A Road Map to Success

A map to student success.  It is an intriguing concept.  Today at the Reading First Conference, Deputy Education Secretary Ray Simon proudly placed the label on the Reading First program, boldly proclaiming we needed more RF.  “We need more Reading First, not less.  That makes sense!” he said to a cheering room of 5,000 educators.

In doing so, Simon offers an intriguing idea.  Let’s set aside the politics of RF.  Let’s ignore the whole language zealots for a while and try to mute out those critics who have sought to sabotage one of the most significant public investments in student achievement in recent years.  Instead, let’s just think about the notion of a map to student success.

How do we become such cartographers?  First, we set goals.  Check, all children reading at grade level by fourth grade.  Then we identify the research base.  Check, see National Research Council and National Reading Panel, among others.  Then we correlate the research base to an instructional approach.  Check, thanks to Reading First.  Then we train teachers to deliver the instructional approach with fidelity.  Still a work in progress.  Finally, we equip our educators and instructional leaders to effectively capture data to determine if the delivery of our approach is achieving our goals.  And on that point, we all know the verdict is still out.

I share Simon’s and First Lady Laura Bush’s desire to see RF funding continue.  The program hasn’t been in place long enough to truly measure its effectiveness.  Zeroing out funding now just adds RF to the pile of good ideas lacking the complete follow-through to know if they really worked.  But even if RF doesn’t see another dime of federal money, Simon is absolutely right.  RF has provided us a clear map to student success, a map that can be replicated to help build effective student learning opportunities, be they in reading, math, and science, or even social studies, foreign languages, or the arts.

RF has also provided us a map of how — and how not — to move a good idea from concept paper to legislation to law to the classroom.  It has shown us the need for a big tent of advocates, supporters, and champions.  It has demonstrated the need to secure buy-in from both the ivory towers and Main Street, USA.  And it has firmly declared that good data and better student performance numbers will always rule the roost.

The challenge, and opportunity, today is getting that map into the hands of every teacher, parent, policymaker, funder, and concerned citizen.  We know how to get to a nation where virtually all children are proficient or better in reading.  That path is available to all those who care.  Now we just need more people to use the map for its intended purposes, whether the map’s developer is defunct or not.

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