Opinion: Teaching students to read is my No. 1 campaign promise | SteamboatToday.com

Opinion: Teaching students to read is my No. 1 campaign promise

Joyce Rankin
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

For the past five years that I’ve served on the State Board of Education, I’ve written monthly columns to inform my constituents of education at the state level. Two of my favorite columns have been “Mission creep” and “READ Act.”

In summarizing these columns, I’m capturing my No. 1 campaign priority: teaching students to read. I’ve also noted some recent updates in italics.

‘Mission creep’ published in 2019

What’s the fundamental mission of K-12 education? It’s to offer students essential information and knowledge free of charge. At its very basic level, it’s reading, writing and arithmetic. Questions arise. Who makes the decisions and provides the money necessary to carry out the mission? Does this come from the federal government or state government? And who makes the final decisions?

Checking with the Constitution, always a good beginning point, we find that the federal government has little to no education control. The responsibility for educating our K-12 students rests with the states. And in Colorado, because of local control, more directly with the districts and local schools.

Joyce Rankin, member of the State Board of Education representing the 3rd Congressional District.
Courtesy Photo

Through the legislative process, the federal government may provide money to the states and schools through grants; however, this money is only to supplement, not replace local programs. There are no unfunded federal education “mandates.” Every federal education law leaves it up to the state/schools to accept the funding. Any state that does not want to abide by a federal program’s requirements can choose not to accept the associated program’s funding.

While many states, including Colorado, decide to receive funding, as we do through the Every Student Succeeds Act (and now through COVID) a few states have decided not to accept any federal funding. Most of the educational financing, therefore, comes from the states and local government. In Colorado, the curriculum, however, is determined by the local school districts.

Over the years, we’ve seen “mission creep,” or other curricula, interjected into the schools. Some of these include media literacy, social-emotional learning, active shooter drills, mental health training, suicide prevention, sex education, bullying, cultural knowledge (and with COVID, trauma-informed school strategies), to name a few. 

So, as a taxpayer and community member, is it any wonder why our third graders aren’t all reading at grade level? Could it be that our teachers are overwhelmed with other programs that have distracted them from their fundamental mission: reading, writing and arithmetic?

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‘READ Act redo’ published in April 2019

In 2012, the Colorado legislature passed the “Reading to Ensure Academic Development” Act (HB12-1238), known as the READ ACT. Key features of the House bill involved teaching foundational reading skills or the science of teaching reading, including phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, fluency and reading comprehension.

Teachers need to learn and practice how to provide explicit, systematic instruction in all five of these essential components of early reading instruction. They are intentional and very specific, depending on an initial assessment of each child. It’s well recognized that each child learns at his own pace but knowing where to begin and how to progress is the key. Unfortunately, many teachers haven’t learned foundational reading skills or the science of teaching reading in their teacher preparation programs.

The READ Act of 2012 laid the foundation for what was needed to advance K-3 students to read at grade level. After $230 million and seven years, only 40% of our third-graders are proficient based on third-grade reading scores.

The updated READ Act in 2019 (SB 19-199) still supports the foundational skills and science of teaching reading. The main difference is that the new bill adds accountability. After additional professional development, all K-3 teachers will be able to implement their new reading skills. There will be individual student monitoring, parent involvement, accountability for the taxpayer dollars invested in the program and an outside evaluator to assess how the program is working.

I believe that the most important role of a teacher is to prepare students to become successful readers. I plan to promote, educate and inspire support for reading in the 3rd Congressional District and Colorado. 

My work here is not done.

Joyce Rankin is the Republican candidate for the State Board of Education.

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