News

05/07/2019

Opinion: Gov. Newsom’s third-grade reading focus right on target


While reading about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s cradle-to-career education agenda, my stomach lurched learning about his focus on third-grade reading.

Numerous studies have shown the connection between third-grade literacy and further academic and professional success. Students who read at appropriate third-grade reading levels are four times more likely to graduate high school.

Now, none of this is news to me – I work in the nonprofit sector with a particular focus on poverty and education. However, as I overlaid my own story on these statistics, I visualized the very different future I could have had.

I was a struggling reader. It felt like one day I looked around and everyone else was reading and I had no clue when they’d mastered this skill. I imagined that I must have just missed the day when my classmates learned to read. And, I did what many children do when they realize that they are struggling: I faked it.

I spent the next few years pretending to read. It wasn’t until standardized testing began at the end of my second-grade year that my teacher discovered that I had no reading skills whatsoever.

Here is where my story differs from that of many low-income families. I had access to resources and I had teachers with the capacity to support me.

After numerous tests and meetings, it was determined that the issue was fairly simple. I didn’t have a learning disability or a low IQ. I simply needed phonics. I just required extra help. This began an intensive period of one-on-one tutoring that changed my life.

I remember the first time I read silently, in my head. All of a sudden, while reading my “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, sitting sideways in a big armchair in my living room, legs flopped over one side, I wasn’t talking aloud anymore. Instead, there was a little voice inside of me narrating the book. That moment felt like pure magic.

It makes total sense that our third-grade reading ability is deeply connected to our overall life trajectory. Our second- and third-grade years are when we transition from learning to read to reading to learn.

Since my classmates were using their reading skills to learn, I constantly felt like I was behind because I couldn’t read the math questions or understand the science assignment. My difficulty with this foundational skill was starting to impact my ability to learn overall.

Unfortunately, there exists a continuing trend of inequity among children who are born into low-income families, including those who have limited access to literacy and language development. Without access to programs and tools to help children succeed and meet the third-grade reading benchmark, statistically speaking, they will be low-income earners as adults, perpetuating the poverty cycle.

As executive director of GreenLight Fund Bay Area, I recently had the chance to invest in bringing ParentChild+ (headquartered in New York) to the Bay Area. ParentChild+ is a proven, early childhood home-visiting program that promotes parent-child interaction and development through reading and conversation.

This organization brings early learning specialists into the homes of families with children ages 2-4 who do not have access to quality early childhood programming.

Working together with parents, they strengthen parent-child interaction and build language-and learning-rich homes that enhance children’s literacy and social-emotional skills, while supporting the transition to pre-kindergarten. This model has shown effective kindergarten readiness and third-grade success outcomes as compared to the statewide average.

As Governor Newsom pushes for equity in education, I am anxious to see how his initiatives will support effective programs to change educational outcomes for all children.

Kate Schwass is the San Francisco Bay Area executive director for GreenLight Fund, a nonprofit organization transforming the lives of children, youth and families in high-poverty urban areas.

Please click here to read this article on The Mercury News.

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May 8, 2019

Opinion: Gov. Newsom’s third-grade reading focus right on target...

While reading about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s cradle-to-career education agenda, my stomach lurched learning about his focus on third-grade reading. Numerous studies have shown the connection between third-grade literacy and further academic and professional success. Students who read at appropriate third-grade reading levels are four times more likely to…