If You Can Read This …

Loyal readers of Eduflack know that I have spent far too much time, in far too many battles, over effective reading instruction. It still baffles me that we even need to have this debate, that parents and educators will fight having research-based literacy instruction in the classroom, instead advocating for a philosophy that doesn’t do a lick actually getting struggling readers reading.

But we do. And we regularly debate the merits of research over philosophy, of hard facts versus soft opinion. Then we wonder why our kids aren’t reading and why we aren’t seeing student achievement improve on virtually every literacy benchmark available to modern man.

The latest such benchmark is the PIRLS, which has now shown the United States to slip significantly, falling all the way down to 13th in the latest international measure of reading skills. It doesn’t need to be this way. It shouldn’t be this way. We know better. We just choose not to apply what is proven effective in the classrooms that need it the most, with the kids who would benefit from it the most.

On the latest episode of my program on the BAM! Radio Network, I take a look at our sad position when it comes to PIRLS and literacy instruction, and call on President Donald Trump to focus on teaching our kids reading … at least if he is serious about making America great again. Give it a listen!

 

Gender Lines on the … Alphabet?

Most parents have been warned of the dangers of “gender-specific” toys and what that means nowadays. It’s perfectly acceptable for little girls to play with soldiers or guns (as long as parents aren’t anti-violence, etc.) and it is equally acceptable for little boys to play with dolls and tea sets.

Just the other day, a friend of Eduflack shared a photo on Facebook of her five-year old son receiving an American Boy doll for his birthday. The child just couldn’t have been grinning any bigger than he was from scoring his dream present.

We say that there are no gender-specific colors either. It is perfectly fine for girls to prefer drab colors, just as it is for boys to own pinks and purples. (And I can proudly say that Eduflack has a significant number of pink, purple, and pastel articles of clothing, but owns almost nothing black, except for my kickboxing gear.)

One would hope we’ve gotten past the whole gender appropriate discussion when it comes to equipping our children with the attire, toys, and such one needs these days. But then Amazon has to go and ruin everything. For you see, in 2017, there is one set of ABCs for boys, and another set for girls.

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Seriously? We are more than halfway through 2017 and we still think boys learn the ABCs from airplanes and dump trucks while girls only garner it through lessons of butterflies and castles?

Setting aside, for a second, that folks are paying $10 a piece for an ABC book. Setting aside, for a moment, that twice as many people saw the need to review the boys’ ABCs than the girls’. Setting aside, for a bit, that it took two additional years to finally wrap up the ABCs that were appropriate for the “fairer” gender. Was all of this really necessary? Is there now a demand for a gender-fluid ABCs?

I miss the good ol’ days when it was all about making sure a child could read at grade level by the end of the third grade. It didn’t matter if they were reading words from a Babysitters Club book or the Hardy Boys.

Sigh. Double sigh. Sigh in both pink and camo.

 

The Ghosts of Reading First

This week, the Center for American Progress released a new report, “A Look at the Education Crisis: Tests, Standards, and the Future of of American Education.” In it, the researchers at CAP take a look at recent NAEP data to see if the state of public education is as bad as some say or on a rocketing upward trajectory as others say (guess it really depends on who your friends or online trolls are).

USA Today’s Greg Toppo has a great summary of the report here. We’ve all seen that high school graduation rates are at all-time highs. But it is hard to celebrate such a statistic when we still see that only one in five low-income fourth graders achieved reading proficiency on NAEP. Or that only 52 percent of “nonpoor” fourth graders were able to hit that proficient mark.

It doesn’t get better for eighth graders in reading. Only a third of them are proficient in cities like Charlotte, Austin, Miami, and San Diego. Boston comes it at only 28 percent proficient. NYC 27 percent. Chicago 24 percent. Philly 16 percent. Cleveland 11 percent. And Detroit at only 7 percent.

So why do these eighth grade numbers matter so much? Most of the students in the eighth grade NAEP sample never attended school when Reading First was law of the land. Sure, they may have benefited from textbooks that were developed to meet RF requirements years prior. And some of their teachers may have utilized the PD and supports they received during the height of RF. But each of these kids has now gone through eight or so years of public school where scientifically based reading instruction was not demanded nor expected.

