Efforts to improve reading instruction are beginning to take hold, but will continue only if the necessary support is provided, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said last week as he unveiled several new resources for teachers, parents, and child-care workers.
“There’s been a great deal of work in the last few years to build a new American consensus around reading,” Mr. Riley said. He was referring to several federal initiatives--including the America Reads Challenge and the Reading Excellence Program, which call for more reading tutors and teacher training--and to legislative efforts in more than 20 states.
“The momentum is clear,” he said at a conference of reading experts, “but we need organizational efforts in order to move forward.”
One of the reports Mr. Riley released, “Start Early, Finish Strong,” describes “an extraordinary mobilization” of schools, families, day-care centers, communities, and states to help improve reading achievement.
The report recommends using a 1998 study by the National Research Council, called “Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children,” as a blueprint. That study called for a combination of strategies--including both phonics-based and literature-based instruction--for bringing all children up to grade level in reading by the end of the 3rd grade. A phonics approach emphasizes helping children learn to read through the sounding out of letters and words. In addition, the NRC study recommended a stronger emphasis on language and literacy in programs for prekindergarten children. (“Experts Urge Bigger Role for Preschools in Literacy Development,” April 22, 1998.)
The new report provides suggestions and resources for all institutions entrusted with the care of children, from families to schools, to help build literacy skills from infancy through the early grades. It also highlights model reading programs.
The Education Department also released “The Compact for Reading,” a guidebook to help teachers form partnerships with families through written agreements as a way to promote literacy as a top priority both at home and in school. The booklet includes a compendium of 400 family-oriented activities linked to the school curriculum. The project was subsidized in part by the “Los Angeles Times Reading by 9" campaign.
Finally, Mr. Riley announced a new, private initiative to help child-care workers play a larger role in the development of literacy skills in preschoolers. Child Care READS, a nonprofit organization started by the Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale University, will link workers in day-care centers with training programs and literacy resources.
Early-childhood advocates said the initiative was a critical part of efforts to raise achievement in reading.
“We believe the best way to promote children’s early literacy is to train child-care providers and make sure they have a selection of quality materials for kids,” said Barbara Warman, the public-policy coordinator for the Washington-based National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Child Care READS is an offshoot of the America Reads Challenge, an initiative proposed by President Clinton in 1997 that matches volunteer tutors and federal work-study students with elementary pupils to build reading skills.
A version of this article appeared in the August 04, 1999 edition of Education Week as Riley Unveils Guides To Support Federal, State Reading Initiatives