One day last spring, I listened with my jaw dropped as one of my closest colleagues shared how the parents in her district were complaining about the amount of reading she expected that students complete each night and over the weekends. Didn’t she know that these children play sports, attend dance class, go to religion and have a myriad of other after school obligations that occupy those precious post-school hours? And did I fail to mention that the teachers in the following year’s grade don’t require nearly as much reading as she, so really, what’s the point of so much this year?
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when I sat in the office of a district administrator in my children’s school pleading that they do more to increase my son’s current reading volume. I explained that I do my part as a parent to make sure that he cracks a book each night but when the teacher only requires twenty minutes, four nights a week, it’s hard for me to convince him to do more. From my son I get, “What’s the matter? I’m doing what I’m supposed to.” And from the administrator I get, “I appreciate your concern, Mrs. Yaris, but for every parent who wants more for their child, we get ten complaining that it’s too much.”
And all I can do is wonder. Are those the same parents that complain when their children don’t do well on the ELA? Are they the ones who point their fingers at the school and say, “You’re not doing your job. You don’t deserve what you are paid,”? Because the way I see it, raising a literate child is the not just the school’s responsibility, it is society’s, beginning first and foremost with parents.
Children who are read to from birth till the time they begin kindergarten start school with a significant vocabulary and sight word advantage. If every parent did their part to ensure that children were read to daily and valued reading for homework the same way that they value soccer practice, it is conceivable that the gap we’re looking to close would be considerably smaller.
In my mind, disregarding a teacher’s advice to read twenty or thirty or forty minutes a night is akin to saying “No thanks” to the doctor who just prescribed a rigorous course of antibiotics for a bacterial infection. When patients make the decision to refuse the medication, they can’t blame the doctor when they don’t get better. Nightly reading homework is part of the prescription for bolstering reading skills. If parents continue to refuse the treatment, they have to assume the consequences of the decision.
And the consequences are dire. Two thirds of our nation’s schoolchildren read at or below basic reading proficiency. Our national reading test scores haven’t budged in thirty-five years. We live in the age of a global economy. Competition for jobs is fierce and if we’re going to maintain an advantage, then we need children who know how to communicate, collaborate, and think critically and creatively. These are the skills possessed by literate individuals. How do we become literate? We read. How do we read better? We practice. If our students aren’t making the progress we expect that they should, then we need to look carefully at reading volume and ask: How much time do these children read and what can we do to make sure they practice more?