September 26, 2014
Gov. John Kitzhaber plans to be the highest-profile voice behind a big new push to get Oregon parents and other caregivers to talk with, sing to and tell stories to little kids to help get them on track to learn to read.
Plenty of Oregon children arrive at kindergarten with the vocabularies, familiarity with books and knowledge of letter shapes and sounds that they need to quickly learn to read.
But others don’t — and Oregon Chief Education Officer Nancy Golden has been investigating ways to help change that. She wants to inform and motivate the people best positioned to help young children ramp up to reading: their parents.
Consulting with parents and cultural leaders in communities with particularly intense early reading deficits persuaded her to plan a campaign that says more than “Read to your children,” a fairly obvious piece of advice. Some parents are not strong readers themselves and can feel intimidated by a message that suggests they, not trained teachers, should equip their children with all the complex pre-reading skills most children need to master reading, Golden said.
But adults in every community value telling stories to young children, Golden said. The message of stORytime will be that singing with, telling stories to and simply talking while playing with young children builds their vocabularies and instills other important literacy skills.
Although the governor will launch the campaign in Portland Public Schools, the campaign is going to focus most heavily on five communities that face a lot more poverty and other challenges than gentrifying majority-white Portland Public Schools does. They are:
- The Reynolds school district in east Multnomah County
- The Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde and Willamina Elementary in Yamhill County
- The Reedsport, North Bend and Coos Bay school districts on the southern Oregon coast
- The Ontario and Vale school districts on the Idaho border
- The Klamath Tribe in Klamath County
Oregon leaders have declared it is utterly essential to get nearly all Oregon students reading at grade level by third grade. Last school year, however, only 66 percent did.
That means more than 14,000 Oregon students left third grade without being able to read well enough. The best way to help poor readers is to fix their problems before third grade. Research suggests that most students who don’t learn to read adequately by then will never reach normal reading levels during their lives, Golden says.
— Betsy Hammond