Childhood Literacy in Michigan

PRE-PROPOSAL

1. Media Artifact

Link to media artifact(s) giving background on the issue. Please list the title of the artifact(s) and then make the title(s) a link to the page in the MSC site where the artifact has been posted. You may include media artifacts made by other MSC members, if relevant, even if they are not authors of this proposal.

Infographic about Literacy in Michigan

2. Persona and POV statement

Persona:

Persona name: Carla
Age: 35
School/occupation: Nurse Practitioner
Location: Farmington Hills, MI
 
Quote: "I'm still learning to juggle all my obligations"
 
About:
  • Has 3 kids
  • Has to be at work by 8am so drives kids to school before
  • Spends weekends with family
  • Is involved at her kid’s school with PTO
Goals:
  • Tries to have time to help kids with homework and school
  • Wants to avoid sending kids to daycare for much longer
  • Spend time with family but have time for personal hobbies

 

POV Statement:

  • User:Carla, a busy and hard-working mother of three
  • Need: needs to find time to be involved in her children’s education
  • Insight: because she leads a hectic life and is often forced to put work or other obligations ahead of her children’s needs.
Note: I constructed this persona with a different end goal in mind. Originally, I wanted my proposal to focus a lot on the at home aspect of learningt to read, and how to provide additional resources to students. After consultations, I shifted my proposal to focus more on teachers and how to help them teach literacy effectively.

3. Potential Solutions:

Describe three reasonable, feasible potential solutions or approaches that would help address this problem.

SOLUTION 1: The first solution I considered is an amendment to the current "read by grade three" law. Currently, the law requires third graders that are behind in reading at the beginning of the school year to develop a personal reading plan, and if they are still behind at the end of the year, they must repeat the school year. This would cause a large budget issue for Michigan as it would cost around $40 million for those students that are held back to stay in school for another year. The amendment to the law would expand this to all grade levels before grade 3 as well. I think it is much easier to fix a reading problem before it has gotten really bad and a student is incredibly behind in third grade. I think this would limit the number of students that are held back as third graders. At the same time, in the first few years, it could possibly increase the number of students that are held back, but in the long term, it could be beneficial. It could also be beneficial to explore expanding this beyond third grade for reading in middle school and high school as well. 

SOLUTION 2: The next solution I explored is changing the way that primary education is taught so that literacy is at the forefront. It is often thought that if one can read well, all other aspects of education will fall into place. More well-maintained resources should be available for teachers, as well as training in teaching literacy and assessing a student's literacy level. I think this would be beneficial, because in many school systems now, this is not widely focused on. The details of those resources and training will require further research. Right now in Michigan, Gov. Whitmer increased the number of literacy coaches in the state from less than 100 to 269. In my opinion, that is still not enough for the 838 LEA and PSA school districts that exist in Michigan. This is something that could be increased. When  researching further, I found that Vermont was the state who had the highest literacy rate among 4th graders with only 6.6% of them being behind. I decided to look at what Vermont was doing differently and noticed that in their public libraries, they had the "Vermont Early Literacy Initiative" where libraries attended a two day training to help librarians learn how to teach students how to read. I think this would be a great idea to bring into Michigan public school libraries, particularly in primary and elementary schools in our 838 districts. 

SOLUTION 3: The last solution I explored addresses the link between poverty and literacy. Students that live in poverty are more likely to live in homes with less than 100 books, and 70% of them are below the reading level. Additionally, across the nation, 80% of fourth graders from low-income families are not proficient in reading.In order to address this, more resources should be offered to these students. Outside of personal reading plans for third graders that don't meet the requirements, any students who don't meet the requirements should be given a reading plan. The solution should be customized for the student, and they should be required to work with school staff to bring up their reading level. One size fits all solutions are clearly not working for the state anymore. Obviously this is a concern with how much money would be required to fund this but is something to explore.

 

BACKGROUND AND RESEARCH PROCESS

Context

Reference to a current Michigan bill or law that relates in some way to your proposal:

"Read by Grade Three" Law. This law requires students to be of proficient reading level by grade 3. If it is found that students are not at proficient levels at the beginning of third grade, they will have to enact a personal reading plan to help them get back on track (ie. no more than one year behind). If at the end of third grade, students are not at a proficient reading level, they will have to repeat the school year.

Why this proposal will make a difference in the lives of students of all ages across Michigan, or a significant subgroup (by age, background, economic status, and/or region, etc.) of students in Michigan:

In the beginning this will make a difference for younger students who are just learning how to read. As time goes on, these students will grow up, so those impacted will be older students and eventually adults. Teachers will also be impacted because it will change the way they teach reading to students.

