Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children
Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Nonie K. Lesaux, Ph.D., has taken a strong stand in an opinion piece called: “Why Reading Programs in Massachusetts are Failing.” 

Published on Cognoscenti, WBUR’s online publication of opinion pieces, Lesaux’s article says Massachusetts’ reading programs aren’t “adding up to meaningful improvements.”

The article points to the 39 percent of Massachusetts’ third graders who don’t read at grade level. And even though the state has a new law that promotes reading proficiency by the end of third grade, Lesaux and her co-authors — Joan G. Kelley and Julie Russ Harris, two members of Lesaux’s research team – are sounding a call to action for all educators regarding the state’s current literacy efforts.

While there are many well-intentioned reading programs being implemented throughout the state, Lesaux argues, the problem is that “the average service or program is not substantial enough, and together the offerings are not coordinated enough, to result in reading improvements.”

She writes: “We do once-a-week tutoring and power lunches to help children reach a benchmark, rather than strengthening daily instruction; we provide teachers with one month worth of curricular materials and modeling, instead of ongoing guidance and comprehensive curricula; we give pediatricians time to flag only the most severe language issues late in the game, rather than the opportunity to perform an annual screening of language skills. Given the high and sometimes even tragic individual and societal costs of children’s low reading skills, we could do much better.”

Lesaux highlights one program that shows promise in creating a sustained, intensive approach: Talk/Read/Succeed!, a Springfield early literacy program supported by the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The program is a collaboration between the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, the Springfield Housing Authority, Springfield Public Schools and other local partners.

Lesaux notes that, “Components of the program include parent education workshops; home visits from teachers; adult education and job training for parents; and early education, after school and summer programs for children. But even these promising efforts will take sufficient time, resources and relentless attention to quality in order to actually produce results.”

Talk/Read/Succeed is being used with 150 families who live in two public housing developments in Springfield. The focus is on “developing deep partnerships between families, schools and community programs to align strategies and support children’s literacy and learning,” according to Hampden’s regional employment board website.

Lesaux concludes that to seriously address the commonwealth’s new third grade reading law, “all of us in the field working to promote children’s reading development need to scrutinize what we do, and determine if our efforts are sustained and intensive. Only then can we expect to have all our children entering fourth grade as proficient readers.”