Capitol Comments: Reading Reset aims to improve our students’ literacy

Published 8:45 pm Friday, March 10, 2023

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Capitol Comments by Peggy Bennett

The facts and figures are alarming. Only half of Minnesota students are reading at grade level. Half! It’s even worse on the “Nation’s Report Card,” a federal assessment. That test shows only 32% of Minnesota’s fourth graders and 30% of eighth graders are reading at grade level.

Peggy Bennett

Reading proficiency rates have been on a steady decline for years and already at an alarming rate before the pandemic despite efforts to halt this downturn. Then they were exacerbated by the pandemic shutdowns. This has put many of our children on a trajectory for academic failure and a lifetime of struggle.

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Literacy is learning. It is that simple. When children learn how to read, they are empowered to read to learn, which in turn empowers them for a successful life.

A large number of schools and teachers have been greatly misled for many years by curriculum companies selling a whole language or “balanced literacy” program that schools were told was research based. They were not.

These companies have known for years that their methodologies do not work and do not line up with the decades of knowledge that is available on the Science of Reading — the real science behind how children learn to read. This has been well documented by cognitive scientists, psychologists and education researchers who have literally mapped out the brain and how it learns to read.

Sadly, schools have wasted millions of dollars in reading and writing curriculum that have not only failed to help children learn to read but hindered children in the thirst for learning. This has led to frustrated and confused parents, frustrated children, and well-meaning teachers demoralized.

The costs of this failure extend beyond the simple cost of a useless curriculum. It extends into every other cost the education system must carry when trying to deal with a child the system fails to teach to read properly. When literacy is lost, all is lost.

Children unable to read do not excel in math, science or career opportunities. In addition, they often end up in special education programs, have more discipline and behavior problems, and are more likely to end up in prison.

The rate of literacy in schools among our students is a crisis and should be treated as a disaster demanding immediate intervention and remediation. Our children’s future is in the balance.

We have an amazing House GOP legislator education team made up of teachers, administrators, school board members and parents. Our team has come up with a Reading Reset plan for Minnesota based on the decades of proven Science of Reading research. It has been a pleasure for me, as a former longtime elementary school teacher, to help lead this awesome team.

Reading Reset is a focused plan that includes strategic funding, local control, and empowers parents and schools. Our plan establishes a special revenue fund, not unlike a disaster relief fund, from which schools can apply to cover costs related to aligning their curriculum and instructional practices to the Science of Reading.

The Reset Fund includes three primary components:

• Funding for schools to invest in proven Science of Reading curriculum, instructional materials and books. Schools that wish to replace faulty curriculum (or have recently done so) can receive state aid to purchase new materials with curriculum, books and instructional materials rooted in the Science of Reading.

• Funding for teacher training and professional development in the Science of Reading. Teachers will have opportunities to be trained with intensive workshops and academies along with real professional development.

• Funding for tutoring. Parents of students identified as struggling readers will receive help for targeted tutoring based on the Science of Reading.

The total size of the fund is still being calculated, but the funds to be set aside to get this right will need to be meaningful.

This reading crisis is a bipartisan issue. No matter which side of the aisle we’re on, reading mastery should be of highest importance for our schools. I am working on this issue with my education committee colleagues on the other side of the aisle as well.

To our teachers, parents and struggling readers: no one is blaming any of you for the low student reading proficiency rates. It’s not your fault. You were mislead by these curriculum companies. The goal of this legislation is to recognize the problem and give you the tools and resources you need in the future to succeed.

Enough is enough. It’s time to take a bold stand, provide immediate and substantial intervention and remediation, and help all our students achieve the most fundamental and necessary life skill by prioritizing their need to read well.

Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, is the District 23A representative.