Too Little? Too Late?
At a recent business forum, New York City Schools Chancellor
Joel I. Klein reiterated a widely held belief that public education
is broken. He talked about the system's failure to educate
kids in poverty and that six out of ten minority students never
make it all the way through the K-12 system. He underscored
the danger of social promotion and talked about the merits
of a new summer school program as part of a plan to impose
strict promotion standards for third graders. And he emphasized
that the type of systemic change he and Mayor Bloomberg are
seeking in New York City's public schools, while gaining momentum,
will require consistent effort and commitment over time.
What he didn't address is that third
grade intervention is too little, too late. Nor did he acknowledge
existing programs that currently are working to ensure that
children will be successful readers by third grade. Many
of these programs either go unnoticed or are ignored. One
of these, like the Reading Excellence and Discovery (READ)
program, founded in 1999, though privately supported, are
addressing one of the core problems K-3 students face in
our inner city schools—inability
READ is a proactive and preventative early school readiness
program that employs research-based instructional strategies
to help at-risk children reach grade-level reading proficiency.
It has been proven countless times that the most important
mental and learning patterns children build start well before
they begin school and significantly evolve during the kindergarten
through third grade years.
Research has also shown that learning to read before third
grade is essential to reading to learn after grade three. Reading
must be the first skill and must be learned. If a child leaves
kindergarten unable to decode the English language, a potential
problem has just been promoted.
Over 60% of the children in most inner city school districts
cannot read at grade level and are falling further behind each
year. READ's simple premise: pairing teen role models with
the struggling young children in a scripted and supervised
one-to-one tutorial relationship would both elevate the children's
reading skills and give them a neighborhood hero. Studies show
that male children in particular begin to choose role models
quite early and in homes where the father is often missing,
that choice is crucial.
Early intervention is optimal. Without it in place, America's
under-educated will continue to be in dead end jobs, on unemployment
roles and in the nation's prisons. A single loss of life in
Iraq is a front-page story while at home, on a personal level;
those we leave behind only make news if they commit a crime.
READ has worked. Not only are the lagging readers catching
up, but the social transformation of many of the children is
Class-based programs are not adequate for many children. I
was fortunate, my mother was an English teacher who gave up
teaching to raise and teach me. When I arrived in first grade
I was ready, my mother made sure of that.
Individualized education for early learners who are definitively
lagging must be expanded and successful older students, if
properly trained, can be a force multiplier. Perhaps most importantly,
they will help multiply the confidence level of their young
students, while being introduced to a life-changing profession.#
Al Sikes is the former chairman of the Federal Communications
Commission. He is currently Chairman, The READ Foundation.