Viewpoint: Rethinking literacy education in our schoolsAlthough a literacy bill passed last year at the state Legislature wasn’t groundbreaking in the world of education, it was predictable in the world of politics.
By: Marisa Novak, Viewpoint Writer, Woodbury Bulletin
Rebecca Schmitt’s Dec. 30 viewpoint (“Saltzman was instrumental in passage of landmark literacy bill at Capitol”) hailed the value of additional professional testing for new teachers in early literacy.
Although the literacy bill wasn’t groundbreaking in the world of education, it was predictable in the world of politics.
The new certification requirements came as no surprise after reading Sen. Kathy Saltzman’s guest commentary earlier in 2009.
The piece quoted young teachers who shared their self-doubt and professed weakness in identifying reading deficiencies in some students. Those confessions begged a question that was answered by more mandated testing. Increasing test standards is a common solution born out of citizen groups, but hopefully these citizens were provided the diverse research that most teachers encounter in their career training.
Most teaching degrees, like my M.Ed. program at Loyola University Chicago, comprehensively cover literary devices, scientific research and assessment. They also debate traditional literacy programming to current trends.
Veteran teachers can speak to the ill-conceived removal of proper phonics programming, and changes in the public education literacy curriculum that initiated the decline in reading proficiency. But of course the issue is far more complex than teacher methodology, curriculum design and school resources. It also has to do with the spectrum of special needs and cultural barriers.
For this reason, it’s always beneficial for an issue like this to resurface. However, we need to make sure that the new solutions generated from such short discussion are sustainable and address the core problem. For instance, a prominent study out of the Center for Research on Effective Schooling for Disadvantaged Students cites over 16 studies that show that tutoring by “certified teachers (rather than paraprofessionals)” yielded more success.
So maybe the involvement of AmeriCorps literacy coaches should be reconsidered. These minimum wage teachers (paid volunteers) may not be our best option in addressing the problem, and according to the American Psychological Association, this kind of tutoring can be “very expensive intervention.”
In our schools, we have general education teachers who hold Masters and PhDs. We have certified reading specialists, ESL teachers, and special education teachers to help. Outside of school, we have an active non-profit sector who offers a plethora of free academic resources to struggling youth.
Schools could be provided a resource list to help students find free academic enrichment programs and tutoring, rather than us employing paraprofessionals during school hours- creating more bureaucracy and giving the students less time with certified educators.
Lastly, we have professional tutoring services for those who can afford it.
Since we have citizen groups analyzing the shortcomings of our public school system, maybe we should also have them tackle the failures of our elected officials. This new citizen group will produce a real landmark bill: “The Confidence in Governing Bill.”
Given that our elected political officials often dictate laws in regard to professional certification, it is imperative that they too pass a professional proficiency exam before entering their public job. Before a candidate can file to run, they will be required to take multiple pre-skills exams like other professionals.
In all fairness, the growing budget deficit represents a gap between the voters and their leaders. This performance gap serves as a perfect opportunity to start measuring professional standards in governing. To ensure our cities, counties and state are economically successful and secure, our elected officials need to show competency in the following: economics, accounting, history, public finance, applied research methods, prudence in politics, ethics, and constitutional lawmaking among others. Let’s not forget a special exam on the Minnesota Constitution and U.S. Constitution as private property rights continue to suffer.
If one is receiving their paycheck from the taxpayers, he or she must pass a proficiency exam; especially in the areas he or she shows a weakness. Let’s see if our public officials are willing to be as humble as those young teachers.
I propose a citizen group that addresses this crisis. It must be nonpartisan in nature, and focused on protecting the integrity of our public sector. Let’s do it for our future. Let’s do it for our children. Support legislation that demands our elected officials pass a competency exam before representing us.
Marisa Novak is a Woodbury resident.