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Word Gaps

January 13, 2015

We did a post a while back lauding teachers.  Each of the members of our group had a beloved teacher growing up, a teacher who got us thinking about what we might be capable of achieving if we applied ourselves.

A smart reader gently reminded us that academic success depends on more than that. It’s about what happens in the home well before a child even gets to school. We knew at the time that this was an important point, but just how important wasn’t clear until we heard a recent radio broadcast.

The show was The Take Away with John Hockenberry. It featured a segment with the director of a group called Literacy, Inc. Listen to this interview if you want to hear excellent journalism on a critical public policy matter. See: http://www.thetakeaway.org/story/narrowing-word-gap/

The take away is stunningly simple, specific and stark:

There’s an early education word gap. If, as a toddler, you don’t have someone to read to you, if you don’t have extensive interaction with adults to build your vocabulary, you are going to have a more difficult time learning to read. And if you don’t read well by the third grade, the chances of you graduating from high school and achieving success in life are not good at all.

There are fascinating details emerging from extensive developmental research:

Immigrant parents who struggle to speak to their children only in limited English aren’t helping them. They would do much better for their children by speaking in their native language.  It’s an expansive vocabulary in any language that’s needed.  This is what forms a basis for later learning.

In this regard, it is said that before third grade, you learn to read. After third grade, you read to learn. Again, if you don’t have a solid vocabulary, if you can’t quickly process things, you are going to struggle.

So why are we noting all of this? In addition to being fascinated by it, we again want to make the point that Albany isn’t talking about the things that really matter, the things that actually improve educational outcomes.

If Hockenberry’s report is true, and we believe it is, policymakers should be focused like a laser beam on literacy.

But what are we doing in New York? Look to the Governor — is he talking about identifying those at risk of falling behind and how to help them?

No. He’s talking about getting teachers who have been accused of sexual misconduct out of the classroom. That’s his big thing right now. It’s a wedge he’s using to help break teacher’s union “monopoly.”

It polls off the charts. “Do you agree with the Governor that teachers who have sex with their students should be removed from class? Do you support the Governor’s efforts to remove sexual predator teachers from the classroom?  Do you agree with the Governor that the education monopoly that is protecting sexual predator teachers must be broken?”

This is what’s happening in Albany right now. This is the “substance” of the discussion. And it’s a travesty.

Of course, teachers accused of sexual misconduct should be removed from the classroom. We should spend two seconds discussing that and be done with it. The rest of our time should be spent discussing how to narrow the word gap.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    January 13, 2015 9:13 PM

    You’re spot-on in this post. If the governor were creative, he could expand the reach of Literacy, Inc by fostering public/private partnerships among it, poverty-area schools, and his hedge-fund philanthropist pals. He could even make political hay (since he’s all about that) by encouraging teacher union buy-in. That would be a nice gesture to de-escalate the war with the “public monopoly.” Oh, and he could even front the ad campaign with a spot reminiscing about reading to his own girls. Isn’t there a photo of AC reading to Michaela somewhere?

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