Reading education shakedown

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tn_ColbeckBy Sen. Patrick Colbeck
7th District


In Fiscal Year 2016, the state of Michigan will spend $14.2 billion of taxpayer funds to educate 1.5 million K-12 students. That works out to $9,466 per student or $255,600 per classroom of 27 students (MI average) … and that does not include federal grants allocated directly to schools. What do we get for this money?

According to the latest statewide assessment, only 50 percent of Michigan third graders are proficient in reading at a third grade level. That’s right — only 50 percent!

The achievement of third grade reading proficiency is an important milestone. It marks the transition from learning to read to an education that depends upon reading to learn. Without the fundamental ability to read, students will be at a distinct disadvantage not only during their school years, but also when they enter the workplace upon graduation.

So how do we fix this problem? Let’s teach our kids to read. That is the purpose of House Bill 4822. To achieve this purpose, the bill includes provisions for “Literacy Coaches” for teachers, mandatory “Reading Intervention Programs” and state-driven grade retention policies. Do we really need a state law to teach teachers how to teach? Has it really come down to this?

Why do we need “Literacy Coaches”? A state requirement for “Literacy Coaches” presupposes that our teachers do not have the skills necessary to teach our kids to read. Why do we need remedial education for teachers? What are teachers being taught in universities that offer education degrees? Or, more to the point, what are they not being taught?

Why do we need to require “Reading Intervention Programs”? A state requirement for “Reading Intervention Programs” presupposes that teachers are not currently working on ways to teach struggling students how to read. Why do we need a state law that says that teachers need to teach kids to read?

One would think that there would be an uproar from the education community at the suggestion that teachers need “Literacy Coaches” or that teachers need to be told to develop “Reading Intervention Programs.” Quite the contrary is true, however. While the state-driven mandatory retention provision has met significant resistance from the education community, I have yet to hear any concerns voiced regarding state requirements for coaches or plan development. Why is that?

Simple. State education mandates or “recommendations” translate to more funding. In fact, in the FY16 budget, almost $2.5 million was earmarked specifically for early learning programs. This is chump change in the grand scheme of things. Last year alone, $128 million was spent on Professional Development for educators. The fact is that most teachers do not need professional development instruction like racist White Privilege Seminars. The time teachers spend on professional development would be better spent teaching students how to read. The money spent on professional development would be better spent on those teachers that teach well.

So, rather than ask why we are accepting teachers in our classrooms who need “Literacy Coaches” or need to be told by the state to develop “Reading Intervention Plans,” taxpayers are being asked to throw more money at the problem. Sounds eerily familiar to the problem-solving approach taken for the roads, doesn’t it? Instead of improving the quality, we just threw more money at the problem.

We should be asking why some teaching degrees only require two credit hours on how to teach kids to read. We should be asking why some teaching degrees do not feature any practical classroom training. We should be examining whether or not our teaching certification bureaucracy is fundamentally flawed. The answers to these questions will help us to solve the root problem of our third grade reading deficiency crisis.

Our students deserve a quality education. Our teachers who are paying for education degrees at universities with expenses that increase at four times the rate of inflation deserve a quality education. Our taxpayers deserve respect, not another crisis-driven shakedown.

Sen. Patrick Colbeck represents the 7th Senate District, which encompasses the cities of Livonia, Northville, Plymouth and Wayne, as well as the townships of Canton, Northville and Plymouth.