Last week John Kasich submitted his latest education reform bill to the legislature via Senator Peggy Lehner.  We’ve posted about that introduction of ideas now known as Senate Bill 316, and I personally wrote about a proposal referred to as the Third Grade Reading Guarantee.  The proposal is an ill-conceived method of enforcing big-government ideas onto local school board decisions under the guise of providing the “best” solution for students.  But when the administration revealed the research that is the driving force behind this recycled plan, they revealed their own flaws in reading and comprehension.

If the Kasich administration had read the full report they cite or even taken the time to read the updated study by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, they would have learned that the findings explain that struggles with reading and graduation rates are merely symptoms of the real problem — poverty.

To support its plan, the administration points to a recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that found that students behind in reading by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school. (Columbus Dispatch, 3/28/12)

That statement is technically true, except for the fact that the report does not provide support for the administration’s plan.  So while the Kasich administration wants us to believe that schools & teachers are failing, providing the primary reason for the gap in reading proficiency in the early elementary grades, the AEC Foundation’s findings recommend that the primary changes need to occur elsewhere — at a societal level first, and then at the school level.  Governor Kasich has leveled his changes squarely on the shoulders of our schools, stating in his own press release that “Ohio parents deserve to know their child is prepared for learning.”  Kasich is also on record as saying that if students get to third grade and fail the state exam, they won’t be moved on to the fourth grade because “that is doing the children a disservice, that is doing the parents a disservice.”

So what do the AEC Foundation studies actually say?

  • Reading proficiently by the end of third grade can be a make-or-break benchmark in a child’s educational development
  • Low achievement in reading has important long-term consequences
  • Demographic realities make the reading gap too large a problem to ignore (7.9 million low-income children from birth through age eight)

Yes, reading proficiency is crucial for our children.  The basic skill of reading and reading comprehension are foundations for learning and a child who struggles in this area will fall behind over the years.

So what does leads to this gap?  Here’s what that same AEC study – cited by the Kasich administration – reports under the heading Several Major Factors Undermine Grade-Level Reading Proficiency:

  • Children must be ready to succeed when they get to school (cognitively, socially, emotionally, and physically) before they can learn there
  • The gap begins at birth for children born low birthweight, prematurely, with congenital health problems, or affected by prenatal exposure to toxic substances (factors more likely to occur to children born to low-income mothers)
  • The readiness gap continues between birth and kindergarten due to differences in children’s resources and opportunities for physical, linguistic, cognitive, social, emotional, and behavioral development
  • Low-income children have a higher incidence of health problems that interfere with learning
  • Too many children from low-income families lack early interactions that foster linguistic development
  • Low-income children are less likely that middle-income children to participate in high-quality early childhood and pre-kindergarten programs that prepare children to succeed in school
  • The readiness gap becomes an achievement gap when children enter school, and this gap persists over the students’ school experience
  • Too many children miss too much instructional time due to chronic absence (more prevalent in for low-income children)
  • Too many children are distracted by childhood hunger and food insecurity, housing insecurity, and family mobility
  • Too many children find their prospects for success in school damaged and disrupted by other family-related stressors

The AEC Foundation’s follow-up study Double Jeopardy that provides more of the connection to graduation is actually subtitled How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation.

Not just third grade reading, but also poverty.  And does it ever.  If we are able to eliminate the reading gap at third grade, the effects of poverty would still hold many children back.  If the Kasich administration wanted to truly impact a greater number of children and dramatically increase graduation rates, they would be focusing on eliminating poverty (according to the study they are citing).

Overall, 22 percent of children with some family poverty experience do not graduate from high school, a figure about three times greater than the 6 percent rate for children with no family poverty experience (Figure 3). This rises to 32 percent for children spending more than half of the survey period in poverty.

Children who spend a year or more in poverty account for 38 percent of all children, but they account for seven-tenths (70 percent) of all children who do not graduate from high school. Poverty matters (Figure 4).
Did I mention that this is all from the report that supposedly spawned John Kasich’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee that mandates increased (and unfunded) instructional interventions by schools and the retention of children who are not proficient as the sole solution?

Kasich’s proposal ignores the findings from a third study funded by the AEC Foundation that looked at improving high school graduation rates in the state of Rhode Island.  They identified a variety of predictive factors that increased the likelihood of dropping out of high school, including:

Finally, the two AEC Foundation reports focusing on third grade reading offer their expert recommendations for helping to correct this identified problem.  Guess what was not at the top (or bottom) of their list.

  1. Develop a coherent system of early care and education that aligns, integrates, and coordinates what happens from birth through third grade so children are ready to take on the learning tasks associated with fourth grade and beyond.
    (The first paragraph under this recommendation begins: We applaud the Obama Administration’s decision to create a Presidential Early Learning Council and to extend its scope from birth through age 8.)
  2. Encourage and enable parents, families, and caregivers to play their indispensable roles as co-producers of good outcomes for their children.
  3. Prioritize, support, and invest in results-driven initiatives to transform low-performing schools into high-quality teaching and learning environments in which all children, including those from low-income families and high-poverty neighborhoods, are present, engaged, and educated to high standards.
  4. Find, develop, and deploy practical and scalable solutions to two fo the most significant contributors to the under-achievement of children from low-income families–chronic absence from school and summer learning loss.

