The one thing schools must do first: Teach kids to read - Must Read Alaska
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Sunday, September 19, 2021
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The one thing schools must do first: Teach kids to read

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Gov. Mike Dunleavy has called for accountability in education since before bhe began running for governor in 2018.

As a former teacher and lifelong educator, he pointed out that the State of Alaska spends far more money per student than almost every other state in America, but students in Alaska are at the bottom in terms of standardized test scores. Alaska’s education budget is $1.5 billion per year.

The governor’s Alaska Reads Act is meant to address the one skill that will help students the most: Reading. Currently, fewer than four in ten elementary school children are reading at the expected grade level.

By focusing on reading, including sending reading professionals to schools to work with students and teachers, Dunleavy hopes to make his mark on that accountability problem that schools have.

Must Read Alaska reached Commissioner of Education and Early Childhood Development Dr. Michael Johnson, who said he wasn’t sure what the cost of the program would be, but that “there will be a modest fiscal note.” Some of the aspects of the reading focus can come from using existing resources and redirecting them toward reading.

“They key thing to remember is that whatever the cost, it has a multiplier effect throughout a child’s education. The $1.5 billion we spend on education across the state will be more effective if we address the basic foundation of reading,” Johnson said. “This is true throughout all the grades and even into our university system. The dollars we spend will be worth it when we have children reading at grade level.”

The University of Alaska system has found that 74 percent of high school graduates who attend one of the state universities are having to take at least one remedial class.

Alaska schools were not always like this. In the 1970s, students graduating from Alaska high schools were among the top in the nation. Today, they wallow at the bottom in terms of those national test scores, such as the SAT, (there are schools in Alaska where that is clearly not the case).

The key points of the Alaska Reads Act are:

  • Statewide teacher training on reading instruction and job-embedded training through State Department of Education reading specialists.
  • Focusing existing state and federal funds on reading.
  • Early literacy screening tool.
  • Timely parent notification.
  • Individual reading plans.
  • Monitored student progress.
  • Home reading strategies and/or programs.
  • Interventions.
  • Appropriate grade-level progression for students severely below grade level.
  • Multiple pathways to demonstrate reading proficiency.
  • Good cause exemptions.

Details of how the Department of Education plans to achieve these goals include:

  • Prioritize early reading in all elementary schools, including K–12 schools.
  • Adopt and implement effective reading programs and materials.
  • Incentivize districts to adopt and implement effective curriculum and teaching strategies.
  • Adopt 60- or 90-minute reading blocks in grades K–3 in all districts.
  • Encourage district review of different K–3 models, including movement through individual grades.
  • Create and disseminate materials for parents and community members on how they can support the development of their children’s reading skills.
  • Provide consistent, ongoing professional development for educators and community members on the effective use of adopted reading curricula.
  • Implement effective early screeners in K-3.
  • Train teachers on state standards and on how to align instruction to these standards.
  • Assist school leaders in using data and classroom walkthroughs to ensure implementation of aligned curricula.
  • Use valid and reliable formative assessments to monitor students’ progress.
  • Identify and implement effective interventions for struggling readers.
  • Inform and train educators, parents, and community members on how to understand reading data and on how it can be used to support students in their reading skills attainment.
  • Establish voluntary district reporting to the state on K–3 reading measures.
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Written by

Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • After reading the propaganda mailer that just came out, I don’t see as if there are any problems at all…short of needing more money of course…

  • The schools can’t do it all themselves. Parents need to take some responsibility and actually read to their kids at night. Read together. What goes on at home is much more long-lasting than the short time they spend in school.

    • Schools should be able to teach reading even if the parents never read at home. Children are in school for 7+ hours each day. There is no excuse for students leaving a public school and not being able to read, write, and do math.

      • Only read for 1 Hour a day.

        • Forkner, I’m betting you are somehow related to, connected with, or working for the education bureaucracy. Probably union affiliation to boot.

