Tag Archive for: school

Each afternoon for the last hour and a half of the school day, I work on reading with third graders. By this time of the day, the students and their teacher are worn out and a frenetic buzz drives students to throw paper, write each other nasty notes, and engage other forms of crazy-making. The teacher’s frustration is apparent: her face flushed, she calls her students back to their meeting-place, the carpet, in an effort to recall their attention to the task of independent reading and station rotations. I witness this daily routine and mull over what I’ve learned and noticed about children and education since I began working in an elementary school several months ago.

Children’s brains are not prepared to focus on reading for sustained periods of time – not without support anyway. Children need a lot of support to develop the skills necessary to read. Certainly, this is the presumed role of the educational institution: to provide support. In the Denver Public School (DPS) where I work, literacy instruction accounts for about 80% of the school day. In addition to the classroom time dedicated to literacy, many students are pulled periodically throughout the day for literacy intervention programs. With such heavy emphasis on literacy, I was shocked to meet students in the third and fourth grades who are still working as “emergent” readers.

One wall in the room where I lead intervention groups is dedicated to tracking the literacy scores, goals, intervention programs, and development of each student that attends the school. The wall is a graphic representation of the cultural value we assign to reading, it is divided into three sections and progresses from left to right: Unsatisfactory on the far left, Partially Proficient in the middle, and Proficient on the right. Each student has a card somewhere on the wall. The left side of the wall is rather cluttered. With such a sturdy support system in place I wonder how so many students fall off or become stranded on the scaffolding that has been built to help them achieve academic excellence. I suspect there must be something more fundamental in a child’s education than literacy.

In his March 18, 2010 message to the DPS community, Superintendent Tom Boasberg says:

“We are failing the civil rights challenge of our generation: to ensure that all of our students, regardless of ethnicity or income status, graduate from our high schools prepared for college or career. Now is time to accelerate our reforms, to sharpen the focus on student achievement, and to get all of our children—in every neighborhood of Denver—on track to walk across the commencement stage armed with everything they need to forge a great future for themselves.”

(“Letter From the Superintendent”, Denver Public Schools 2010 Denver Plan: Strategic Vision and Action Plan, 3)

Superintendent Tom Boasberg simultaneously underscores and marginalizes the factors I believe are more fundamental than literacy instruction in a child’s development: Boasberg states, “regardless of ethnicity or income status,” the role of DPS is to ensure student success beyond school – he affirms the need to provide each child “in every neighborhood of Denver … with everything they need to forge a great future for themselves.” So, while Boasberg acknowledges a civil rights challenge in which ethnicity, income status, and living condition – neighborhoods – play leading roles, he proposes that education can transcend these factors. Boasberg’s use of the word “regardless” produces a particularly frightening spin on his message: without paying attention to the present circumstances (ethnicity, income status, neighborhood) DPS schools will ensure that all students are prepared for college or career (“regardless” Dictionary. Version 1.0.2. Apple Computer, Inc. 2005). These are pretty hefty words to carry into a classroom where ethnicity, income status, and the neighborhood environment are overwhelming factors in a student’s success.