How and where did you learn about the issues underlying your proposal?

I always knew about the literacy problem in Michigan from the news. I continued to be interested in the issue from the Provocations section of this site and my own research.

How has your service activity influenced your thinking about this proposal?

Working with high school students from underserved communities for my service activity gave me lots of insight into what is wrong in our communities. The students I mentored weren't necessarily behind when it came to literacy, but I could see how they were behind in other ways.

Link to your media artifact(s) giving background on the issue:

childhood literacy in Michigan - see above

 

Consultations

Talk directly with at least 3 real live people who have special knowledge about this topic or the impact your proposal would have, and summarize their comments. These may include people appearing in your media artifact (video, podcast, etc.).

CONSULTATION 1: I first spoke with Professor Nell Duke at the Univeristy of Michigan's School of Education who had been researching this topic for quite some time, and she rreferred me to an article she wrote on the topic. In her article, Professor Duke explains that students being able to read a list of words and actually comprehending what they are reading with an ability to make inferences are two entirely differnt things. Addtionally, she shares that third grade isn't a magical year, and that while learning to read early on is important, it is vital that students continue to bolster their reading skills as time goes on. She also explains that teachers are not being held to high enough standards in terms of certification and that they aren't being given the proper resources to teach reading effectively. The best way to teaching reading is informed by the most recent research according to Professor Duke, and that isn't happening right now.

CONSULTATION 2: For my volunteering experience, I volunteered with Detroit Non-Profit, Give Merit. I volunteered with their program FATE which is a cohort based program that facilitates learning and initiative in high school students from Detroit. The goal of the program is to influence students to graduate high school and attend college. I deciede to consult with the staff of the organization to see what they thought of the literacy problem in Michigan. The leadership within FATE believe it is important to offer students support and extra resources. They discussed how this can be a wealth issue. Lots of students from lower income communities don't have the resources to help them learn to read, and many of them come from single-parent homes. This means that their parents doesn't have a lot of time to supplement their learning.

CONSULTATION 3: Interview of Liana Loewus (assistant managing editor for magazine Education Week), Emily Hanford (education correspondant for APM Reports), Kelly Butler (CEO of the Barksdale Reading Institute), and Nell Duke (Professor at UMich school of Edu). The interview focused on why reading scores across the country are down, not just in the state of Michigan. According to the interview, barely 1/3 of American fourth graders are not proficient in reading. Lianna Loewus explains that proficient means that students are slightly above grade level and can deal with challenging content. She says that scores since 1992 are somewhat stagnant. Loewus explainst that she thinks it might not be an issue that is completely about wealth because scores are declining amongst all sub-groups. Emily Hanford explained that reading comprehension is a combination of one's ability to decode words and all the words you know the meaning behind in the English language. She said that if you want to teach kids reading comprehension, the idea is to teach them how to read those words that they already know the meaning of. The problem is that we are teaching kids how to read words that they don't understand the meaning of. Hanford goes on to say that there is a large body of research about how students learn to read and how reading should be taught, and the resources that are being given to teachers doesn't necessarily line up with the research. Kelly Butler talked about what Mississippi changed to increase their scores. They passed an act that required students to pass a reading test in third grade to continue to fourth grade similar to the Michigan Read by Grade Three Law. She said this test shined a light on the lack of reading instruction.

 

link to interview: https://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2019/11/19/reading-scores-national-exam

 

Reaction or advice from a Topic Coordinator:

You must solicit a critique from a topic coordinator, and explain the impact that advice has had on the final draft of this proposal.

I had a phone call with my TC Casey after I submitted my first draft. She had a lot of interesting advice to give and talking with her really allowed me to propel my proposal forward. First, she emphasized the importance of having data to back up claims, so that prompted me to do some more deep research into exact numbers on students that can't read proficiently, number of elementary schools in Michigan, number of literacy coaches, percentages of districts on free and reduced lunch and more that really allowed me to understand the scope of what I was researching and more accurately define the parameters of the grant I want to propose. She helped me brainstorm some more ideas to go along with the idea of creating a grant such as elevating the literacy coach program. This was integral I think to my proposal because it allowed me to take the broader approach of just training librarians and using them as a resource for teachers and students. The role of the literacy coach is to help teachers as well, so now with the librarian also in the loop, we have 2 touchpoints of aid for teachers and 3 touchpoints of aid for students. Casey also brought up the idea that I needed to frame a goal for my proposal. I had originally just wanted to measure success by if the literacy rates went up, but something she noted was that we could assess the success based on if we are spending less than $40 million each year on the grants + holding students back (40 million was the expected cost of holding students back one year after 3rd grade in accordance with the new Read by Grade 3 Law). She also suggested that when adding onto my proposal, I should look at what other states who are successful in having low illiteracy rates have done, which caused me to look towards what states like Vermont and New Hampshire have done to keep literacy rates low. 

