Education Consumers Foundation
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Steps you can take

Options for Parent and Citizen Action

A school’s scores reflect your child’s risk of success or failure. At some schools, 90% or more of students have mastered reading by grade 3 and only 10% have not.  The national average, however, is around 33%.  Schools with a low percentage of proficient third grade readers will have a low percentage of proficient students in other grades and subjects.

1.  If it appears that your child is among those who are not doing well, consider teaching him or her yourself. Reading is the single most important skill your child will learn, and there are engaging, enjoyable computer-based programs that will teach them.  Bear in mind, however, that no program can work without persistent student effort and persistence usually necessitates a degree of parent guidance and supervision, i.e., a requirement that work comes before play.

ECF recommends Funnix:  http://www.funnix.com/ and Headsprout: http://www.headsprout.com/. Both are well supported by research and more effective than the vast majority of elementary teachers.

2.  If you are also interested in improving reading outcomes in your school or district, step one is to learn about reading and schooling from the ECF website. Step 2 is to let your family, friends, neighbors, business associates, local officials know the facts.  The vast majority of Americans–including school board members–know little about school quality beyond the steady stream of assuring communications that come from the schools themselves. Unflattering facts may not be welcomed by the schools; but unless a more realistic picture of their performance gains a degree of public acceptance, reforms produced by your efforts will likely be superficial and short-lived.

School improvement is like a twelve step program.  The first and toughest step is for the school and community to face the problem.  Reading scores frequently stay low for decades because schools always have excuses and most face little pressure to improve. Concerned citizens lack the facts and expertise to overcome the excuses and alternative schooling options are usually not available.

ECF can help you communicate about the problem.  ECF’s free, printable, and easily customized charts will enable you to communicate about local reading outcomes and its calculator will provide an estimate of the economic and social savings that effective reforms can produce. The projected reductions in dropouts, unprepared graduates, and tax burden can be enormous.

3.  Here are a few thoughts about spreading the word:

  • Circumstances differ from school to school. The problem may be just a few ineffective teachers or a broader failure of leadership.  Whatever the particulars, school boards are the public’s elected representatives and they have a duty to inform themselves and hold district educators accountable.  In most states, boards have access to extensive school and teacher data that should enable them to pinpoint the problem. For example, Tennessee has data comparing the percentage of effective teachers in each district: http://www.education-consumers.org/effective-teachers-school-district-2
  • Often, the real problem is ineffective leadership, poor training, or a faulty curriculum, not negligent or lazy teachers.  Education is known for faddish reforms but there are also numerous examples of reform-minded leaders improving schools and districts through the adoption of research-based, data-driven retraining for teachers, principals, and supervisors. So boards can set goals, district executives can implement plans, and substantial improvements can result. For a recent example, see http://www.education-consumers.org/pdf/Elgin_CaseStudy.pdf. District-wide programs that recognize and encourage the most effective schools and teachers have also proven effective: http://www.education-consumers.org/pdf/01_02_14Title1Awards.pdf
  • Bottom line: School board leadership can make the critical difference between quality and stagnation, but reform-minded board members cannot act without informed and energized constituents. School improvement requires a critical mass of parents and taxpayers who care about school quality and who support reform-minded school board candidates.

Ineffective schools may be the greatest long-term threat to America’s civility and prosperity.  Fortunately they are a problem that can be effectively addressed by local grassroots action–one school board at a time: Reversing American Decline

The key to success is informed citizens voting in school board elections.

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Education Consumers Foundation

1655 North Fort Myer Drive, Suite 700
Arlington, VA 22209
Phone (703) 248-2611
Fax (703) 525-8841

ecf@education-consumers.org