The Time to Prioritize Literacy is Now
Sometimes I think of literacy among Minnesota students as a stopped-up pipe. Water is making its way but it isn’t flowing through; something is getting in the way. But a handful of proposals in the Legislature could make a significant change.
There’s a fundamental inconsistency in how educators are trained to teach students to read. In the same school, you could have one teacher with a foundation in the science of reading and someone else who has no knowledge of the practice. Those two classrooms are likely to look totally different in terms of the lesson plan, its implementation, and student outcomes.
Improving Literacy Following Interrupted Learning
Teaching reading became a double-edged challenge with the onset of COVID. Minnesota’s educational disparities were compounded by students’ limited access to educators and resources. These days, it’s common for a class to have three distinct groups of students: one group at grade level, able to read, write, and meet state standards for reading, writing, and literacy; another group that is behind; and yet another, that cannot read at all.
Kids are frustrated. In a favorite education podcast this month, I listened as student after student left messages saying, “we’re overwhelmed and overworked.” Students know they’ve got catching up to do. They’re understanding of teacher’s responsibilities. And at the same time, each letter or call made it clear that they are losing interest—school is not fun.
Kids who are behind, feel trapped and unmotivated—and they aren’t well set-up to achieve the growth required to meet grade-level reading standards.
Educators Have Limited Access to Reading Resources
It’s important to consider what resources educators have access to. Taking class size into consideration, teachers are trying to do what they can with the resources and tools they have access to, but their options are limited.
For example, students identified as not reading proficiently in Minnesota must be provided reading intervention to accelerate growth with the goal of reading at or above grade level proficiency by the end of the school year, according to state law and the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE). Often, reading interventionists work one-on-one with students and in consultation with their classroom teachers to help them improve specific skills. But the relatively small number and distribution can make reading interventionists difficult to access for students and educators alike. Programs like Reading and Math Corps have helped because they’re provided at no cost—but they’re only 20 minutes. And those programs are working hard to keep up with demand because the need is so high.
Literacy Training is a Small Change That Would Make a Huge Difference for Kids
The more training you give educators the more successful they’ll be in developing effective lesson plans, teaching, and classroom strategies. Education and training on the science of reading at no cost to educators is a little change that can make a huge difference, and an essential step in the right direction.
There are currently multiple bills in the Minnesota Legislature that aim to give educators the resources they need to teach kids to read. The Senate and the House heard a bill that would give teachers the skills to teach language and literacy to every student. And the Governor’s BOLD Literacy Proposal also moves to establish regional training and coaching capacity through MDE.
The only cost to being proposed to educators is the time they take to learn. And in exchange, those teachers will see the fruits of their efforts in the impact on their students. Classroom size will inevitably vary by district, but educators’ knowledge of how to teach reading and literacy could be universal if legislators pass these bills.
In this pandemic moment, educators can use all the help we can get. This is really for the kids. If we invest our time and energy in them, they can positively impact society; it’s a win-win. But these proposed changes may be needed in order to make that reality come true.
Bringing All Hands on Deck
Our state’s reading gaps are significant and have been deeply exacerbated by COVID. This could have a massive generational impact if we don’t respond effectively. In a matter of months, the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) results, SATs, and ACTs will start to give us a sense of what reading, writing, and comprehension look like in this state.
Water is going through the pipe, but something is blocking it—it will take the legislature, administrators, district leaders, interventionists, teachers, tutors, and education support professionals working together to make a significant shift so Minnesota’s education system is working to serve our children.
EdAllies seeks to elevate diverse voices and foster a candid dialogue about education. While we provide our blog as a platform for EdVoices and other guest contributors, the views and opinions they express are solely their own.