Research process:

Describe your research process — indicate who you talked to (including but not limited to consultants), what you read, what your thinking was, how it changed over time, and how your consultants changed your thinking. This description of your research process definitely could include “dead ends,” or ideas you had that didn’t ultimately bear fruit.  In short, we want to know what you did and how it led to your legislation, and we also want you to give us a window into your thought process.

I began my research and my proposal drafting with the belief that the best way to combat this was for students to have plans that are created at the beginning of their K-12 experience that is amended and used throughout. After consultation and research, I realized this isn't a problem that more initiative on the student's part or more planning could solve. I realized this is a problem of resources that are available to our teachers and how they teach reading to students. I also realized that while the situation at home might be the issue, it is much easier in a proposal to have jurisdiction over schools. Oftentimes, research that is current is not factored into the way reading is taught, and the best way to teach is the most informed way. I also in my research realized lots of money has been thrown at this issue with little to no progress and that in some states a lot of money was being spent per student, for example in Alaska, with little to show for it. After hearing the opinions of FATE staff that there aren't a lot of resources at home for student, I wanted to keep with the idea that my proposal would influence public schools still. I reached to Professor Nell Duke who has spent a lot of time researching the issue and she sent me an paper she had written on the issue. After reading her work, I realized my proposal definitely neede to focus on the way reading is taught in schools. Prof. Duke explained that there is a big difference in reading and comprehending and reading and making inferences. In my first draft, I wanted to create a grant for districts so that they could send their teachers to professional development to learn how to teach reading correctly. I had a hard time coming up with a concrete cost and how this would work. Essentially, this would be pretty costly and I wanted to make sure enough people would be receiving the grant. I then decided I needed a way to provide these resources at a lower cost so more schools could be reached. I looked into states that had high literacy rates and investigated the programs they used to increase literacy rates. I specifically looked at Vermont and New Hampshire. Vermont had a program in its public libraries where librarians were given funding and resources to help students learn to read and facilitate literacy for the youth in their communities. This gave me the idea of doing this in Michigan but on the scale of elementary school libraries rather than public libraries. I also noticed the New Hampshire and Vermont had an organization that functioned in only their two states called the Children's Literacy Foundation which gave out multiple grants to schools, students, districts, and teachers in need. One of the grants was called "The Year of the Book" Grant which granted "$25,000 in literacy programming and new books, including many author visits and workshops, family literacy events, new books for classrooms, the school library, and the local public library, plus ten new books for each child to choose for themselves!" I decided to use this specific grant as the model for my grant which would be given by the state rather than a foundation. I wanted to incorporate the aspects of the fact that many students who come from low-income families might be behind in terms of literacy, so I wanted to set parameters for who would be eligable to receive the grant.

Author contributions:

Please delineate--in detail--who made what contributions to the process and to the finished proposal? Who took on which responsibilities in researching ideas, drafting language, etc.?

 

FORMAL PROPOSAL

The sections below should comprise your final proposal language, submitted for consideration by your peers and potential inclusion in the MSC Platform.

Preambulatory clauses

These set up the PROBLEM, but not the solution.

WHEREAS.... students who do not learn how to read properly will face ongoing issues that are proven to persist into adulthood, and can lead to unemployment

WHEREAS... according to the Write Express Corporation, 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare

WHEREAS... 80% of fourth graders from low-income families are not proficient in reading

WHEREAS.... reading is fundamental for a student's learning later on as oftentimes in education, we read to learn

WHEREAS.... the illiteracy rate in the State of Michigan is 18% according to the FDIC

WHEREAS... the state of Michigan has 838 PSA and LEA school districts and 1450 elementary schools in these districts, and 269 literacy coaches in Michigan. This means there is around one literacy coach for every 3 districts and one literacy coach for every 5 elementary schools.

