Posted on Ed Week website, May 19
Comment on: Analysis Ties 4th Grade Reading Failure to Poverty
The Annie Casey Foundation report, Early Warning! (View PDF), contains no new information, and recommends that we continue even more aggressively along the same path outlined by the Obama-Duncan administration, ignoring the most obvious solution to low reading achievement for children of poverty: Actual access to books and other reading material.
Standards and tests as a cure for poverty?
The report repeats previous descriptions of the impact of poverty but only briefly mentions that we must provide resources, focusing far more on the need to institute standardized measures, with "consistent, aligned expectations" for social, emotional and cognitive development from birth to grade three.
This is a call to vastly expand the Duncan standards and testing program, expanding it two ways: down to birth, and to cover just about everything in a child's life that can be measured and tested. It clearly states that the mission is to increase testing and tracking "from the cradle to college" and calls for an accelerated effort to "link K-12 standards to standards for early care and education from birth through kindergarten entry."
Ignoring the obvious
The report does not even mention of access to books. There is no mention of the consistent finding that children of poverty have very little access to reading material, that access to reading material means more reading and that more reading means better reading achievement.
There is no mention of the consistent finding that better school and public libraries and the presence of credentialed librarians result in higher reading test scores, and no mention of the current wave of studies showing that access to books can mitigate the effect of poverty on reading achievement.
The document repeats the finding that low reading achievement at lower grades correlates with low reading achievement later on, but does not mention the possibility of late intervention through improved access to books.
The document repeats the finding that there is summer loss among high poverty children, but does not mention research showing that access to books can mitigate this loss, recommending instead regular instruction during the summer.
Other than the briefest comment that "hands-on literacy-rich activities" are a good idea, it calls for even more testing and monitoring, and application of the failed principles of the National Reading Panel.
Forget all the new standards and tests. The research review in Early Warning! demonstrates that we know what the problem is: poverty. Instead of spending billions on new standards and tests of academics and now social and emotional development (!), let's use the money to move swiftly to protect children against the effect of poverty by supporting school-based nutrition and health programs and school libraries. By the time committees are formed, grants are developed, grant proposals written, standards written, and tests developed, millions more children will have suffered from the effects of poverty. We already have measures in place that will tell us what is working and what is not. Let's go to the cure, and not waste time with unnecessary measures of the problem.
Food, health care and books, not more standards and tests.