A stipend of $ 1,000 for teachers taking basic reading training. Texts to parents promoting literacy. Grants to school districts to fund tutoring and online resources focused on reading skills.
These are the types of innovative efforts underway in Tennessee through a new, state-wide $ 100 million initiative called “Reading 360.” Founded in the science of reading with an emphasis on phonetics, Tennessee should be commended for prioritizing literacy as state seeks to help schools recover from disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic .
Before the pandemic, about a third of all third-graders in Tennessee met English language expectations. Over the challenges of the past year, it’s safe to say the situation has only gotten worse. Tennessee is raising $ 60 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding and $ 40 million in federal grants to “accelerate student learning further and faster than ever.” (NOTE: This effort is not related to a reading product with the same name from Renaissance Learning.)
The Tennessee program speaks directly to parents while improving literacy aids in schools. Among the components:
- Texts for parents with useful information to improve literacy and free reading kits with decodable books to practice reading.
- Optional grants to districts to provide an average of 36 hours of early literacy tutoring to each student over a 12 week tutoring cycle.
- Reading sessions for students several times a year.
- Teachers who participate in two weeks of opt-in training will receive a stipend of $ 1,000 and micro-titles.
“Tennessee is prioritizing early literacy from both a policy and programmatic perspective, boldly addressing all the elements needed to bring our state closer to universal reading competence,” said Penny Schwinn, Commissioner for education of Tennessee. “Making sure every child reads at grade level is the most important thing our school systems can do. With a host of resources for teachers, districts, families, and communities, Reading 360’s programmatic work maximizes federal funds to meet our state’s new policy framework and addresses all aspects of strong foundational literacy.
Tennessee is far from alone in facing a literacy crisis. Our nation has faced this for a long time – and it is a crisis with economic consequences. A recent Gallup analysis for the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy found that getting all American adults to at least a “Level 3” literacy skill (meaning a reader can “reliably assess sources, as well as inferring sophisticated meaning and complex ideas from written sources ”) would generate an additional $ 2.2 trillion in annual income for the country. This represents 10% of the gross domestic product of the United States. The same study notes that Department of Education figures estimate that about half of American adults, aged 16 to 74, are not proficient in literacy.
“America’s low literacy crisis is largely ignored, historically underfunded and sadly under-studied, despite being one of the great solvable problems of our time,” said British A. Robinson, CEO of the foundation that defends the literacy legacy of Barbara Bush.
While we still have a long way to go to make teaching reading appropriate for our children, there are signs that education officials in Tennessee and elsewhere are turning to what the evidence shows works for it. teaching reading. They recognize that we simply cannot wait for things to get back to “normal” to improve our reading instruction. It must be part of the recovery solution.
Recently, the Council of Heads of Public Schools released a series of recommendations that state education officials should adopt to improve reading outcomes, including articulating a cohesive vision for improving literacy, providing guidance to school districts and schools to align curricula, assessments and professional learning with evidence. practices based on higher education-based practices and involve higher education partners to support the strategy.
In Mississippi, teacher certification programs have been updated to require the teaching of the science of reading, so the emphasis is on students having developed the skills to decode words. They have also hired early childhood education coaches and will work on developing individual reading plans for children who are struggling to learn to read.
Arkansas, in turn, passed the “Right to Read Act 2017” requiring all employed K-6 teachers and special education teachers K-12 to meet the thresholds. of reading skills. Additional legislation passed in 2019 requires each district to establish a professional development program based on the science of reading.
We have long known in education circles that evidence-based reading practices are not practiced in many schools. This makes the efforts in Tennessee and other parts of the country particularly noteworthy. Heads of state and educators recognize the need to improve literacy and find ways to achieve it as we recover from these difficult times.