WHEREAS... the State of Michigan has spent $50.5 million dollars on the literacy coach program already

WHEREAS... a study from the University of Chicago shows that literacy coaching is only effective when there is a 1:14 coach to teacher ratio in the state

WHEREAS.... 54.9% of 3rd graders scored below proficient on the 2019 English Language Arts test according to the Michigan Department of Education

WHERAS.... about 51% of students in public school in Michigan qualify for free and/or reduced lunches

WHEREAS.... Michigan is in the bottom 10% for literacy in the United States

WHEREAS.... $80 million has already been spent on improving early reading in Michigan with little to no improvement

WHEREAS... there is not a strong correlation between money spent on literacy per student and literacy rates

WHEREAS.... reading is still being taught based on a flawed theory called "three cueing" in which students are taught to use three cues to figure out what a word could be: graphic cues, synatic cues, and semantic cues. This theory has since been disproved as an effective way to teach reading.

WHEREAS.... teaching phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension is proven to be the most effective way to teach reading according to a report by the National Reading Panel, which has been worked into the Common Core Curriculum, yet Michigan is still behind in literacy.

WHEREAS.... it is stated in the MAPLE Plan for MI that a goal is to provide support for instructional skills, but there is not mention of actually training Michigan teachers in teaching literacy based on new research.

(Add more "Whereas" clauses if necessary.)

Operative clauses

These describe in detail, the solution you are proposing (not the problem itself; those should go in the "Whereas" clauses above).

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED....

1.  A commission should be set up to find a test school, elementary or primary, that has a below average literacy rate for Michigan and where at least 45% of students are on free and reduced lunch and not proficient in reading

  • This test group will be set up in the beginning to avoid funnelling more money into projects that do not help the issue
  • The test group will receive the grant from the State of Michigan to put towards training for librarians, new literacy resources, and enrichement
    • This training will be rooted in the most recent research regarding how to teach reading as well as teaching phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension
  • Schools will continue to follow common core curriculum, but classrooms will be required to use the new resources available through the school library, and the librarian will aid in teaching reading to students
  • As improvements are seen and more schools receive the grant, the application requirements can be changed to better fit the range that is need.

2. If the test group is effective in increasing the literacy rates, the commission should continue their search for other schools in Michigan that could benefit from the grant the most, and give out as many as they see fit. 

  • The number of grants that could be given out would pertain to the amount of money that can be received from the government

3. The literacy coach program in Michigan is abandoned and defunded.

  • Literacy coaches have become increasingly difficult to find.
  • With the costs associated with these coaches, getting the state to the number of coaches it needs for success is near impossible.

(Add more "Resolved" clauses if necessary.)

Counter-arguments:

What are three reasonable arguments against this proposal?

1. How can you be sure the government will fund your proposal?

2. Will this be more effective than the literacy coach program?

3. Are you sure developing through the school's library is an effective approach?

Costs and funding:

What will your proposal cost (in direct expenses, lost tax revenue, lost economic opportunity, and/or non-monetary costs)? How will you pay for your proposed legislation? Where will/could the funding for your proposal come from?  Who might object to dedicating resources to your proposal (competing interests)?  

The proposal would require a grant for these district to send librarians to these development trainings. Vermont and New Hampshire both receive grants from the Children's Literacy Foundation which are $25000 each to provide literacy programming, new books, and guest visits. The commission can be formed from government officials in the department of education, so costs would be low as it would be a new project as part of their job. 

I am proposing that the literacy coach program in Michigan is defunded and abandoned, and the money that is being spent on literacy coaches is directed towards this grant. 

References:

These can include websites or other information you have found about the issue.

https://www.bridgemi.com/guest-commentary/opinion-michigan-midst-literacy-crisis

https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/education/2019/08/29/michigan-third-graders-fail-reading/2086915001/
https://www.apmreports.org/story/2019/08/22/whats-wrong-how-schools-teach-reading

https://www.bridgemi.com/talent-education/michigan-investing-heavily-early-reading-so-far-its-not-working

https://247wallst.com/special-report/2014/02/07/states-where-children-are-struggling-the-most-to-read/3/

https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-literacy-america

https://247wallst.com/special-report/2018/09/07/most-and-least-literate-states/2/

https://libraries.vermont.gov/services/children_and_teens/veli/one

https://education.vermont.gov/student-learning/content-areas/language-arts

https://www.mischooldata.org/Other2/DataFiles/StudentCounts/HistoricalEconomicallyDisadvantagedCounts.aspx

https://clifonline.org/clifs-open-grant-applications/

https://www.mischooldata.org/DistrictSchoolProfiles2/EntitySummary/Summary.aspx

 

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