Reforms under way to aid young readers On April 2, U.S...

Letters

April 21, 2002

Reforms under way to aid young readers

On April 2, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige announced what he called "the start of the most major reading reform ever conceived in the United States -- classroom instruction born of proven methods and funded with an unprecedented 300 percent increase in federal funding." An estimated $900 million will initially be made available under the Reading First program to help schools and school districts improve K-3 reading instruction -- and improve children's reading achievement -- based on methods proven by rigorous scientific reading research.

Reading reform has divided educators, education policymakers and parents for years. So it is not surprising that federal policy makers are putting dollars behind their views about reading reform. After all, how better to help promote change than to put resources behind the words? Reading reform is also taking shape in Carroll County, and many positive, important and commendable initiatives are already under way.

The Principal as Literacy Leaders (PALLs) program, for example, identifies some of our struggling readers in grades one, two and three and implements a plan to make them better readers. The booklet "Put Reading First" is being provided to every K-3 teacher in our system. The Rigby reading assessment will now provide a consistent measurement among all schools in grades two through five. This will be one of the first times that we will have countywide consistency in reporting student progress in reading.

Finally, the staff is proposing a new program to help our most struggling readers by identifying them in kindergarten and then providing them with an additional 30 minutes of direct and systematic instruction beginning in first grade next year, then expanding the program to second grade the following year.

The FOCUS Project, which was initiated in mid-February, identifies students in grades K-8 that lag behind and then provides support programs that meet their individual needs. Select teachers at each high school will be trained in phonics instruction to provide support to students that may need that type of help. Finally, a summer camp is being planned, through partnership with the City of Westminster, modeled after one of the Jemicy School's outreach programs, that will provide one-on-one tutoring and fun for some of our children who need additional support.

As we decide on the further enhancements to our reading program, we must keep in mind that it is not about whether we should teach "all phonics" or "all whole language." Children learn differently and to suggest that every single child will learn to read under a phonics-based or under a whole language-based approach is unsupportable. Research does tell us to focus efforts early in a child's development. Therefore, in order to be most effective, reading reform initiatives must focus on what the foundation for our K-3 reading program should be and what approaches will help more children become successful readers.

As we move forward toward reaching decisions related to further improving our reading program, please keep in mind the following dates. On April 24, Dr. Reid Lyon, the President's Advisor on child development, specifically on how children learn to read, will speak at Hood College. There is no cost and the public is invited. On May 22, the Carroll County Board of Education will be conducting a workshop on programs to help struggling readers. Please consider coming to the meeting and providing your feedback.

The goal of this new Reading First program is to "ensure that all kids, not just some kids, can read well by the end of third grade." It is a simple, yet powerful, goal that complements the Carroll County's Board of Education goals for student achievement. The Board is committed to providing each child with the strongest academic foundation for success by focusing resources to identify and correct problems early in their school career. Reading instruction is, by most measures, the most important element.

Thomas Hiltz

Woodbine

Frazier misses point on crowded schools

I commend Carroll County's Board of Education for hearing the suggestions of a committee set up to weigh options to relieve overcrowding in our schools. The committee recommended enhancing school enrollment projections and lowering thresholds at which schools are considered to be too full to allow developers to build more homes.

Carroll County Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier warns these measures are "too drastic." Drastic? Mount Airy Elementary has an entire fifth grade moving into portables next year. This is a drastic, yet necessary measure that will ease overcrowding. It is unfair to our children and teachers to squeeze into a building that is 22 percent over capacity while our commissioners deny that a problem exists.

Furthermore, Ms. Frazier comments that lowering the threshold from 120 percent "means there's no houses being built in Carroll County and I don't think anyone thinks that's good for our county. ..."

If that is the case, let me be the "first" to step forward and say that further housing developments hurt our schools, water supply and roads. The school board has acknowledged that Mount Airy Elementary is in crisis. It's time for our commissioners to take "drastic" measures so that we can start building the schools that are so desperately needed.

Lisa Taddei

Mount Airy

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