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Posted at 02:06 PM ET, 09/21/2011

Will the LEARN Act help kids learn to read?

Last May I published a post entitled “The LEARN Act: An expensive mistake,” by linguist Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus at the University of Southern California and an educational researcher and activist in the fields of second language acquisition, bilingual education, and reading.

The Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation Act, or LEARN ACT, was introduced in both houses of Congress earlier this year with the aim of providing federal funds to support state and local literacy programs.

Krashen argued in his post: “There is no evidence that the LEARN Act will work, plenty of evidence that it won’t, and plenty of evidence that the $12 billion budgeted for LEARN should be invested elsewhere.”

Following is a post that takes a different position, just as the Senate Appropriations Committee is working this week on legislation that would provide $183 million for the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literary Program (which Krashen criticized in his post.).

This was written by Richard M. Long, director of government relations of the International Reading Association, which supports the LEARN ACT.

By Richard M. Long

Many students either graduate from high school not ready for the literacy demands of college and the workplace or fail to graduate. Why is that? Don’t we know how to teach reading and writing?

The answer is that although we know how to teach reading and writing, we are not matching what we know to each school and to each child in a coordinated way. Federal initiatives over the past 40 years, each offered as a solution, have provided only a piece of the puzzle.

Initiatives have included the Right to Read Initiative, the Basic Skills Program, Reading Excellence, Reading First, programs in Head Start and other child care programs, Title I, job training programs, and even programs offered for new recruits in the military. Although each has helped some students to learn, none made systemic changes at and across each grade level for each student.

The introduction earlier this year of the Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation Act (or the LEARN Act) in the House and in the Senate is an important step in literacy policy for our nation.

Like the current pre-curser program, the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program, LEARN takes the best elements from earlier programs, adds new knowledge about writing and reading, and requires each state to bring together professionals from a wide array of disciplines and professions to identify needs and present ideas for meeting those needs.

The resulting state literacy plans, already begun in 46 states (plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico), include assessments at all levels that will help instruction and keep the programs on track. Districts then situate their requests for program funding within a coherent state plan, generating the kind of alignment needed for consistent and genuine change.

Rather than a piecemeal federal policy, LEARN establishes the centrality of instruction that is aligned across grade levels and across subjects. Extending features of the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy program, LEARN emphasizes smooth transitions from early childhood programs to elementary school, elementary school to middle school, and middle to high school.

It provides professional development about literacy and assessment of literacy for teachers in all content areas and for principals who collaborate on building instructional programs based on teacher knowledge and scientific evidence.

In addition, LEARN enables schools to intervene directly when the needs of learners demand even more to make a difference.

In short, LEARN is not a souped-up Reading First or Right to Read Program. It uses lessons from these past programs in the context of new knowledge about learning and change to build a future in which literate students graduate from high school ready for college, work, and citizenship.

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By  |  02:06 PM ET, 09/21/2011

 
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