There is not a simple answer to this complex issue. But there are four things that can help: First, remember that economic issues will always be tied to educational issues. Spending a little money up front to make sure that all students receive appropriate, research-based reading instruction saves society a lot in terms of money and other human costs down the line.
This includes funding the types of high-quality, pre-K programs that President Obama referred to in his last State of the Union address. In the same way, spending money on programs that enable all children to receive adequate food and health care also makes good economic as well as educational sense.
Second, schools must be held accountable for their teaching practices and not standardized test scores. Other than narrowing the curriculum and severely restricting learning, the hyper-testing movement has done nothing to fundamentally change how we go about educating our children.
If we focus instead on research-based practices the test scores will take care of themselves. This means also that school districts must be able to identify and elucidate how their approach to reading instruction is different for and meets the special learning needs of four types of readers: (a) highly advanced readers, (b) a general population, (c) struggling readers, and (d) students with a severe reading disability.
Third, we cannot teach today’s students using yesterday’s strategies and expect to get them ready for tomorrow’s world. Thus, we must make sure that the current instructional practices used for reading are informed by and reflect the latest research in reading instruction, brain-imaging, and cognitive neuroscience. Thus, present and future teachers must be provided opportunities to learn and use these new strategies.
Finally, we must make sure that struggling readers have access to appropriate research-based interventions within school as well as after-school and summer reading programs.
Enabling all students to learn to read is social justice issue. However, funding programs that enable struggling readers to read is also a sound economic investment.
Andy Johnson Ph.D., is professor of literacy at Minnesota State University