We need more “lead” in “Read to Lead”


Milwaukee Public Schools photo.

There was a hearing on Feb. 15 about Governor Scott Walker’s “Read To Lead” initiative. I don’t know what happened, but we do need to spend some time talking about it … the kind of discussion that doesn’t happen much any more in Wisconsin.

I’m not an educator but I can’t find much wrong with wanting to know whether or not incoming kindergartners can read. Some folks see it as just one more test on our very youngest, as a matter of fact, but I’m OK with the concept. Actually, I’m of the opinion that most Wisconsin school districts already do a pretty good job of screening children.

The challenge is to actually do something once you know the answers. In other words, if a child cannot read at the “right level,” then what are we going to do about it? From what I can tell, the answer is cloudy at best. There doesn’t seem to be any “lead” in “Read to Lead”; just words that fit well on a bumper sticker, words like “No Child Left Behind.”

“Read to Lead” does call for public school teachers to be better educated in reading. Again, there is little to disagree with there. And, again, I think it is something good teachers are constantly trying to bone up on.

After that, all I see is trust in some ill-defined public-private partnership to magically solve the ills of our schools. My view of these theoretical partnerships is that they sound great, but how do they play out around the state? For example, is a partnership between Madison schools and Madison businesses (for example, American Family Insurance or Spectrum Brands) the same as partnerships between the Suring School District and the Suring business community (DAD’s Farms Inc. and Joe Smith Trucking)?

We know what to do. We need to give our public schools the resources they need so that every child in the state of Wisconsin gets the opportunities he or she need to learn, including teachers who are effective and supported in their ability to teach reading.

Unfortunately, that’s not what we do in Wisconsin. The very Governor and Legislature that proposed “Read to Lead” are, according to the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future in “The Price of Extremism,” the same Governor and Legislature that in “the 2011-13 state budget (cut) about $1 billion each year from education, health care, and other basic services.” Some of the most-needed public services have been cut drastically.

If making kids better readers is your goal, why would you pass a budget that takes librarians out of those school libraries that are still open, eliminates reading coaches and other support positions, cuts the percentage of aid going to bilingual and special education programs, and continues to under fund SAGE, one of the most positive programs for teaching reading to poor children?

Again, “Read to Lead” sounds great. If it really is great, however, show us how you are going to help kids read better, what it costs, and how you are going to get those revenues to our public schools without cutting other effective programs and services.

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