When my brother and I were small children, we spent our days with Grandpa and Grandma Springer. Mom and Dad both worked in factories– Mom as an administrative assistant and Dad as a union electrician. Back then, there were no day care centers because most Moms stayed home with the kids. If mom worked, grandma became the designated babysitter.
I learned a lot from the years I spent with Grandma and Grandpa. They were kind, salt-of-the-earth, hard-working German immigrants. I remember helping Grandpa harvest the cherries from the tree in the backyard, taking them in to the kitchen for Grandma, and helping her make pies. I remember walking downtown with Grandma and going from shop to shop in Amherst, talking with the cobbler, the butcher, and the grocer in German. We would stop at the dime store to buy a new babushka for the season or fabric for aprons. I remember picking out colors and painting furniture with her. If Grandma wasn’t doing housework, she was doing something crafty. I learned many of my home skills from her.
One thing I never did with Grandma was read a book. My grandparents were smart people, but they also were uneducated people. Grandpa had to quit school in the sixth grade to go to work in the sandstone quarry and learn to become a blacksmith. Grandma quit school in the eighth grade to go to work as a live-in maid for rich people in Lorain. Although they both spoke English, their everyday conversations were sprinkled with German words. I grew up hearing and speaking a German version of Spanglish, without knowing it.
Only recently did I realize that growing up in a family where no one read to us as children and where multiple languages flowed back and forth most likely impacted my reading proficiency in elementary school.
I was a very slow reader. I was scared and embarrassed to read aloud in class because my skills were so far below the other kids, and it was painfully obvious to everyone. I was petrified of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills each year because I knew I would not finish any of the sections due to my slow reading.
I remembered my experiences as a child when I read the news that 1400 Arizona third graders will be held back this year because they are not reading at grade level, and they didn’t pass a high-stakes reading test (Arizona’s Measurement of Educational Readiness to Inform Teching or AzMerit).
Would I have been one of those 1400 children if I were a third grader in Arizona today? Probably.
I’m sure that many students who are struggling with reading English are growing up in homes like I did where multiple languages are spoken and where the caregivers may not read or speak English well. More than 60% of students failed at least one section of this test–an improvement from last year.
What was the Arizona Department of Education’s response to these dismal scores? Are they going to push for restoration of full funding for education? Nope. Are they going to review the test? Nope. Are they giving up on high-stakes testing? Nope Are they going to set up a Blue Ribbon Panel to gather data and community input and make recommendations to on how to improve schools statewide and help children achieve? Nope. According to KTAR.com, an ADE spokeswoman said “it’s important parents get kids the help they need if they did not pass.” These parents are working at McDonald’s for minimum wage. How are they supposed to afford reading tutors?
“Arizona students’ chances for success were ranked among the lowest of all states,” according to the Arizona School Board Association.
Data from the Arizona School Board Association shows that 33% of fourth grade children who received free or reduced cost meals were not proficient in reading– giving Arizona a nationwide ranking of dead last. The same report shows that 20% of Arizona children have parents who are not fluent in English (#45 nationwide). Why are surprised that students can’t read English when so many parents are not fluent in English?
Often the education dialog only focuses on funding– because the Republicans in the Legislature just love to balance the budget on the backs of little children. After all, we have to have $4 billion reserved for the corporate tax cuts. (Hey, kids, start a super PAC and hire some lobbyists.) The GOP vendetta against education has resulted in Arizona’s recent ranking as the fourth worst school system in the country.
How long are we going to ignore our children and grandchildren and shortchange our their futures? How long are we going to ignore the business community who is clamoring for an educated workforce? How long are we going to continue to spend more per prisoner than we do per pupil? Do we really believe that our dismal education record, crumbling infrastructure, hard-right policies, and bulging prisons are attractive to big corporations who might be enticed to move here?
We need to stop this race to the bottom. It’s not good for our children, for our families, for our community, or for the future of our state. In addition, we should take a broader view of education and include adult literacy when we talk about childhood success. If we teach the parents and grandparents English, they can help their children and they can qualify for better jobs.
To improve reading among young children and to help build successful families and communities, I recommend:
- Subsidized preschool and daycare
- Full day kindergarten
- Fully funded public education system (not the bad deal we got with Prop 123)
- Librarians and reading tutors in the schools
- Free literacy training for adults
- Fully funded Head Start (national agenda item).
For our children’s and our grandchildren’s sake, we must take control of our state. Starving our educational system in order to provide billions in corporate welfare is short-sighted at best. It’s time for common sense in the Arizona Legislature– not ideology.