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Editorial: 3rd-grade reading bill lets teachers off the hook

May 12, 2011
Marshall Independent

While we all recognize the need to make sure our third-graders are reading at grade level, we wonder how a House-backed proposal that would instruct schools to hold back third-graders who are struggling with reading will really help in the end.

The bill that passed Monday applies to students who are not reading at grade-level in third grade. But research supported by the state's teacher's union Education Minnesota indicates that holding children back does not improve their achievement.

"Research shows that forced retention increases the likelihood that a child will drop out of school by 20 to 50 percent," Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher said. "Other research shows that holding children back does not improve their achievement in school, and many of them actually do worse."

In a way, this scheme sounds more like an easy-out for a certain percentage of teachers who aren't holding up their end when it comes to teaching the kids how to read, or for parents who either don't recognize the importance of taking the time to read with their young kids at home or allow them to stare for hours at a time at a computer screen instead of a book.

Should we really be putting it on the shoulders of these 8- or 9-year-olds? You can blame and punish kids for breaking a window, but how can we blame and punish them when they encounter difficulty with reading? Pointing a finger at parents is clich and somewhat pointless, too. It's difficult, if not impossible, to police what goes on inside a family's home - even for the government.

If elected officials think they need to do anything when it comes to early childhood education, they need to make sure schools evaluate their teachers' performance better when it comes to preparing these kids, not simply tell schools to hold more back. They're releasing from the hook teachers - and future teachers - after having said in past that we need to consider getting rid of underperforming ones.

There are thousands of great teachers in this state, but it takes only a few to stunt academic growth to the point where red flags go up. Wouldn't it be more productive to identify those teachers and either work with or replace them than tell a kid he or she will have to take another crack at third grade?

And what will happen when that new batch of alternative-licensed teachers begin to find their way into the classroom? Back in March, Gov. Mark Dayton signed on to a bill that will allow nontraditional teachers to join the profession - "nontraditional" meaning prospective teachers won't have to attend a four-year college or university to attain an education degree, "nontraditional" meaning the standards of what it takes to become a teacher in Minnesota have been lowered.

The alternative teacher license bill is aimed at helping close a wide racial achievement gap in Minnesota and fill projected teacher shortages that would result after an expected influx of retirements in the next five to 10 years. While there might be some success stories as a result of alternative licensure, by experimenting with our kids with this new program our state lawmakers are already rolling the dice with their education. And now it's telling schools they need to go ahead and hold them back if they're struggling with reading?

A metro Republican authored the third-grade reading bill, which hints this could be more of a problem in larger, urban school districts and less of an outstate issue. If that's the case, this is another reminder of how fortunate we are to have the teachers we do in our educational institutions in southwest Minnesota.



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