Educator questions reading program

Published 10:17 am Thursday, May 1, 2014

I read an article in Sunday’s April 27 Vicksburg Post pg.A6, entitled United Way Starts Reading Program to Boost Literacy.
The description of the program was vague and appeared so ill-conceived that it stirred my curiousity. I felt compelled to call the Vicksburg Post with more questions. To my surprise, the person who had penned the article did not even remember having written it.
I was referred to the United Way’s office in Vicksburg. I asked the person who was interviewed by the Vicksburg Post to explain why the primary component of their reading program would be community leaders going into the schools to discuss the impact of literacy. I failed to see how this would improve literacy and test scores.
I was then told that this was not the primary component rather the primary component would be to put a book into the hands of each third grader in the Vicksburg Warren School District to also include the private and parochial schools.
The last paragraph of the article stated that the students would be evaluated at the end of the school year to measure the effectiveness of the program. I inquired about the measurement instrument, thinking this must have been included in the grant writing process.
I also wanted to know why third graders were selected as the targeted group. If we want to avoid reading failure, we have to address the root of the problem: our kindergarteners, first and second graders.
In my opinion, rather than waste their money on some ill-thought out concept that will render little if any positive results, the United Way should lead the struggle to require that all students are taught from kindergarten with scientifically based techniques. This would reduce the number of children needing remediation at any grade level.
The new “ Read by Third Grade Law” should give Superintendent Chad Shealy plenty of reasons to micromanage the K-3 Curriculum. If he thought the Phonics-whole Language debate was settled 14 years ago, Vicksburg’s stagnant test scores prove otherwise. Researchers know more about how to teach reading but their knowledge has not “trickled down” to our superintendent of K-3 education, Paula Johnson, who continues to advocate word-memorization. Apparently, United Way has bought into this unscientific whole language approach to teaching children to read.
United Way’s money would be better spent giving stipends to K-3 teachers to go back to school and get more credit hours in phonological awareness, phonemic awareness and phonics training.

Tillman Whitley
Retired teacher/tutor

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