How do our government programs improve literacy?

September 28, 2011 at 11:16 am | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 4 Comments

(Post authored by Courtney Ariola)

It’s no surprise that improving literacy skills in the United States continue to be on the mind of parents, teachers, and politicians. After all, the literacy statistics in the United States continues to be below average. A comprehensive five-year study commissioned by the United States government in 2002 showed that “21% to 23% of adult Americans were not “able to locate information in text”, could not “make low-level inferences using printed materials”, and were unable to “integrate easily identifiable pieces of information. In 2006, the same group of researchers did a follow-up study and showed no statistically improvement in the United States adult literacy (Wikipedia).”

Our government has introduced numerous laws mandating changes in the educational arena. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 was enacted to address the War on Poverty in the United States. Prior to federal ESEA, state and local governments had exclusive domain over education. The ESEA changed the federal government’s role in education by controlling educational laws and mandating equal access to education for everyone. In 1994, ESEA was reauthorized to include Title I – adding laws to support children with disabilities. Regardless of the federal educational programs mandated and the amount of money that was given to each of our states, the data gathered by our government continued to show that adult literacy had not improved. In 2001, another federal program, No Child Left Behind, was put into law. The NCLB law held states accountable for student progress. Some of the NCLB requirements were that each state annually test each student and report on the academic achievement of each of their schools. Although the law “allowed states to set their own annual benchmarks, provided they reached 100 percent proficiency by 2012-13, some simply refused and several states did see failure rates over 50 percent (Education Week).”

A common theme of NCLB was to “teach to the test”. Using instructional strategies to “teach to the test” became a very controversial issue in the educational arena, especially with the teachers unions. In 2009, the Race to the Top became part of the federal education program. This program contained criteria such as complying with national common core standards, evaluating teachers by their students’ test scores and closing schools with low test scores and, perhaps, turn them over to a charter school. The civil rights organizations criticized this plan. They “insisted that access to federal funding should be based on need, not competition (Ravitch).”

Common core standards have been developed to prepare all students for success in college and the workplace. These standards recognize equity at all government levels. They define what all students in all states should know at each grade level. All curriculums are to be aligned with the common core standards by the 2012-2013 school year. However, any State may add another standard as long as it does not exceed 15% of that State’s total standard for a particular content area. With common core standards as mandates, all students across the United States will go through their educational programs with the opportunity to develop a higher level of proficiencies and achievements. The goal is that all students improve in reading, writing, listening, and speaking. This will help students with critical analysis, social interaction and confidence when communicating. Teachers, in all content areas, will be responsible for assisting students improve reading, writing, listening and speaking competencies.

There has always been federal, as well as state and local, support for the education of our students. Although not all of the educational mandates have proven successful, it is apparent that our government continues to make laws to help educate our citizens and protect their general welfare. It is the duty of our government to support all of its citizens and not leave their education to chance. Although there are many controversial issues about the common core standards, it is my belief that having common core standards across all states is a good pathway to allowing all students, regardless of age, disability or income, to be literate.



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  1. In the beginning of this post, you talked about the very high numbers of adult americans who are unable to locate information in text, or make inferences or connections to those texts. The blog then discusses the different laws that have been created to make teachers and schools more responsible for educating and creating literare children. My thought, however, is what are we doing to help these adults who are unable to perform and exemplify these skills that we are teaching their children? In my own blog post, I wrote about the importance of parent involvement in their child’s educational experiences, and that factor directly relates to the literacy skills you were talking about. Learning should continue outside of the classroom when students go home at the end of the day, for the weekend, and especially during long recess breaks. If parents are unable to demonstrate their ability to use these skills, then how are they going to help better their child’s ability to do the same? I think that the state and federal mandates on literacy education are a great thing, but I also think we need to take it a step further. By providing parents with the necessary skills and resources to help their children, we can ensure that our efforts to create lifelong readers and learners inside the classroom, are carried out outside of the classroom as well. Students learn through experience, and they need those additional out of the class experiences to further their learning and education.

  2. I agree with Emily that learning should continue outside the classroom. It seems to me that more and more parents are putting on a DVD in the car so that they do not have to talk with their children. I remember when I was little I used to ask my parents a million questions about what was what and what things said. A lot of reading skills comes from exposure to well –know text, like Wegmans for example. Every time the child sees that sign for Wegmans he or she knows what it says. Or if it is not a DVD, like the blog states, the parents themselves are incapable of reading or processing so they are not able to expose their children to that. I agree with Emily that if the government wants literacy to be important then they need to provide resources so that individuals outside the school district can gain the knowledge and strategies to help the children outside the classroom.

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