are you nervous?

In middle school, my friends and I played this game where we’d slowly move a hand up someone’s leg and ask “Are you nervous?” Every time I read a newspaper, I feel like I’m playing that game. This weekend, I read this article, and yes, I’m nervous.

The hand started around my knee and at each of the following lines, it moved up:

“New York City is changing tactics and concentrating on improving reading and writing skills.”

Sorry, what? Were we not already concentrating on reading and writing skills?

“Because of the way we license middle-school teachers,” [Josh Thomases, deputy chief academic officer for the Education Department]  said, “none of the teachers colleges actually train secondary teachers in how to teach kids how to read.”

This one surprised me. I’ve always attributed my reading and writing abilities to my middle school teachers. We had extensive libraries in our English classrooms and got at least a period each week to explore it. Even if we weren’t particularly strong readers, our teachers at least encouraged us to enjoy reading. They taught us strict essay formats and once we’d mastered them, we were encouraged to make them more personal. We had occasional grammar lessons and got extensive feedback on our writing. Are teachers not doing this elsewhere? Are they lacking training? Resources? Both?

“Of the original 51 schools, [in a 2008 initiative to to bolster student performance at 51 of the lowest-performing middle schools] only 4 remain in the initiative, and 8 of them have been closed or are being phased out because of poor performance. Although a few appear to be improving, many of the middle schools that participated are still foundering.”

So these efforts have been made and haven’t worked. Looks like it’s time for a new tactic. Maybe the funding and restructuring of schools are not where we must focus. Maybe reading and comprehension needn’t fall solely on schools. Maybe we should be looking at the reading going on (or not going on) at home. A 2010 study that looked at students in 27 countries concluded that “Children growing up in homes with many books get 3 years more schooling than children from bookless homes, independent of their parents’ education, occupation, and class” (Evans, et al.) Reading should be the least of our worries. Once a person learns how to do it, he or she can do it anywhere, anytime, with anyone, with a book, with a comic, with an iPad. But they’ve got to learn first.

Finally, Christine Quinn says that, “…[middle schools] are the part of our system that’s still the weakest…”

I think that one speaks for itself.

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