A reading ‘guarantee’ is fundamental to success

Running a school district is a complicated job, one made no easier by the financial pressures of the day, and often by external forces, such as poverty or parental indifference.

And almost every aspect of education is more difficult in the Youngstown City School District, which has struggled with fiscal and academic emergencies, as well as declining enrollment and competition from charter schools and vouchers. Often those charter schools siphon students and income from the city school district without providing a higher quality of education and with less state oversight.

Be all of that as it may, there are some basic things that every school must do if it has any chance of success, and chief among them is teaching its students to read.

Some years ago, a literacy program adopted the slogan “Reading is Fundamental,” with the accent on fun. It was clever, but more than that, it was literally true. Literacy is the foundation of any learning.

And so we are happy to see that the Youngs-town Board of Education has adopted a policy that will help facilitate a “third grade reading guarantee,” in keeping with a law signed by Gov. John Kasich in July.

A bad precedent

This is not the first time such a reading guarantee has been tried in Ohio. Former Gov. Bob Taft promoted a requirement that all fourth-grade students be able to pass the reading portion of the Ohio Proficiency Test at the beginning of the 2001-2002 school year. If not, they could not advance to the next grade level. This was stated well in advance, so that every school board, principal and teacher knew that the kindergarten student of 1997 was going to have to be able to read at a fourth grade level by 2001.

And yet, when the deadline came, so many thousands of students had been allowed to fall behind that the standard was abandoned.

Youngstown’s plan calls for tests at the beginning of each year, parental notification and remedial action when a student is not on track to meet the standard by third grade.

Every teacher and every student knows that “cramming” for a test doesn’t work. Learning is a gradual and constant process, and it involves the teacher, student and parents to be successful. Principals are responsible for monitoring the success of teachers, and if they don’t the superintendent must hold them to account.

About 20 years ago, a grand plan was announced in Youngstown that called for 100 percent of Youngstown’s students to graduate by 2000. This paper was criticized for stating editorially that goal was unrealistic, but we believed it was, and history has shown it was.

This goal, however — that every primary student be taught to read — is doable because it is focused, and it is designed to identify deficiencies and take early corrective action.

There are few guarantees in life, but a guarantee that a child who comes to school each day will be taught to read should be one of them.

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