• So many left behind, so little time

    Public education, however idealistic, necessary and misguided in funding, is sick. I don’t mean headache or Midol sick, I mean, ICU, ventilator sick. When education is sick, literacy and the future of our country is sick. It’s a big deal.

    It’s time to reevaluate how education is valued and funded, and if that funding supports the academic and social goals of education. One outcome of education should be literacy; yet “Forty-four percent of American 4th grade students cannot read fluently, even when they read grade-level stories aloud under supportive testing conditions” (National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Pinnell et al., 1995.) Current students do not fair much better. Although No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has helped raise expectations for students with disabilities, English Language Learners and the socio-economically depressed, students aren’t very literate and they aren’t significantly improving.

    When students can’t read fluently, they are not effective learners of science, or history. They do not learn critical analysis, logic or rhetoric. They don’t understand what they read and need information hand fed. If Johnny can’t read, he won’t become an informed citizen, unless by informed you mean Fox news… illiteracy is bad for democracy.

    Illiteracy also cripples earning power. It makes the difference from being able to survive and thrive. “In 1999, only 53 percent of children aged 3 to 5 were read to daily by a family member. Children in families with incomes below the poverty line are less likely to be read aloud to everyday than are children in families with incomes at or above the poverty line” (The National Center for Education Statistics, NCES Fast Facts, Family Reading). Families that are distressed aren’t reading to their kids, they are too busy trying to survive. With the recession, this portion of society is expanding. This does not bode well for future literacy rates.

    The cheapest way to help kids is for parents to take an active roll in parenting. Parents should read to their kids, be seen reading, and oversee an organized, daily, uninterrupted time for homework.

    Active parenting for all students would be the cheapest, most effective, action to help solve the woes of education. Without an infusion of parent involvement, schools need a transfusion of cash.

    If literacy rates are going to rise, literacy work has to be intensified in the lower grades. It’s simple time management. A high school teacher can help the student in class for the hour that s/he is there. However, grade school, kindergarten, and head-start have children for a more significant part of the day. Intense instruction should occur there, along with co-op style parent involvement. Small class size, parental involvement and intense instruction, should be expected in pre-K-6 grade.

    Without drastic changes to the application of parenting, textbooks aligned to standards, and professional development toward a multi-language approach to teaching and literacy across the curriculum, education will remain on life support. No matter of teacher accountability racing to the top can change the tide working against the teacher.

    According to the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), “37 percent of fourth graders and 26 percent of eighth graders cannot read at the basic level; and on the 2002 NAEP 26 percent of twelfth graders cannot read at the basic level. That is, when reading grade appropriate text these students cannot extract the general meaning or make obvious connections between the text and their own experiences or make simple inferences from the text. In other words, they cannot understand what they have read.”

    Current scores remain about the same according to The National Reportcard. No matter how the economy has shifted, no matter how much testing has occurred with NCLB, not much has changed in literacy since 1992. If education stays the same, and the outcome has flat-lined, what happens when statistical expectations are raised? By definition, the result is an increase in failing schools, failing kids, and an increase in frustration toward education.

    California’s budget has been amputated. Teachers have been laid off in record numbers. Class size has increased; music, art, PE and some athletic programs have been cut, textbook funding has been cut, and school systems are more stressed than ever. Does anyone really think we are racing to the top?

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