Tennessee lawmakers just signed off on a $100 Million program called Reading 360. Sixty million is federal Covid-19 relief money and $40 million federal grant money. What is this? Why Tennessee? Will other states follow? While the media bombards the public with learning loss warnings, this program is about acceleration.
Here’s what the brochure says. Tennessee is now in a position to not just protect students, teachers, and schools in the face of an unprecedented global pandemic, but to accelerate student learning further and faster than ever before.
Accelerate doesn’t mean catching up or identifying where a child’s working developmentally. It doesn’t mean helping children with reading difficulties.
Accelerate means hurry, hasten, quicken, rush, and fast-track.
Accelerating learning seems to be an obsession among some policymakers, and it’s hard to understand. What possible good comes from forcing children to learn fast? Why are states still trying to make students race to some obscure finish line? How many children will end up with learning problems because of it?
In another description, they state Tennessee is getting a $100M investment of one-time federal funding to provide optional grants, tools and resources to help more Tennessee students develop strong reading skills by supporting districts, teachers, and families.
The program lacks specifics. It’s to have a comprehensive approach which includes systematic foundational literacy, educator and leader preparation, instructional materials, training, coaching, ongoing support, and online and family resources.
- Online programs. What programs exactly?
- Tutors. Emphasis is on tutors to provide 36 hours or 12 weeks of early learning tutoring for every child. Why would every child need tutoring? Is this to make them learn information faster? Tutors get two weeks of training.
- Teacher training. Why do Tennessee teachers need coaching? Don’t they have reading credentials and real degrees? Who’s doing the preparation? What will they learn new? Doesn’t the state need more qualified teachers?
- Character Education. They speak of a Tennessee-specific program. Are there different goals for child character in Tennessee? Are parents on board for character education?
- Plug and Play. Sounds child friendly, but it’s business-speak used here to highlight training. Who will be involved?
- Best for All. They highlight many goals, but there are again no specifics.
- Grow Your Own. This is getting teachers from the community. It raises questions about necessary teaching qualifications.
- School district. Money goes to school districts. Who ultimately chooses the programs?
- Read by third grade. They promote this, and it’s nice if students read well by third grade. But some learn later.
- Tracking students. They’ll follow student progress online. Will parents need to give permission?
- Learning packets. Teachers who go through coaching get a packet of supplies. From whom? What company?
- Home videos. Parents get storytelling and literacy suggestions for their children. Who will provide this?
- Partners. Why are partners involved? They don’t seem to be funding Reading 360. What’s their expertise?
- Teacher videos. Provided through Best for All Central, who’s making these? Teachers? Are they being paid?
- Phonics. What phonics program/s? Who’s getting contracts?
- K-12. Reading 360 is supposed to include K-12, but little is said about middle and high school.
- Vendors. Shouldn’t they already provide the list of vendors? How do they get district contracts? Will they be held accountable?
- Books. How does the Governor’s Early Literacy Program fit into Reading 360? Are partners buying books for school libraries and children?
The marketers of Reading 360 designers make a contradiction in their advertising.
Here they brag in the newsletter:
Tennessee has led the nation in academic gains for students over the past decade, and most recently in K-12 crisis response to COVID-19.
Here, they say they’re tackling Tennessee’s reading crisis.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, only a third of Tennessee’s 3rd graders were reading on grade level. That’s projected to have worsened because of interruptions to education resulting from the pandemic.
Education Commissioner (and former Teach for America Corps member) Penny Schwinn states Our state has a golden opportunity to lead the nation in literacy, and most importantly, accelerate progress for our students.
Scroll to see what partners and policymakers say about the program. They’re making data-driven decisions. If this program fails, if test scores don’t rise, will they be held accountable for this program’s usage of tax dollars?
- Representative Mark White, House Education Chairman, Tennessee General Assembly
- Lillian Hartgrove, Chairman, State Board of Education
- Robert Eby, Vice Chairman, State Board of Education
- Sara Morrison, Executive Director, State Board of Education
- Joey Hassell, Superintendent, Haywood County Schools
- Russell Dyer, Superintendent, Cleveland City Schools
- Teresa Sloyan, President, Hyde Foundation
- Dr. Nancy Dishner, President and CEO, Niswonger Foundation
- Janet Ayers, President, Ayers Foundation
- Sharon Roberts, Chief K-12 Impact Officer, State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE)
- Adam Lister, President, Tennesseans for Student Success
- Tara Scarlett, President and CEO, Scarlett Family Foundation
- Kymyona Burk, Ed.D., Policy Director for Early Literacy at ExcelinEd
- Jared Bigham, Senior Advisor on Workforce and Rural Initiatives, Tennessee Chamber of Commerce
What Goes Around Comes Around
They try to weave together the past with the present, praising Race to the Top, Read to Be Ready (the old program), and this new program. It sounds like No Child Left Behind’s Reading First.
For years the same business-minded people have taken control of public education and dictated to teachers a hurried curriculum. This looks no different.
There are many concerns about lacking information surrounding Reading 360 and the price tag, and a big worry is the use of the word accelerate during a pandemic. It sounds like it will drive students into an academic frenzy that they and their teachers will not be able to control.
Americans should pay close attention to the education programs states are passing for schools especially at this critical time, and teachers should be involved in the discussion.