Fifteen years ago, Wisconsin fourth-graders placed third in the country in state rankings of reading ability known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress. By 2009, our fourth-graders’ scores plunged to 30th, with a third of the students reading below basic levels. The scores of minority youth were even bleaker, with 65% of African-American and 50% of Hispanic students scoring in the below-basic range.
As a member of Gov. Scott Walker’s blue ribbon reading task force, I am one of 14 people charged with reversing that drop. And, as a 50-year veteran educator, I have a partial solution. Let me spell it out for you: We need better teacher preparation.
How many of you remember your very best teachers? I remember Miss Hickey at Lincoln School and Miss Brauer at Folwell School in Rochester, Minn. They taught me to read.
I travel throughout the country consulting and providing staff development for school districts and literacy organizations. I’ve met thousands of dedicated teachers who tell me they are unprepared to teach struggling readers.
This situation is not the teachers’ fault. Some teachers in Wisconsin had only one course in reading instruction. Most were never exposed to the latest research regarding early reading acquisition and instruction. In contrast, several states require three or four classes in courses that contain the latest in science-based reading instruction.