CAN ANGELS POINT THE WAY TO LITERACY FOR LAWMAKERS?
Here’s your chance to meet Philadelphia’s literacy angel, Dorian Harris, who’s made family literacy the core value of his own family and the community of families in our region. As a single parent raising seven children, Dorian read to his children daily, something that many two parent households with far fewer children aspire to do, but far too often life gets in the way.
Dorian, a resident of Hatboro, also decided that it was his duty to make sure the poorest children in the city had the same exposure to books that his own children enjoyed. Children First counts Dorian among our family as well, as he just completed our Parents Empowered for Change Fellowship where he built his skills to increase his impact on the literacy of the youngest children among us. Dorian sees it this way, “Too few children in North Philadelphia have books in their homes. It used to be that the phone company would leave a phone book on the doorstep of every household. Why can’t we make sure that there is book for every child left at every household now?”
Dorian’s determination, which includes distributing 28,000 free books to children in the last few years, has yet to be matched by school districts, state education leaders or lawmakers. We were asked to educate state lawmakers seeking a solution to the depressingly low third grade reading assessment results across the state and the nation that show 66% of all students struggle with reading. Students of color and those from low wealth households struggle at higher levels.
Some have said that teaching reading isn’t rocket science. In fact, research tells us that good reading instruction could be almost as complicated. Children First led the push for state regulations and legislation that both mandate that all teachers be prepared with the proven tools of reading instruction and state funds be deployed to help teachers with coaching and state of the art reading instruction materials. Lawmakers listened and progress is being made on this front with impressive new rules and supports enacted in HB 2045.
As important as helping teachers learn proven reading instruction practice, it’s equally important to ensure other interventions that contribute to rapid progress get put in place.
We know what those interventions are. From 2005 to 2011 Pennsylvania’s national reading results rose significantly and those were the same years that schools received new state funds for Pre-K and full day kindergarten, class size reduction, teacher training in instructional techniques and tutoring for elementary school students who were behind in reading.
Before those investments were rolled out, 19% of third graders were scoring years behind on state literacy assessments, by 2010 that dropped to 11%. In just seven years, nearly 300,000 additional students were added to the ranks of students with third grade literacy proficiency or beyond. That’s far more students than attend even the 30 largest school districts in the entire Commonwealth.
Especially good news, real gains were evident in the Philadelphia School District with the infusion of new state funds, an additional 35,000 students joined the ranks of those reading on grade level.
November is National Family Literacy month. Let’s hope it’s the month that school districts and state lawmakers follow Dorian Harris’ example and devote all the resources they can to instill the love of reading in every child.