How The Flu, Nashville’s Reading Crisis, and A Single Question Ordered My Steps to 2018

Like everything else 2017 has had a hand in, this year’s flu strain showed up with a side of Satan. For nine days, I battled the worse flu of my life with rolls of tissue, too many doses of Theraflu, gallons of Hot Toddy, a rescue inhaler doubling as a crutch, and hours upon hours of Hallmark Christmas Movies and Gilmore Girls (yes, them). Oh, and hubs was sick, too. It was not a pretty scene in Hawkins house. 

For six of those days, I did not participate in social media in order to avoid triggers that could impede the healing process. The devil-flu stole my energy, so I was often too weak to sit at the computer or even pick up a book. So in the time between the stories of unrequited mistletoe love and trying to decode the dialogue between the speed-talking mom/daughter duo, I had time to think. 

My top three flu-addled thoughts:

  1. Literacy in Nashville
  2. Nashville’s Literacy Crisis
  3. Flipping the Script on Nashville’s Reading Scores

Real talk. I’m obsessed.

As I regained my strength, I was able to honor a couple of commitments on my calendar, a holiday open house and podcast interview. Even at a party replete with fancy champagne flutes and hard to pronounce hors d’oeuvres, I found a target to share Nashville’s literacy woes. The listener was in search of contacts to education organizations doing great work for kids and I was happy to oblige. But really I was just happy to take advantage of the captive audience.  I dropped a few reading statistics and watched as her eyes widened and mouth the stats in disbelief. Then she asked, “so what do you plan to do about it?

bye.gif

I decided to move to another room. Didn’t she know I had been sick for an entire week and too weak to change the world? Admittedly, the question impacted me deeply.

With “the question” coloring my every thought, I wasn’t sure how to prepare for the podcast. How could I possibly continue to beat the drum of our literacy crisis without a plan to do my part? I mean, look at Jarred Amato. Here’s a teacher who saw a need in the community in which he teaches and did something about it. A year later it’s a movement. And there are hundreds of organizations in Nashville that began with a decision after recognizing a need. So, what’s up, Vesia?

I decided to diss the naysaying voices in my head and continue my mission to take in as much literacy information as possible and raise awareness.

Podcast with Linda

I’m grateful for the discussion with Education Conversations podcast host Linda Dunnavant. She is a gracious host who cares deeply about children and the Nashville education community. Whatever philosophical differences we may have had before I entered her space, disappeared under the weight of our love of kids and concern for families. Further, this experience helped me work through “the question.”

My answer: I will continue to research and raise awareness. And stay tuned…

Tennessee’s Literacy Initiative Must Work Quickly for Today’s Students

In 2025, seventy-five percent of Tennessee’s third graders will read at grade level. At the present, not even half of third graders are there. This Chalkbeat article shares the good news of Tennessee’s year-old effort to boost reading proficiency with the addition of literacy coaches to school districts that sign on to the initiative.

So far, 99 out 146 school districts are part of the literacy initiative as it begins its second year. Unfortunately, we don’t know if the reading coaches hired in the initiative’s first year made an impact on reading scores, because, you know, no 2017 scores as of yet. Another blog. Another time. But here’s hoping. If Candice McQueen is willing to expand the program, maybe she knows something we don’t.

The Future is Now

Education officials ALWAYS speak in terms of long-term goals that really only benefit the reputation of the system. Think about it: in eight years Tennessee promises all but 25% of its third graders will be able to read at grade level. We are preparing for partial success of students who have yet to be born, but it’s good to know most will be able to read.

What about today’s living, breathing 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders who are not reading at grade level? I’m eager to compare the scores of 2015’s third graders and 2017’s fifth graders (same students), these students have just entered 6th grade. See how that works? Accountability requires that we understand the current situation to prepare for tomorrow, whether it’s eight years, eight months, or eight days. Time is not on our side.

Reading to Learn

We know students learn to read in K-2nd grades and begin reading to learn in 3rd grade. To put it plainly, the expectation is that students have mastered basic reading skills by 3rd grade. Students must be able to read and understand what they’ve read in order to learn other subjects.

So when I hear an 8th-grade teacher talk about having to re-work her lesson plans because half of her students showed up on the first day reading at a fourth-grade level –well, that’s quite troubling. 

I’m not knocking the literacy initiative or the 2025 goal, but we must work fast for our older students who continue to matriculate without basic reading skills.

Read the entire Chalkbeat article here.