READ Act and Literacy, From A Teacher

My name is Carolyn Wolfrum.  I have 11 years experience as an elementary Teacher of the Deaf both in Denver and Jeffco.  I’m taking time off, but the minute I can do so, I want to be back in the classroom

When I read the article, “Frustrated With Poor Results, Colorado Budget Committee Holds Back 33 Million for Struggling Readers” written on March 7 for Chalkbeat, I had a visceral bodily reaction. I asked myself what I found to be the biggest problem in the chain of events written about.  My conclusion is that this is a case of the right hand not talking to the left hand ON STEROIDS.  That is often the case when governmental agencies make and implement laws.  The problem with this situation is that students only have one year to be in a grade.  Every day spent with students, in this case, specifically in literacy instruction, presents critical building blocks students will need for the rest of their lives to be able to use reading for both for function and pleasure.  I have a few suggestions I think would be helpful in streamlining the implementation of the READ act.  I would like to outline them here.

First, the question must be asked, what makes up solid, evidence-based reading instruction?  Many of my colleagues work diligently to remain current on best practices in terms of teaching reading instruction.  The districts they work in are tasked with following Colorado Department of Education (CDE) guidelines.  Visitors to the reading page on the CDE site can quickly determine that CDE reading guidelines are based heavily on research conducted in 1997 by the National Reading Panel (NRP).   According to the NRP, there are five components of reading, which should be implemented in a clear, sequential manner.  I  agree.  For comparison, In teaching math, students are tasked with becoming proficient in foundational skills before working on the more difficult skills asked of them in subsequent grades.  It is my (and the CDE’s) contention that the same thing should apply to reading instruction.

The next question that should be asked is how can the State of Colorado, with all of it’s stakeholders committed to ensuring excellence in reading instruction, meet that goal?  The key is communication between the stakeholders.

The first line of communication should be happening with teacher education prep programs and current teachers as well as current researchers in the area of reading to find out what their experience has taught them about effective reading instruction.  In addition college prep programs must work to remain current on research-based reading instruction research.    The reading instruction prep I received while in college was quickly put aside when I got into the classroom and had the benefit of experienced colleagues in my efforts to implement solid reading instruction.  I have heard from many of my colleagues that this is also the case for them. This is an issue which can be easily resolved.

The next aspect of communication that must be addressed is that between the Colorado Department of Education, the Colorado Legislature, and school districts across the state.  In reading the same Chalkbeat article, I was dumbfounded to learn that members in the legislature tasked with overseeing the READ act felt unsure about where funds for the READ project had been spent in recent years.  As a taxpayer, this frustrates me. These legislators, as stewards of taxpayer money, need to be informed about these issues.  They first need to develop clear criteria for how that money will be spent.  To do that, these legislators and their staffs need to become acquainted with general best practices for teaching reading. The second thing these legislators should to is to make a  strategic effort to communicate with the CDE and the school districts they serve to ensure funds are spent to their satisfaction. Again, communication is key here.

Another thing that should happen falls to school districts in the state.  When I was teaching, we worked very hard to adhere to requirements of the READ act. One issue was that the district’s good intentions in doing the same manifested with them throwing reading curriculum programs at us left and right.  Some of these curricula were more effective than others. The reality was that educators,myself included, desperately wanted our district to be much more thoughtful in terms of realistic time frames and qualities of different curriculums we were being asked to implement.  Teachers would appreciate a seat at the table when it comes to making decisions about what curriculum to implement.

Finally, the onus falls on educators to continually be apprised of the latest research regarding reading instruction. Additionally,educators need to look carefully at research and use their experience and professional judgment to determine whether research they are presented with is an effective use of their time, or just junk.  After making those decisions, educators should work to make sure their voices and opinions are heard.

As I mentioned previously, making certain our kids are receiving effective reading instruction is something that does not happen without concerted effort and communication between the various groups of people invested in making this happen.  The most important stakeholders in all this is the students we all serve.  They deserve nothing but the best in reading instruction. Are you in?