Monday, April 18, 2016

A Race for Literacy

REPOST: From Mazenglish blog - October 2012

Ever since the Obama Administration announced its Race to the Top, the education field seems to have taken on a increased sense of urgency.  While the STEM movement seems to garner the most attention, some scholars are sounding warnings about the serious deficiencies in literacy that are making it more difficult for American students to compete for jobs in the contemporary age.  Nora Flemming - blogging for Curriculum Matters - spotlights a conference panel at the Brookings Institution that took a critical view of student literacy and proposed ideas about a national push for literacy.  In fact, the idea for a federal grant to fund improved literacy seems on the horizon.

Certainly, the issue of literacy is of primary importance in the Information Age.  However, I worry about the need for increased funding and a national program for literacy.  Isn't literacy a basic goal and primary component of education and instruction already?  Shouldn't schools already be teaching reading, writing, and math.  Of the Big Three in education, literacy holds the top two slots.  Alas, we all know that the current system isn't adequately developing literacy, despite countless movements and reform agendas.  Students simply are not reading and writing effectively on a nationwide scale - and the ranks of partially proficient readers and writers are bleeding into the higher socioeconomic circles that should be counted on for standards of literacy.

The question English teachers and English departments need to ask is whether they are teaching and developing literacy - or whether they are just reading and talking about the books they really like.  And, the question schools and school districts need to ask is whether all teachers outside of the English department are still assuming that literacy is an English class skill.  Because it's not.  Arguably, schools need to implement school-wide literacy instruction on par with the literacy initiative used to turn around Brockton High School in Massachusetts.  Until literacy skills are embedded in curriculum throughout a students day, too many kids - and teachers - will see reading and writing as something that happens only in English class.  And that will perpetuate our need for a Race to Literacy.

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