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Parent Involvement / Tutoring
Write-in "Doug Mann" for School Board
Another Option for Minneapolis School Board Voters (2004 General Election)
by Doug Mann, 29 Oct 2004, Submitted to the Star-Tribune for publication 28 Oct 2004

Subj:     Parent Involvement / Tutoring
Date:     11/24/2001 3:19:27 AM Central Standard Time
From:     Gypsycurse7
To:     mpls@mnforum.org


In a message dated 11/21/2001 11:03:30 AM Central Standard Time, [J Harmon] writes:

> Seems to me if a
>  parent can't or doesn't have the intestinal fortitude to tutor their own
>  child in their own home, one on one, to assure they have some sort of
>  rudimentary reading skills prior to them entering kindergarten or first
>  grade, it's a little unrealistic to expect a teacher could possibly
>  accomplish it, no matter what the class size.

It is true that many parents could do a better job of parenting.  However, our job of parenting would be a lot easier if the school system did a better job of educating our kids.  That's what the school board and its employees are getting paid for, is it not?

Most of the kids who enter the Minneapolis school system without first acquiring some sort of rudimentary reading skills are unlikely to learn how to read well by the end of third grade.  The Minnesota Department of Corrections uses estimates of the number of students who are not reading well by the end of third grade to project the number of prison beds that will needed when those 8 & 9 year-old students become 18 & 19 year-old functionally illiterate, former MPS students.

Some of those kids who enter the school system without rudimentary reading skills "beat the odds" because they have teachers who are able to do the impossible: teach them how to read.  Unfortunately, I think it is safe to say that most K-3 teachers in the Minneapolis Public Schools do not know how to effectively teach basic reading skills.

Teaching a child how to read requires more than "guts."  One must know how to do it, have the temperament to do it, and have the time to do it.  A parent also needs to know that it is unlikely that their kids will learn the basics of reading at school.  But that's not the sort of thing that the school board wants to advertise.  

Parents who don't have the time, talent and temperament to teach their children to read at home should send them to a preschool program and/or kindergarten where kids learn how to read.  

If your child does not know how to read by the start of the first grade, you should consider homeschooling, put your kid in a good private school, or move to a suburban school district where virtually all of the students learn to read well by the end of third grade.

ABILITY GROUPING

At a PTO meeting at Audubon elementary school during the 1997-98 school year, a teacher said "We can't teach kids the basics of reading. That's the parents responsibility."  I think that the teachers who say "we can't teach kids how to read" really believe it.  That's what their own experience tells them.  

What happened to the first grader at Audubon during the 1997-98 school year?  The teachers made judgments about each child's ability to learn to read and assigned them to high- medium- and low-ability reading classes.

As I recall, there were about 42 kids in the first grade at Audubon in 1997-98, with about 12 assigned to the high-ability reading classroom, 12 to the low-ability reading classroom and 18 to the medium ability reading classroom.  Of the dozen black students in the first grade, half were assigned to the low-ability group, and only one was assigned to the high-ability group.

In the reading classes, the curriculum was enriched for the high-ability learners, and dumbed down for the low-ability learners.   

On the other hand, mixed-ability class room instruction was geared to the level of the higher ability readers. Some of the "medium ability" kids kept on top of things pretty well and helped out their class mates.  The low-ability kids seemed to be lost quite a bit of the time.  It was evident that much of the mixed-ability class room instruction was going over their heads.

The teachers assigned homework.  The homework was pretty much like the work that was done in the mixed-ability class room.  It was OK if your kid had the proper educational foundation.  If not, one needed to fill in the gaps.  The BIG gap for the "low-ability" readers was reading, especially the phonics skills.  

AGAIN WITH THE PHONICS

By the start of the fourth grade, some of the low-ability learners at Audubon couldn't sound out the word "hat" if their life depended on it.  They were getting by on a limited sight vocabulary. They were encouraged to look at an unfamiliar word and "guess" what it is.  They would look for a number of clues, including recognizable word chunks, contextual cues, and pictures.  That's the look-say method.  

A lot of kids who get used to look-say word recognition strategies will be resistant to using whatever phonics skills they learn at home because those skills are not sufficiently reinforced and supplemented at school.  

Some kids may learn to read well and figure out a lot of the phonetic rules with minimal or no phonics instruction and practice. That's how the look-say method is supposed to work, and it reportedly does work that way for some kids.  It also appears that kids who get a certain amount of phonics instruction and learn to read before they start school do OK with the MPS curriculum.        

However, most kids do not learn to read and take tests well enough to pass the Minnesota Basic Standards Tests on the first attempt in the 8th grade, and the vast majority of those students dropout or are pushed out of school before their senior year.   
A lot of the high school English teachers think that most of those kids need some phonics instruction in order to pass the reading test.       

Yes, many parents could do a better job of parenting.  It would help if there was more housing affordable to poor folk, cost-free health care on demand, and more "livable wage" jobs.  However, the school system could make our job of parenting a whole lot easier and less stressful if the school system did a better job of educating our kids.

Doug Mann, King Field
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