the program guidelines on student comprehension is due out in late 2008.

So why is the initiative not working as intended? I don’t think it’s because of faulty research. I suspect the reasons why it’s not working as anticipated are due to the implementation, management, and expectations of the program. My experience as a reading coach in one such school lends me a bit of insight into the matter. While I definitely don’t think the following applies to all schools, it may still be true for many. Here are three reasons why I think Reading First may not be working to its full potential:

  1. Misuse of resources at the school level: I found that my time as a reading coach was not used effectively by the administration. Much of my time was diverted towards taking care of discipline issues instead of working with teachers.
  2. Lack of teacher “buy-in”: Teachers oftentimes need to buy into and feel like they own ideas in order to change. I found that many teachers were so bogged down with the other guidelines they were placed under (NCBL, state, and district mandates) that they simply couldn’t find the time to change and grow professionally, or, in a few cases, simply didn’t want to.
  3. Unrealistic expectations: Many of the children being served in the targeted public schools come in with such limited language and literacy skills, that it’s really hard to catch them up to “grade level” in a couple of years (at least to the point where they score well on state tests) . These kids would likely make great gains quickly if they had individual instruction on a daily basis, but that’s just not realistic in today’s schools.

Could this be the beginning of the end of The Reading First initiative? Surely people will not stand behind something that costs that amount of money with no proven results, but it would be a shame if the instructional methods of Reading First are dismissed as being ineffective. I truly feel that the research that has been done to support the program and reading instruction in general is solid and strong. I’ve personally seen it work and make a difference in helping many children learn to read. I guess we shall have to wait and see how it all plays out!