The journal Future of Children, a collaboration of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Brookings Institution, has published an issue – Literacy Challenges for the Twenty-First Century – that’s chock full of thought-provoking articles. An accompanying policy brief examines the relationship between standards and literacy development. (I’ll write later about some of the individual articles in the journal.)
Massachusetts is among the 45 states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards, which the authors of the policy brief strongly support. “Standards are an important part – but only one part – of solving the literacy problem,” they write. “Even the best possible standards cannot raise student literacy unless they are part of a larger strategy. Excellent standards are a first step.”
The policy brief is written by Ron Haskins, co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution; Richard Murnane, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education; Isabel Sawhill, co-director of the Center on Children and Families; and Catherine Snow, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
The authors enumerate key elements of a successful strategy to boost children’s literacy. Improving the quality teaching, they write, is “the single most important element in any strategy aiming to boost student literacy and close the literacy gap.” They suggest redirecting federal funds to create “a competitive grant program that encourages school systems to design and implement programs to improve teaching and learning in high-poverty schools.” They also call for:
- Adoption by states of assessments now being designed to accompany the Common Core.
- A common system for reporting results that will provide schools, parents and communities with detailed knowledge about how their students are performing relative to the Common Core and to other communities.
- A better curriculum that is aligned with the Common Core.
“The more demanding Common Core standards in literacy, based on reading comprehension, conceptual knowledge, and vocabulary as well as accurate and fluent reading, combined with accurate assessments of these skills will reveal how far disadvantaged children lag behind on these more advanced literacy skills,” the authors write. “Rather than wait for the expanded literacy gap to be revealed, U.S. policymakers and educators should begin now to shrink the gap.”