As an extension of our commitment to improve education and increase the opportunity for marginalized students to change the trajectory of their lives, starting in 2020 we began underwriting a program at The University of Pennsylvania to foster discussions among differing political views. Our program is called the Red and Blue Exchange (RBX). It’s a foundational piece of Penn’s Stavros Niarchos Paideia Program which strives to integrate wellness, service and citizenship through dialogue. The RBX is a nod to the beloved colors of Penn, and to the colors embedded in our nation’s politics. RBX pursues transformative learning, enlightened leadership and the discovery of common ground. It shines a light on the world through different lenses, to mutually empower a path to remedy polarization. When John and Mary Anne Gamba described their interest in strengthening higher education by productively engaging opposing views, they said, “We hope students will delve into some of the most challenging topics currently facing society, learn to navigate the many different perspectives that exist around those topics, and find effective solutions to influence change – both in their time at Penn, and later in their careers.” Our Red and Blue Exchange program was featured in an article in the March 31, 2022 Washington Post Sunday Magazine.
As the Entrepreneur In Residence at U Penn’s Graduate School of Education, John Gamba Jr. wrote an article about building a strong classroom foundation focused on a child’s well-being, before targeting academic accomplishments. He suggests many “SEL” programs fall short of what students need to feel grounded, connected and supported. He offers some reasons why, such as not prioritizing what is exciting from a student’s point of view. He also emphasizes analyzing SEL content along evidence-based standards – referring to the strength of examples such as CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning), the ASCA (American School Counselors Association) and PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports). He also empathizes with teachers, cautioning against a learning curve that’s too steep or an implementation timeframe that’s too intense. He encourages, “where SEL is concerned, engagement, efficacy and ease-of-use must go together. Just because it’s easy to use doesn’t mean it’s going to work. Just because it aligns to standards, doesn’t make it engaging.”
In recent months we’ve listened to American Public Media’s Sold A Story podcast about how children learn to read. We’re struck by its ability to translate a complex topic into compelling, accessible content. We’re also captivated by how accurately it represents the depth and breadth of our own family’s paths learning how to read, and our perspectives working with children. We were riveted as we lived through the many voices woven into the podcast: parents, students, teachers, school leaders and advocates, all sharing their powerful experiences.
We’re motivated to alleviate the burden educators experience in the trenches. We’re alarmed by the interdependence of habit, expense and time. While decoding is an element to prioritize (and the cueing system to curtail), we realize it will thwart progress if we ignore the many other influences in play for learning how to be good readers. Children need more resources for building background knowledge, expanding vocabulary, developing connection with a “love of reading” environment and access to high quality content across subjects including history, science, health, and the arts. We realize an emphasis on writing skills can’t be lost, and early screening for dyslexia and reading readiness are key. We additionally find confidence in American Public Media Emily Hanford’s suggestion of conducting a “pre-mortem” process to alleviate the unintended consequences of massive policy change. Anticipating the many levers that could lead to failure while trying to improve the landscape in reading education seems more prudent than a broad-brush approach to adopting curriculum. We’re encouraged by the progress we’ve seen in recent years. As ExcelInEd’s Dr. Kymyona Burk stated, “there is a higher level of accountability placed on all of us who now know better to do better.”
As we develop our learning curve on the topic of “how to learn to read well,” we thought we’d share the following resources as we build our frame of reference:
CNN segment in April 2023 covering national attention on effective reading instruction.
Two audio documentaries produced by American Public Media (requiring less time than Sold A Story):
Links to Other Helpful Information:
ExcelInEd – advances policy decisions within and outside the traditional system to increase learning, eliminate inequities and ready graduates for college and career.
ExcellInEd’s Comprehensive Literacy Policy – state-by-state analysis of fundamental principles.
National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) – published a 2023 report and a review of preservice preparation programs teaching early reading. It analyzes the five components of effective reading instruction that ensures teachers enter the classroom ready to teach children how to read.
Go Beyond Grades: Resource for parents to understand the difference between report card grades and proficiency in math and reading.
Season 1 of the Knowledge Matters Podcast, Reading Comprehension Revisited. Covers topics such as why students from low-income backgrounds often score lower on reading tests. Why improvements in early grades fade out over time. And why substantial investments in ed reform haven’t delivered larger results. For a quicker listen, go directly to Episode 5, Episode 2 and Episode 6.