Florida business leaders got together for lunch and the mood was somber. They were sad because children in Manatee and Bradenton are not reading well.
And they’re right. In Sarasota, 29 percent of third graders aren’t reading at grade level. In Manatee, it’s 50 percent. Between both counties, 40 percent of third graders are having trouble reading.
They fear not enough children will be able to read for future construction jobs, joining the military, service positions, and many other technical and professional careers.
I spent some time looking at the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-level Reading, highlighted in this report. They do some nice things for children. But they could do a lot better when it comes to reading. And they still lean in favor of reform ploys that don’t work.
If children aren’t reading, perhaps it’s time for a change. Here are my suggestions:
Care wholly about the children.
It still sounds icky when you talk about how a child’s poor reading results will be bad for your business. Education doesn’t seem to be hurting most businesses today. CEOs do well.
It also goes without saying that America needs bright workers. We know the part education plays in this quest. You don’t have to continually remind us.
Don’t encourage schools and libraries to do reading contests.
Instead of being motivating, reading contests with a set goal of how many books to read, may turn slower readers off. Can you imagine struggling to proudly finish reading a book, then hearing your friend brag they’ve already read five books?
Instead of contests, get librarians and teachers talking about books and stories, and showing children books that are out there. Let them explore the library. Bring in children’s book authors.
Give children books that they will own.
And whatever you do, don’t make kids log in the time they spend reading each day. This is unnatural and could turn off even the best readers!
Respect and work closely with teachers.
I’m wondering how many teachers were at the luncheon. Florida has been driving its qualified teachers out of the classroom for years. There’s supposed to be a teacher shortage in Florida. But most business leaders don’t support real teachers.
Money is funneled into entrepreneurial nonprofits and fast-track teacher programs like Teach for America. I noticed the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-level Reading follows TFA on twitter.
If you want children to be good readers, you put well-qualified reading teachers into the classroom. Reading specialists would be helpful too. You support a true teaching profession where teachers go into, and continue to teach, because it is a chosen career.
There are no shortcuts when it comes to teachers if you want children to be good readers.
Quit thinking that the ideas of rich business people are going to fix schools.
Please help your business colleagues recognize that the education policies devised by the likes of Jeb Bush and Bill Gates have been in play for years. They aren’t educators. If children aren’t reading well, maybe it’s time to shift the blame to them.
Stop using “alignment” and “tracking” talk.
You can’t monitor and micromanage everything a child learns. Honestly. It sucks the joy out of life and makes children neurotic. Likewise, no parent likes to hear their child is going to be tracked. That’s just creepy.
There’s also a time and place for assessment, but a little goes a long way, and children don’t need to continually hear about testing. Nor should those words be used over the summer.
Volunteers are helpful, but they’re not teachers.
I like volunteers. With assistance from a teacher, they can work with individual children. But they are not teachers. Would you replace wealthy private school teachers with volunteers?
Stop Supporting Charters and Vouchers.
Where were you when it came to Florida’s HB 7069?
Instead of proclaiming that it is a “moral imperative” to fix education, how about morally doing what’s right for children and their public schools on the policy front?
How are charter students doing with reading? What about private and parochial schools? You don’t know because they don’t tell you.
Work to make a strong public school system that “we the people” own.
Join parents against high-stakes testing.
You must know there’s too much testing in Florida, especially where young children are concerned. This affects reading too.
Please join parents in the fight against high-stakes testing. Teachers need to be able to teach reading, not test nonstop.
Join parents in the fight for recess.
For years, Florida’s children have gone without decent recess breaks. Where has business been on this issue?
Children need breaks throughout the day if you expect them to learn to read. Even pediatricians think so. Please join hands with parents and educators who are sincerely working to make adequate recess a reality.
Do better research.
If business organizations want children reading, it is imperative you do honest research into education issues.
This is obviously not happening in Manatee and Bradenton counties, or you would have called for the end to third grade retention a long time ago.
You lose students when they fail a grade. There is a well-known connection between retention and the dropout rate.
Quit acting like technology is going to fix reading problems.
Many people are fearful of a tech takeover of our public schools. Encouraging children to sit on the computer during the summer is a mixed bag. A little might be fine. But there should be limits. Children need physical activity.
Stop promising children rewards for reading.
Florida has a history of giving students free hamburgers, pizza, and discounts to theme parks based on their reading. This may seem nice, but reading should be its own reward. Such awards make reading look like a chore.
Demonstrate to children that reading is fun! Bring in the arts and wonderful storytellers. Give those additional reward perks to children just because you love them.
Quit pushing young children to learn faster.
There are preschools and there are preschools. The ones that pull in parents to help, which incorporate a lot of play and developmentally sound activities, are the ones that work.
Pushing children to read before they’re ready may be why they hate reading by third grade!
Kindergarten should not be the new first grade.
If children like school they won’t be absent.
Lots of reformers are worrying about absenteeism—but absenteeism in kindergarten? Why do you think that is?
Could it be that kindergarten is too difficult, and there’s too much testing? Maybe schools are not welcoming enough? Kindergarten used to be a happy period in a child’s life.
Look closely at what’s been done to schools in the name of school privatization—especially in Florida. Fix the climate in public schools and maybe students will show up.
Business has been involved in public schooling for years. You deserve a seat at the table and a happy luncheon. But you also need to review what you aren’t doing right—if you are sincere in wanting to help children learn to read.