2 reading chiefs share goals, not strategies

The Education Beat

Maryland puts focus on educators

Texas emphasizes marketing

June 20, 1999|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

MARYLAND HAS a new state reading chief.

Michele Goady, section chief and specialist in reading and communications skills, is fourth on the bureaucratic ladder of the state Department of Education, behind a branch chief in language development and early learning, an assistant state superintendent for instruction and, of course, Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

Goady, 44, is bright, energetic and full of ideas for helping to improve reading instruction. But you're not likely to see much of her. Hers is an inside job, focused on Maryland educators.

To contrast Goady with the woman in charge of reading in Texas, you need only look at their offices. Goady's is a windowless cubicle out of Dilbert. Robin Gilchrist, assistant commissioner for reading in the Texas Education Agency, works in a spacious corner office in a tower overlooking the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.

Gilchrist, 37, was appointed to a new No. 2 post in the Texas school bureaucracy three years ago as part of Gov. George W. Bush's reading initiative. Her job is to market reading, to give it public relations.

With a staff of six, as opposed to Goady's one, Gilchrist works with educators.

This summer, her office is coordinating the training of Texas' 17,000 kindergarten teachers.

The teachers are learning better ways to prepare pupils for formal reading instruction in the first grade.

But Gilchrist also acts as a spokeswoman for reading. Her office distributes thousands of pamphlets giving "practical ideas for parents" in English and Spanish. Her staff answers a free reading hot line (800-819-5713). She deals with the media on reading matters.

Want a "Read to Succeed" Texas license plate, the proceeds of which go to reading programs? Call Gilchrist's office for instructions on how to apply. Want to know the books recommended for summer reading? Call Gilchrist. She'll even give you Bush's Internet address, where you can view the favorite books of Texas' first dog, Spot Fetcher. ("I love to read," says Spot.)

"The governor felt from the first that to show you're committed to change, you have to have someone visible with parents, business interests and the wider community," says Gilchrist.

The philosophies at work in Maryland and Texas are rooted in the states' divergent school cultures. Gilchrist is called the Texas "reading czarina," a nickname the former lobbyist doesn't reject.

"We could never have a reading czar or czarina in Maryland," insists Goady, who once worked in Texas as director of early childhood programs and as an assistant principal in Dallas. "Texas is so big that historically it requires a certain amount of uniformity and direction from the top."

Textbook selection in Texas is centralized. So are several other functions.

The Texas legislature approved an across-the-board raise for teachers last month. That wouldn't happen in Maryland, where salaries and working conditions are negotiated in each of the 24 school districts. In fact, most school policy in Maryland is determined in places such as Towson and Ellicott City, not at the state headquarters in Baltimore.

Goady's anonymity doesn't upset her.

"I'm talking about another kind of marketing," she says. "It's a matter of good programming. When children go home and are excited about reading and tell their parents and get their parents excited, too, that's the best marketing there is."

In the two years since reading moved from the back to the front burner, Grasmick has been Maryland's equivalent of Texas' reading czarina.

The superintendent has the bully pulpit, and she uses it well. She's nudged the local districts to toughen standards and dared criticize the teacher education establishment.

But much more could be done. Why not a reading license plate, with proceeds dedicated to reading programs? We have one for the Chesapeake Bay.

A reading dog might be a tad excessive (and Maryland's governor has no pet), but we could learn from the Lone Star State.

New York City test scores for reading, math decline

New York City schools Chancellor Rudy Crew has released citywide reading and math test scores that show sharp declines from a year ago.

Crew said he would require 70,000 third-, sixth- and eighth-graders to attend summer school as he phases in tougher promotion standards.

More than half of the city's third-graders had reading scores below grade level.

Pub Date: 6/20/99

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