The Real Education Crisis?

For Education Week‘s Quality Counts 2015, Christina A. Samuels opens a piece on early reading with the following:

Children who are not reading proficiently by 3rd grade are widely seen as being in academic crisis. Educators are increasingly looking for actions they can take in the younger grades—even as early as preschool—to head off failure later in a child’s school career.

Framing 3rd-grade reading proficiency as a crisis is about as enduring (and suspect) as the uncritical belief in the literacy deficit among children raised in poverty.

Later in the article, Samuels notes that many states have implemented grade retention policies based on high-stakes tests in 3rd grade, adding:

Student retention as a part of a strategy to support early literacy has vocal critics as well as supporters. But no one is arguing against the importance of ensuring that children are reaching reading milestones throughout the early grades.

Modeling once again the central flaw of education journalism, Samuels represents grade retention as nothing more than a tug-of-war between “vocal critics” and “supporters”—with word choices that clearly skew the reader toward the more reasonable “supporters.”

Despite the intentions of this piece about the importance of early literacy in children, we must acknowledge that the real crisis in education is both how the media covers education and how politicians design and implement policy.

First, “crisis” is the worst possible description of any educational condition since a state of crisis forces urgency when deliberation and patience are warranted. Think about the differences between emergency rooms and doctors’ offices. (See a discussion of crisis here also.)

Impoverished children have overwhelming life conditions that inhibit their ability to learn at the same rates and in the same ways as their more affluent peers. Children in poverty do not need harsh and intense educational experiences (harsh and intense often characterize their lives, and are thus the conditions muting their learning); they do not need high-stakes tests and punitive consequences.

And that leads to the ultimate education crisis: Confusing grade retention with reading policy.

That is not only a crisis, but inexcusable since there is no debate about grade retention, despite the breezy framing above.

Decades of research show that grade retention is often harmful and other strategies are always more effective (Note: the evidence-based alternative to grade retention is not “social promotion,” the great ugliness tossed out by all who embrace grade retention).

I suppose the great irony here is that it appears many in the media and most political leaders are not capable of reading the research and have a really limited vocabulary themselves.

So let me make this simple: There is no crisis in reading, and grade retention hurts children.

Now let’s address and fully fund rich and evidence-based reading for all children throughout their formal education in our public schools and make genuine commitments to the lives of all children so those policies can work.

For Further Reading

NCTE: Resolution on Mandatory Grade Retention and High-Stakes Testing

Florida Retention Policy a Blight on Literacy, Children across US

Grade Retention Research

Retain to Impede: When Reading Legislation Fails (Again)

First, Do No Harm: That Includes the Media

Just Say No to Just Read, Florida, South Carolina

Keeping children back a year doesn’t help them read better

2 comments

  1. Gary Gruber

    Great idea to “fully fund evidence-based reading for all children…” but as long as the funders and policy-makers and implementers ignore the research, as you have suggested, nothing changes. It’s SOS once again, (Same Old Stuff). Reading is Fundamental is one of the best organizations devoted to helping children at risk, and others, and I would advocate supporting their efforts and programs even more widely.

  2. Pingback: The Real Education Crisis? | My BlogThe Philosopher's blog.

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