Friday, February 13, 2009

One Day I'll Fly Away

Just wanted to share a bit of myself in this post as up until this point they have all been somewhat impersonal and, of course, related to education which is my passion (but not my entire life). This evening my husband (of 20 years whom I love more than life)  said, "You talk about school too much."  So here it is- my post about me. I am very sentimental and cry very easily. My favorite food is bread, and my ideal daily menu would be: smoothie for breakfast, big gourmet excessive lunch, and bread, butter, wine and cheese for dinner.  I talk too much and listen too little. My daughters know me better than I know myself and I wish I were more like Ghandi and the Dalai Lama. I love to read religious texts. I love animals and small children and my favorite recent movie was Moulin Rouge. I wish I went hiking more and driving less, although having lived in LA and DC I am very used to driving and really don't mind it at all. I love to travel and I hope I am remembered by my students as someone who loved them and had high expectations and was fair.  I recognize how far I am from enlightenment and yet I strive for it everyday. I love Lou Reed and David Bowie and Madonna and the Beatles and Dave Alvin and X and the Sex Pistols and Johnny Cash. Sometimes I see a glow around things in nature. My children are completely awesome and I wonder how on earth I birthed them. I love to sit in the hot tub and drive fast cars and go to the library and drink coffee and eat sushi and travel in foreign countries and watch my son set up StarWars lego wars. Thanks for reading, and I promise my next post will be about education.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Our State Report Card

It was reported today that the state of NC ranks 30th in the nation for math and reading proficiency scores.  Apparently, the state lawmakers have a few ideas about how to fix this problem, such as more charter schools, more options for high school students, merit pay for teachers and of course, the omnipresent more testing. While I don't necessarily disagree with these ideas, they seem to be missing the point. According to the National Center on Education, Disability, and Juvenile Justice, "the seeds of failure are sown early in life; children who do not read by the fourth grade have a very low probability of ever learning to read."  The statistics from the state report cards bear this out. If you compare the reading scores from the 4th and the 8th grade, only four states have scores which go up. Seven states had scores which remained static and 39 states, including North Carolina, have reading proficiency scores which went down. That means that if you can't read well in the 4th grade you are reading even worse by the 8th. What does this mean for our state? According to the state report card only 66.6% of North Carolina students graduate from high school. Have you seen the unemployment rates lately? Not surprisingly, the highest rates are for those who haven't graduated from high school. What does this all mean for education? That first and foremost, we should be focusing our resources on teaching children to read. Teachers need the ability to sit down in small groups, or even one-on-one, to teach decoding skills to our most at risk students.  A student who cannot read is more likely to drop out, be on welfare, and go to prison. When state lawmakers try to increase our state ranking, they should be thinking about real solutions to the underlying problems. Intensive, small group, individualized phonics-based reading instruction works, but at this point it is not widely available in our public schools. Identification of a child's learning style, recognizing the early signs of dyslexia, and the time to immerse children in a language rich environment at school, to make up for a poor one at home, are considered luxuries when they should be necessities.  Instead of applying band-aids which are too little too late, those 4th grade reading scores should take top priority. At our school this means that we allow young children time to play and hear stories and talk and listen to books on tape. They are given reading instruction starting in kindergarten which is fun, low pressure, and targeted to their individual needs.  If they haven't learned to read by the middle of second grade they are given one-on-one tutoring until it is mastered. In this way, no child really IS left behind, and this is an opportunity that every child deserves, not just those that can afford private school or tutoring.