    • There are some parents who are not going to participate! I do not know what the numbers are, but I guess the fraction is substantial. Teachers/schools can not pass off the responsibility to a place unable or unwilling to assume it. IF the schools can not achieve the required results the society is doomed.

  • Librarians are important also. Connecting a child with a book about their interests is the spark to a lifetime love of reading. Peer readers are great and teach the older children civics and their value in helping. Surely we have moms willing to train as reading specialists. You really don’t need to be a certified teacher a caring intelligent trained person gets the job done. If you can read you can do anything. Exciting times.

  • Here’s a crazy idea: How about we recognize that the teachers and administrators working with the students know what will help their students the most, and then give them the freedom and the funding to do those things? I know, insane!!!

    Seems like Dunleavy is putting his conservative creds in the line by taking away local control of education.

    So sad that he’s forgotten his roots in the classroom. Ask any teacher what the last thing they need is, and they’ll tell you it’s yet another program coming down from the guys up top.

    • That’s not true and it’s totally unfair of you. Some kids are showing up to school well below their grade level and schools are burdened with the task to catch them up. Some parents are unwilling or unable to raise their own children and want the School or the state to do it. Like I said earlier it’s a partnership in education, where the school and parents each play an important role in educating and managing the welfare of a child.

      • Hello Greg, The kids are in school for 7 hours a day. Whatever the teachers are teaching should be structured to ensure the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic are given priority during those seven hours. Alaska public education is a failure with or without parent participation.

        • Unfortunately, there’s so much more than meets the eye. Student arrives unfed, dirty, and has zero self-control. Hasn’t been read to at home..hasn’t been taught to listen, etc. Now this child is in a classroom surrounded by other students and can’t concentrate or control themselves enough to focus and read. A partnership in education is much more than just reading. The failure isn’t just in public education; it’s community-wide.

          • Now we’re getting somewhere. Add the drugged kids, the ones whose parents demand inordinate hours of “chores” at home or don’t “believe in” homework are dopers/drunks or beat the kid etc. etc. I don’t know what the cure is home school isn’t going to happen for any of those kids.

    • Since when has the local schools had control? Definitely not since Pres Jimmy Carter created the Federal Department of Education. The local schools definitely didn’t get a choice when Pres Barack Obama’s administration pushed Common Core crap by threatening to withhold federal money if state’s and locals didn’t adopt it (and Pres George W Bush also pushed Common Core, too). So please tell me how local school teachers have any power over curriculum?

    • And your solution for the status quo of the higher percentage of struggling and failing children’s reading at grade level? I will wait.

  • It’s not how much they read, it’s WHAT they read. Democrats and Lefties send their kids to bed with stories of man-caused climate change and LGBTQ romance novels. No wonder this country is so divided and messed-up.

    • Do you have any objective evidence to support your claim?

    • Naomi- However as over 50% can not read at grade level exiting the third grade, those in that condition, passed on year after year, have no idea on the subject noted and yes, we are divided and messed up.

  • Parent of Students, indeed a very crazy idea given the track record of education administrators and NEA-controlled teachers. Giving these folks more money for any purpose is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys. Education is the gutter of American academia. Learning to read in English is fundamentally the building block of a child’s success.

  • It is obvious that the public school paradigm is failing our young people in many ways while draining our state and local budgets in the process.
    This is apparent as teachers and principals are convicted of sexual assaults throughout the state and football coaches haze athletes to near death.
    Children who have parents that read at home grow into adolescents that enjoy reading…it is really that simple!
    Homeschooling is still one of the best options in AK for families with a parent who is dedicated to the challenge.
    With online learning options and a vast expanse of outdoor natural science there is no reason that public schools should be our first option.
    Many successful Alaskans have chosen the option of homeschooling their children and the “students” have grown into smart and compassionate adults (who can read very well) and have a deeper understanding of community, health and economy.

