We read the following by David Lawrence Jr. in the Miami Herald of December 25:
“We’ll never make it work for children unless we start much earlier. Based on the latest FCAT 57,701 children, that’s 30 percent of Florida’s fourth grade public school students, cannot even meet minimum reading proficiency standards. As the school years progress, the numbers will get even worse. A quarter of public high school students won’t graduate…. The national research also tells us that if 100 children depart first grade as poor readers, by the end of fourth grade, 88 of those are still poor readers.”
Is anyone out there reading this sort of thing for the first time? I’ve been reading it most of my adult life, 40 years or more, from at least the late sixties and early seventies when I started thinking about these things.
Most public school reform efforts have been powered by such observations, in particular the observation that too many children, and too many of the poor and otherwise disadvantaged kids living in our large inner city and rural neighborhoods and regions, are not meeting reading proficiency standards by the end of elementary school, let alone the end of third or fourth grade.
Furthermore the assumption is always made that factors external to the children themselves, the parents and teachers, the home and school conditions, the curriculum and school structure, and such are at fault for this failure, and finally that these factors need to be altered to promote the child’s learning, in this case, learning to read.
But this never seems to happen. The reforms never seem to work as they were intended. It makes one ask if reading proficiency by the end of third grade, by the end of elementary school, by the end of high school, whenever, is in fact within every child’s power to achieve?
Could it be that it isn’t, that it is no more within everyone’s power to achieve than it is in everyone’s power to achieve other bench marks in other fields, in math, music, athletics, writing, speaking a second language etc? Don’t we all fail in one or more of these areas? In fact, why have we singled out reading?
Also we know from the testing that is done that adult literacy or reading levels are also low, that large numbers of the adult population, probably quite comparable to those numbers of Miami-Dade County children, are anything but proficient readers.
Don’t we need to work with children, and adults, as they are, not as we would like them to be? Shouldn’t we stop holding reading proficiency as a sword above their heads waiting for the moment (at the end of 4th grade in Miami-Dade County) when it will fall and cut them off from the “normal” society of proficient readers?
If however, in spite of everything, reading proficiency is the most important goal that we can set for all of our children shouldn’t we make it the principal goal of 12 years or a life time of schooling and learning, and stop making children believe that if the goal is not theirs within the first few years it is not theirs ever to attain.