The more recent report, Double Jeopardy, provides more summarized guidance for us:

Schools and parents cannot, by themselves, bring about these changes. Federal, state, and local governments will be essential in the development and funding of efforts to expand PreK, to develop integrated PreK-3rd initiatives, to reduce chronic absenteeism, to expand summer learning opportunities, to assure that schools provide high-quality instruction, and to provide access to health insurance and to effective opportunities for parents to increase their educational levels and human capital. The links between parent education, family income and children’s educational success further suggest the potential value in pursuing two-generation strategies, which seek to improve results for children by focusing simultaneously on school policies and programs, and on strengthening families through increased parental education and improved employment opportunities that reduce family poverty, as well as increased health insurance coverage for all family members.

So let’s be clear about this — the reports by the AEC indeed support the premise that reading proficiency in elementary is a big deal and that there is a correlation between reading proficiency and future success in school.  That fact is not a surprise to anyone I know.

But while Kasich, Inc. wants to blame the schools and punish the children, the researchers a compelling us to look at policies that would help us to eliminate the need to be constantly providing intervention services (i.e., educational band-aids) and to correct the true root of our problem — poverty.

These studies are crystal clear in their recommendation that poverty and all of its associated problems are the key factor impacting student success in school.  If the Kasich administration would quit picking fights with the public schools that are already battling the damaging effects of financial hardship that play out in our schools and communities every single minute of every single day and partner with these educators in an attempt to implement authentic programs to eradicate poverty among the citizens of Ohio, then our concerns about struggling readers and high school dropouts would dramatically decrease.

Governor Kasich, the reading guarantee is a superficial fix to a much larger problem.  I challenge you to focus on the real issue at hand and implement a Third Grade Poverty Guarantee to deliver Ohio’s children and their families out of poverty and guarantee those children a future filled with success.

  • Troysteelerfan

    Not much left to say other than …. “HERE HERE”. This is something that is also pretty simple and easy to understand for anyone that has spent more than a “photo op” amount of time in just about any public elementary school.

  • fairminded

    Great in-depth article! This should be required reading by ALL elected officials.

  • Concerned citizen

    This administration is incapable of  determining the root cause of problems.
    Instead they blame those who are working diligently despite basic problems of poverty  and lack of parental involvement over which they have no control reducing their effectiveness. 
       The problem is professional politicians with personal agendas. Citizen statesmen with the best interests of Ohio citizens and their children are in the minority. Mandating more standards and requirements without fixing basic problems or providing sufficient resources creates more problems.


  • Marcus Quintillian

     A 2002-2003 study of 99,000 Florida fourth-graders found that students who were retained in third grade performed better than similar students who had been socially promoted the year before. The study by Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters casts doubt on the current fashion of socially promoting students year after year. Rather than retain students for a second year at an appropriate level of instruction, we promote them to a more difficult level where they have little chance of performing well on appropriate state testing. The claim by the education establishment has always been that students at risk will be provided with individual instruction to fill in what they have missed. State test results tell a different story, with some high schools reporting as many as 30% of their entering freshmen still reading at fourth-grade level or below.
    Florida Department of Education Director of K-12 Test Administration Susie Lee said 29 percent of Florida’s third-graders were held back when the program began in 2001. By 2011, only 16 percent were held back.
    Likewise, Lee said, 57 percent of third-graders were reading at grade level in 2001 while 72 percent were doing so last year.
    She said students who are struggling are given extra help until they can reach the appropriate grade level and some students can move on to fourth grade even if they don’t meet requirements under a “good case exception” in certain circumstances.
    “We generally see a bump (in grade-level reading) each year,” Lee said. “I think the program is meeting its goals.”
    Ohio, Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee recently approved or are introducing similar legislation, according to the Wall Street Journal.

  • gregmild

    Greene and Winters also say:

    “We do not know whether test-based retention policies in other school systems, such as Texas and New York City, have benefits similar to those in Florida. The results from
    Florida tell us that test-based retention, when implemented under the right
    conditions, improves student learning, but the evidence from Chicago reminds us that the same policy improperly implemented can be counterproductive. These programs in other school systems need to be carefully evaluated to determine if they are producing benefits or if their features need to be modified to achieve results similar to those found in Florida.

    We do not know whether the benefits of test-based retention in Florida justify the additional costs involved. Retaining students means that students may spend an additional year in public schools. With national per-pupil spending topping $10,000, adding another year of school for a large number of students requires significant additional spending over time. Of course, additional spending that significantly improves outcomes for students may well be worth it. Without tracking the benefits over the long term, and without a careful cost-benefit analysis, it is difficult to draw conclusions on this.”