    • Steve, I agree with every word you wrote!
      Personally, I’d like to see a Governor who adopts more School Choice options instead of more money for a failing public school. Look at states like Florida and Pennsylvania. They’ve instituted more charter schools, tax credits for companies and parents that donate to school scholarship programs, stronger homeschool laws making homeschooling easier and less expensive, etc.
      I do not understand why Alaska’s (or even the federal) politicians can’t get over their belief that the pubic schools will somehow be better only if a new proposal is implemented. There is no such thing as a one-size fit-all plan for anything, and I think education definitely proves this over and over.

    • Steve, to you and others who are serious on this subject. Core Knowledge is not related or affected by a government program with a similar name. This program builds each year on the subject introduced in a very early grade. For instance, the fable on Washington and the cherry tree is followed by exploits of Washington as a surveyor, and so on until the Revolutionary War, and eventually the presidency. All taught in sequence through the grades.

      Same with Spaulding’s “Writing on the Road to Reading,” a program based on phonics. Both are supported by well-trained instruction.

      Of course, be advised the militant union elementary school teachers, who were raised and taught “Picture Words,” a method that will serve the less than 50% successful children, will resist any opportunity to learn and then teach. Been there and done that as a school board member, one of five, that were recalled for making a effort to address what the governor is now introducing.

      The militant union and their associated PTA, consisting of parents of successful students scared by the union that classroom efforts to address the failing students would detract from “their” children.

    • “Children who have parents that read at home grow into adolescents that enjoy reading…it is really that simple!” This made some sense Steve but you then proceeded into the weeds on home schooling.
      Frankly the parent who doesn’t read to their kids now is never going to homeschool-further, those kids are disadvantaged from the start when compared to kids whose parents do read to them. No matter how you slice it these kids, whose parents don’t read to them, need extra money spent in remedial methods. I’m unsure if this is additional teachers (or assistants) but it can’t be accomplished without extra money-homeschool has nothing to do with it.

    • Steve, for once you and I agree, vote with your feet! Schools will continue to devolve but a good number of young people will be spared the agony of public education!

  • Reading is the absolute most important skill. If you can read, you can train yourself to learn and do anything. Television, Sports, and Computers are our biggest enemy. Books our greatest friend. Seymour Marvin Mills Jr. sui juris

    • Well said, Seymour.

    • Everyone understands this, Seymour sui juris. The problem is not a lack of funding. The problem is the lack of teaching.

  • With respect, Governor, do we the people look so confused about what Alaska’s “schools” i.e. education-industry union-management teams, should be doing?
    For consigning generations of American children to illiteracy, Alaska’s public-education industry officials should be rewarded with more money instead of being fired immediately?
    Unfortunately for children, no law to fits this crime!
    Calling for “accountability in education”, but not firing every management official from K through University responsible for Alaska’s education debacle, and not contracting out their work to an Outside group with an acknowledged record of prioritizing education instead of Getting Money sends an unmistakable message that these people got away with what they did and they’re going to be rewarded for doing so!
    With the same people in the same places about to get more money for doing the same things, productive Alaskans should expect improvement?
    No, we’ll have “accountability in education”, another toothless, bureaucratic fog about what Alaska’s Department of So-Called Education should have been doing for a lot of years, and for a lot of dollars, before somebody woke up one day and found out accidentally that Alaska’s children are illiterate and Alaska’s education system is the worst in the country, even by local standards!
    So, who’s “accountable”; what’ll happen to the “accountables”?
    If they’re managing Alaska’s third-rate university system, they’re figuring out how to spend their latest “tuition” increase!
    Yes, we have a lobbyist-legislator team eager to fix the disaster by taxing productive Alaskans and rewarding union-management teams with more money.
    Yes, children must first learn to read so they can be properly indoctrinated with the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s LGBTQ Literature curriculum and other wonders of modern political indoctrination imposed in place of classical education, plus be able to figure out what their protest signs say.
    Governor Dunleavy, when “accountability in education” includes top-to-bottom cleanout of the rot responsible for the problem, and replacing the bureaucracy with an education cadre recognized for its excellence, unions and lobbyist-legislator teams be damned, Alaska’s children might have a chance at literacy.
    Otherwise, like every Grand Plan, expect this one to be attached to some sort of urgent tax and built-in bureaucratic protections followed by a slow fade into obscurity, even as the next generation realizes their functional illiteracy won’t come close to getting them what American society reserves for literate, productive, patriotic Americans.
    Governor D., you can do better than this!