These latest NAEP numbers, and the analysis from CAP make one thing very clear. We need scientifically based reading instruction in the classroom. Our teachers need to be prepared for it. Our elementary schools need to be based around it. Our students need to be instructed in it. And our families need to know it when they see it (and know when they aren’t seeing it in their community schools).

Yes, Reading First had implementation issues. Yes, at times it was more steel hammer than velvet glove. But can we really say we shouldn’t be using what is known to be effective in teaching kids to read? Can we really say, with all the data that we have, that early reading instruction based on phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension isn’t the correct path? Can we really say a a philosophical approach to reading trumps and research-based instructional approach? And can we really say we should’t be using what is proven effective in the classroom?

For those who condemn the Common Core’s emphasis on non-fiction texts, it is ridiculous to assume that a low-income eighth grader can read the rich literature sought when only a third of them are reading proficient in the first place.

When scientifically based reading instruction became the law of the land in 2002, it was an approach that was embraced by all comers. The teachers unions. The principals groups. The superintendents. The teacher education community. The business community. All saw the value in using proven-effective approaches to instruction. All saw the need to do something to improve literacy, particularly with low-income learners. All embraced SBRR.

We need to find that solidarity again. The most recent eighth grade NAEP scores show us that taking a different path has failed too many kids … again. We need to remember that literacy is not, or at least shouldn’t be, a political issue. Whether we want all kids to pass a high-stakes, state-based, standards-aligned exam or we want all children to find a love for learning and literature, the ability to read is a non-negotiable.

While Reading First has now been relegated to the history books for the past decade, we cannot and should not ignore the hundreds of thousands of research studies that showed the effectiveness of scientifically based instruction. We cannot and should not ignore the reality that, when SBRR was in full effect in the early to mid 2000s, reading proficiency rates were on the rise, both with the low-income students the program targeted and other learners who benefited from the focus on SBRR-based instructional materials and PD. And we cannot and should not ignore that far too many kids — particularly those that are black, brown, or low-income — are struggling when it comes to reading … and we know just what should be done to help them.

 

Yes, We Need a Literacy Discussion at #SXSWEdu. Vote Now!

Last year, Eduflack had the honor of speaking at SXSWEdu, preaching on the importance of active, involved parents in the educational process. The talk came out of my award-winning Dadprovement book, a work I am particularly proud of.

This year, I am hoping to get back to SXSWEdu to talk about a topic that has been the central driver of my professional edu-career for nearly two decades. That subject? How best to teach children to read.

Earlier this year, Rowman & Littlefield published Teaching Children to Read: Continuing to Challenge the Status Quo in Education, a work I put together with two of my professional mentors, Reid Lyon and Phyllis Blaunstein. In the book, we look at some both the research and some very personal experiences regarding reading instruction, and what parents can do to ensure their kids are getting the very best, proven literacy approaches in their own classrooms.

To give you a little sense of what the book seeks to do, check out what Education Trust’s Karin Chenoweth wrote about it early this year on Huffington Post.

But I digress. From the SXSWedu Panel Picker, here is the description of what I want to talk about:

Despite the adoption of Common Core and the strengthening of learning standards, nearly a third of fourth graders unable to read proficiently. Too many kids can’t read, and we know why. Moreover, we know what we should be doing about it.

This session will provide an overview of what we know is most effective in teaching young children to read, while providing a specific path for teachers and parents on how best to get it into our classrooms.

By challenging the status quo in education, we can ensure that Johnny can read. And in doing so, we can shift from being a nation at risk to one where every child is truly college and career ready. (Spoiler, it requires literacy skills.)

– See more at: http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/47957#sthash.mjDp3v0Z.dpuf

Please vote for my session, Johnny Can’t Read, So We Remain a Nation at Risk. It takes just a moment to go to the SXSWedu picker and give my session a thumbs up (literally, you click on the up thumb and it goes green). And if you are so moved, write a brief comment on how brilliant and pithy I am, and how such a session is needed.

Thanks for your support. And as they say in Chicago, vote early and often.