    And a recent EdWeek article reports the following:

    “Florida requires retained 3rd graders to get daily reading blocks of at least 90 minutes and to be assigned what the state calls a ‘high performing’ teacher the next year. Still, Ms. Emhof argues that the retention provision for 3rd graders is a crucial ingredient. “It’s in human nature,” she said. ‘When you know there’s a deadline, it forces behavior and attitude change and refocuses everything. … That line in the sand, so to speak, is really a catalyst.'”

    Right.  Those 8-year-olds really feel the pressure of that deadline. This information about Florida’s progress is certainly interesting and you could argue that it merits discussion.  But I’m afraid you missed a key point in my post. The Kasich administration hasn’t referenced any of this information during this process — they have demonstrated that they are ignorant of any research on this topic either way, citing only the AEC study that does not reference retention as a possible solution. 

    And the long-term view for Florida?  Also from EdWeek:

    “The number of retentions of Florida 3rd graders more than quadrupled in the policy’s first year, from 6,400 to 27,700. But the number has steadily declined. In 2009-10, the most recent year for which data were available, the number was 12,200, or about 6 percent of 3rd graders. Despite the decline, a recent federal report shows that Florida students represented one-third of all 3rd graders retained in a nationwide data set. (“Data Show Retention Disparities,” March 7, 2012.)
    Ms. Emhof points to state data showing that far fewer students now score at the lowest level on the FCAT in reading, dropping from 27 percent in 2001-02 to 16 percent in 2010-11. But the figure has been stuck at about 16 percent for several years.
    The state has posted big reading gains on the 4th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress since 2002. Yet in 8th grade, the latest NAEP reading scores are about the same as in 2002, in keeping with the national trend.”

    I’ll stick with what I said — retaining 3rd-graders does nothing to help prevent those students from reaching that point in the first place. The recommendations that AEC makes regarding early childhood programs and the involvement of parents in helping children develop literacy prior to reaching school are the proactive measures we need.

  •  Unfortunately we know which students need to be retained and as a teacher I give every one of those students retentions. Then the parent comes in and tells me they know better and even if “Johnny” is getting all F’s can not read on grade level and can not do his math on grade level she wants him to move on. So that parent signs the waiver against my loud and well stated concerns against i.t  That parent says they know their child and has them move on to the next grade . This happens every year. Year after year.

  • Why fail these students in 3rd grade? It is my observations that I Know today which student has the greatest probability of not passing that test just by how they are preforming in my kindergarten class. It is those students that are not where they need to be to go on to 1st grade that the parent signs the waiver and says they will move on! Now they are farther behind in 1st and cannot catch up then in 2nd it is worse and by third grade it is really to late. Just make it a law that if the teacher says a child needs to be held back, parents cannot sign a waiver to move the child on to the next grade. Let us teachers nip that problem in the bud!. To prove my point I have held students back. I have also had the same failing student a second year. The second year that student was one of the top students in the class. When that child entered 1st grade that child was more than ready and capable to do the work. If that child was not held  back the student would only be farther behind and have even a harder time catching up because in 1st grade they do not reteach kindergarten they teach 1st grade. The student may get 1/2 hour of extra work/help to try to catch up but if they cannot do the work, how do they learn the new stuff from 1st grade? Let us all hold back those who need to repeat. Their is no sin in repeating something you could not learn the first time. It takes some people longer to ride a bike than others. Did they move on to learn how to ride with no hands before they knew how to ride the bike with out falling? I don’t think so. Think about it for a minute.

  •  It is obvious to all teachers. Our hands have been tied for to many years. We do not want to pass someone on just to pass them on. I am accountable in many ways and I will not have a parent or a student come back to me years from now with a law suit saying I should have held him back. I should have known they could not do the work. I write retentions for everyone who needs one. Parents just sign off and send the child on. For the majority I feel the parents are more the blame for children not being held back when they cannot make the grade. Not the child or the teachers. Like you said teachers have been saying this for years. IF THEY CAN”T DO THE WORK DO NOT PASS THEM ON TO ME!!!! Hold them back so they are ready for the next year to move on.

  •  When NCLB first came out it said that any 4th grader who did not pass the reading test would be held back. Every one freaked out saying we would have ton’s of students being held back. Then it was said if the child attended some sort of intervention in the summer they could move on, so the students could attend 2 weeks of summer school and move on. Ha! What a joke! then eventually they even dropped that. It was to hard to enforce. Just hold them back where and when the problem first begins not after it is too late, like third and fourth grade. Listen to the teachers will you?

  • JamesIam

     I have several friends who are high school teachers, and they tell me they can identify with nearly 100-percent accuracy, on the first day of school,  the kids in the room who will struggle. They’ve never met these children, and have not yet placed faces with names.

    How do they do it? Easy. How are the kids dressed? Are they clean? Do they stink? Or, are they even at school?

    These are obviously outward indicators (for the most part) of socioeconomic status. The sad thing is, the kid has already lost the fight.

  • sassie

    So hopefully everyone that voted for him will see this and vote him out!

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