    • This has been going on a lot longer than just the last year. It is totally absurd that Governor has anything to do with this. Get a grip and hold the teachers accountable for this travesty. If teachers jobs were on the line for achieving grade level reading skills, the kids would be reading a “blue streak”. Get rid of teachers who fail to teach their students to read and the other basics of education.

  • Here is one solution to Alaska’s K12 education problem: Allow teachers from Outside to do distance learning to AK students. Current Alaska law prohibits this. That law requires a distance learning teacher to be physically located in Alaska! Makes no sense except to grow the government union membership and continue monopolistic control over K12.

  • During my school years the text books were stupid. 8th grade science test question “What is friction?” The textbook answer was “Friction is the rubbing of one object against another.”
    My answer was “Friction is the conversion of kinetic energy into heat energy, through surface molecular resistance.”
    The teacher asked me where I learned that. I replied that I read the encyclopedias at the public library. He then asked me why I would spend so much time there? I replied that the library was the only place the bullies never went.
    The textbooks were stupid. The bullies were stupid. Are they both still stupid?

  • The most important solution is the people to once again realize that their number 1 purpose and personal responsibility in life is to provide food, clothing, shelter and especially education for the children they brought into this world. To delegate any of these responsibilities to anyone else and especially education in beyond all logical reason. No one else in the animal kingdom ever does this except people. Please think about that for a few minutes. Seymour Marvin Mills Jr. sui juris

    • Sorry, good sir, but I believe your logic is a bit faulty. By your initial logic, animals would be terrible parents, as they don’t provide clothing for the offspring.

      And I prefer to take my parenting cues from places other than the animal kingdom. While animals do tend to teach their offspring how to survive (except for those terrible abandoning insect and salmon parents), many animals are awful parents. They will ignore one offspring to focus exclusively on another, recklessly lead their young across busy city streets, and sometimes even eat their babies. Literally! They EAT their children!!

      Please think about that for a few minutes.

      • Wonder how many animal species ABORT their offspring just because they can…
        or force other animals to pay for their infanticidal tendencies…
        or tolerate some version of Planned Animalhood or child-trafficking in their midst.
        But human beings fight for the right to kill their unborn, perinatals and for the right to force other human beings to subsidize mass infanticide and the subsequent commerce in baby-body parts.
        But human beings sell their children to the highest bidders, “migrate” them across entire countries at the mercy of rapists, murderers, and general-purpose trash just to make a few bucks, maybe get rid of mouths that need feeding.
        So… remind again, what such behaviour makes us, compared to our animal-kingdom counterparts?

    • Humans are not animals. We are created in the image of God.

      • What a crock!

      • Then why do people do such horrible acts that even animals never do????? Seymour Marvin Mills Jr. sui juris

  • There are many Home School organizations that provide everything you could ever want or need to educate your children. They provide books for both the students and the teacher. Seymour Marvin Mills Jr. sui juris

  • When I was a kid in kindergarten and first grade in Fairbanks I was taught to read using phonics. It worked for me and countless other students. When one of my own kids was deemed to be having trouble with reading I got the teachers to implement phonics and it worked a treat.

    We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

  • Jere….. For starters, the amount of coverage given to LGBTQ and man-made climate change in the media and schools during the past five years….headline news every other day. Past 15 years…….maybe once per week. Past 30 years….almost non-existent. This show you the accelerated pace of lunacy, and brainwashing . Very sad for this country.

    • First of the basic three R’s……..Readin.

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