How Obama should set literacy goals
My guest is Dolores Perin, a professor at Teachers College at Columbia University, in the Reading Specialist Program. It is the first in an occasional series by college faculty, who will write about reforms proposed by the Education Department in “A Blueprint for Reform,” the Obama administration’s vision of how to rewrite the federal law commonly known as No Child Left Behind.
By Dolores Perin
The release of every new national literacy report is a cause for the heart to sink.
Although there are small gains here and there, the reading and writing levels among our nation’s schoolchildren are very low for an advanced industrial society (now an information society) that not only provides twelve years of publicly-funded education but requires postsecondary course work.
The educational system is rich in its teaching workforce. Most teachers are dedicated to the needs of children, and willing to work in the trenches where it really matters.
However, these strengths are often undermined by a lack of understanding of the reading and writing process, and strategies to teach students how to perform the intricate procedures needed to comprehend written text and produce meaningful writing.
The Obama administration’s proposal for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, A Blueprint for Reform, is on the right track in its literacy goals.
Who can argue against effective instructional materials, improving teachers’ knowledge and skills, effective literacy instruction for all learners, including English language learners and students with learning disabilities, comprehensive literacy programs, language and text-rich classroom environment, and the implementation of high quality literacy instruction?
However, the goals as currently stated are very general and as such run the risk of leading to literacy approaches that might not help the many children who need to improve their reading and writing skills.
Some important literacy topics not mentioned in the blueprint need special attention.
First, reading and writing instruction leading to college readiness should be a priority and start early.
Literacy instruction should be aligned across grade levels, resulting in seamless entry to college for all graduating twelfth graders. Preparation for postsecondary reading and writing should begin in middle school. Secondary school teachers should collaborate with college instructors to design literacy instruction geared to prepare students for the reading and writing demands of college content-area classrooms in both academic and career and technical subjects.
The national discussion of college readiness now centers on standards. However, educational efforts need to go far beyond stating standards. It is far easier to state standards and test for those standards than to provide the types of instruction that ensure that standards are met.
Second, teacher preparation for adolescent content-area literacy should be emphasized.
Middle and high school content teachers, both pre-service and in-service, should be prepared to integrate literacy instruction into their routine subject-area instruction.
Currently, many students cannot learn well from a content curriculum because they have difficulty reading assigned text and fulfilling subject-area writing assignments. Secondary content teachers need to understand literacy processes and become aware of evidence-based reading and writing techniques to promote learners’ understanding of the content material being taught. Extended school-based professional development should be provided through collaborations between literacy and content-area specialists.
Also, schools of education should be supported in preparing future secondary content area teachers for adolescent literacy instruction.
Third, there should be a strong focus on gathering evidence as new programs are implemented under the reauthorized education act. Data-gathering should focus on areas for which there is currently a great lack of empirical evidence, including those mentioned above, adolescent content literacy, and reading and writing instruction for college readiness.
Basic questions need to be answered.
What types of instructional materials are effective for the nation’s many low skilled middle and high school learners? How can middle and high school teachers’ knowledge of and skill in literacy instruction be improved? What approaches to literacy instruction help learners prepare for the reading and writing demands of postsecondary education?
The role of institutions of higher education will be of critical importance in gathering systematic data to inform the new educational efforts promised in the blueprint.
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| May 6, 2010; 2:46 PM ET
Categories: Guest Bloggers, No Child Left Behind, Reading | Tags: literacy goals, obama and blueprint for reform, obama and literacy, reauthorizing ESEA, rewriting nclb, rewriting no child left behind
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