Jeb Bush and the Politics of Education Policy

Over at the New Yorker this week, there is a terrific deep dive from Alec MacGillis on former Florida Gov. and potential GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush and his deep work in education reform, both in Florida and nationally.

MacGillis does a great job of really telling the tale of the breadth of Bush’s efforts in education, how his thinking has evolved, and how one action or issue led to his involvement in another. It’s definitely worth the read.

And dear ol’ Eduflack is included in the piece:

Some friends and associates saw personal motivations behind Bush’s initiatives. Patrick Riccards, who, as counsel for the federal government’s National Reading Panel, discussed education reform with Bush, said, “As the father of Hispanic kids, you become far more sensitive to disparities—kids who look like your kids not getting the skills they need or getting into the right colleges.” (Bush’s children attended private schools in Miami and Jacksonville.) Others detected a competitive desire to surpass his brother’s agenda in Texas.

I’m speaking personally in the above. As the father of two Latino kids, talk of achievement gaps grew far more personal to me. It was no longer just a rhetorical point, but it affected my kids and kids just like them. Having engaged some with Jeb over the years, I have to believe it has had the same impact on him. If not, he wouldn’t be as passionate about the topic as he is.

Definitely take the time to read MacGillis’ piece in the New Yorker. There is a lot flying around about Jeb and Common Core, but this is the first piece I’ve seen in a good long while that really takes a thorough look at a complex issue.

Continuing to Challenge the Reading Instruction Status Quo

As some may know, in 2005 Eduflack was part of a team that was asked to put together a book to help parents and teachers better understand scientifically based reading instruction. This came out of my work with the National Reading Panel, which looked at decades worth of research to determine the best ways to teach young children (those in kindergarten through third grade) how to read and how to read at grade level.

A lot has changed since 2005, both in education in general and with regard to literacy and reading instruction specifically. But the guidance SBRR provides hasn’t changed. We still know what works. We still know what is most effective for teaching kids – particularly those from historically disadvantaged backgrounds – to read. We still know if a child isn’t reading at grade level by the end of third grade, learning in the later grades just becomes harder and harder.

But since Why Kids Can’t Read originally came out, we’ve had knock-down, drag-out fights on everything from Race to the Top to teacher evaluations to new ELA standards under the Common Core. While these debates have garnered all the headlines, they haven’t diminished the importance of doing what works when it comes to teaching literacy skills. And they certainly haven’t reduced the importance of parents in the teaching and learning process.

That’s why I am so excited to announce that Why Kids Can’t Read: Continuing to Challenge the Status Quo in Education, from Rowman & LIttlefield, is now available to help teachers and parents navigate this important subject matter. Done in collaboration with my co-editors Reid Lyon and Phyllis Blaunstein, Why Kids Can’t Read offers personal stories from parents and educators on how they have “beaten the odds” when it comes to teaching kids to read. It also provides a deep understanding of what the research says AND how parents and teachers can use the research to ensure each and every classroom is doing what works when it comes to literacy instruction.

Contributing authors include Teresa Ankney, Diane Lyon, Phyllis Blaunstein, Norma Garza, Marion Joseph, Richard Long, Reid Lyon, Sara Porter, Benjamin Sayeski, Bennett Shaywitz, Sally Shaywitz, and yours truly. It also offers a foreword from Carol Hampton Rasco, the president and CEO of Reading Is Fundamental, and a preface from former U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley.

For those parents with struggling readers at home, it is worth a look. For those seeking a refresher on SBRR, it is work a read. And for those looking for inspiration from parents and educators who are doing extraordinary things, it won’t disappoint.

Of course, I’m biased. As the lead editor, a contributing author, and the father of a struggling reader, this book is quite personal to me. But it should be personal to all of us. We should want every kid reading. We should demand every fourth grade reading at grade level. And we should never make excuses for so many children – particularly kids of color – struggling with reading.

Why Kids Can’t Read is really a story of empowerment, helping parents take an active, positive role in their children’s educational journey. As Bob Chase, a past president of the National Education Association said about the book, “Parents and teachers working together can be an unstoppable force in solving our children’s reading problems. This book will guide all who strive for a nation of readers.”

Couldn’t say it any better myself.

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