Ohio once had a fourth-grade reading guarantee. It proved hollow, as state lawmakers failed to provide the attention and resources required. The federal No Child Left Behind initiative suffered a similar fate. Gov. John Kasich has promised that his Third Grade Reading Guarantee will be different, delivering the better start that so many schoolchildren need, success bringing a dividend for all of us.
On Tuesday, Doug Livingston, the Beacon Journal education writer, offered a look at how the effort is proceeding. It hardly was reassuring. Livingston showed how the planning has been on the fly. The state began with one definition of a “qualified” reading teacher. Officials heard from school districts about the difficulty in having enough teachers to meet the standard. So, the state has moved to ease the requirements.
For example, at one point, being a qualified teacher required three years as a reading instructor. Now a single year teaching any subject will suffice. A requirement involving $10,000 in graduate-level course work slipped to a $139 test. It may be the initial requirements were too high. Perhaps effectiveness can be measured in more ways than paper credentials. What troubles is the evident lack of care in laying a foundation and setting parameters.
No question, delivering a true Third Grade Reading Guarantee is a most worthy objective. It also is an immense task. Consider that more than one-third of third-graders did not pass the proficiency test last fall and face retention if their scores do not improve by summer. Schools struggling to bolster their capacity to teach reading must cope with the prospect of handling a significantly larger third-grade class.
In Akron, the number of students retained could be as high as 275 next school year.
All of this points to the planning, preparation and resources required. Take the proposed graduate work, or a refresher course and test. Practically speaking, a state devoted to meeting its guarantee would build such costs into its school funding formula. It would evaluate the necessary skills and investment and make certain upfront they are available.
Otherwise, the initiative risks looking like a large, unplanned and unfunded mandate, or what the governor and his allies often deplore.
The scrambling reported by Doug Livingston suggests another missing element. A determined effort to fulfill the guarantee must include a comprehensive approach to early education, reaching children, and their parents, before kindergarten. The subject has come up in the legislature, yet the governor has missed the opening, preferring tax cuts or adding to the rainy-day fund, inviting questions about whether his guarantee will be any different.