In her latest book, "The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve," Peg Tyre deciphers educational research for parents trying to choose the best school for their kids. The article below is excerpted from that book.
When you become a parent, you wake up in a new universe. And for a few years, it can be a mighty scary one. Things that in the past seemed perfectly innocent now present a clear and present danger. Marbles? Choking hazard! Toys made in China? Lead poisoning! Conventionally grown strawberries? Sweet-smelling pesticide bombs!
By the time your child heads to school, most of the hyper-vigilance is, blessedly, a thing of the past. Maybe Number Two has come along. Or maybe you’ve gotten your sea legs as parents and gained some assurance that the little things you do wrong or right are just that — little things.
I don’t want to send you back to the old days, when a multicolored marble looked as dangerous as a machete, but you need to know this: if your child is not progressing in reading, you need to act and act now.
From the time they are in kindergarten through third grade, all children need to be making weekly progress toward mastering what we now know is the complicated process of squeezing meaning from text.
In the early years, children should be learning a list of “recognize words” — high frequency words like at, and, the, then, what and when. By the end of kindergarten and into first grade your child’s teacher should be providing explicit phonics lessons – consonants, consonant blends, short vowel sounds, long vowel sounds that are followed and controlled by that silent but powerful e.
If your child is being taught “recognize words” but not decoding, you need to ask a few more questions. By second grade, kids should not be trying to recognize new words or to figure out words by picture clues. They should be breaking words down into sound chunks and getting quicker and more sophisticated as weeks go by.
Check in with your child’s teacher frequently to make sure he or she is moving forward. You don’t want to hear vague assurances such as “your child is doing well” or “your child is poorly behaved,” that she raises her hand before speaking or not, or knows how to use glue. Your child’s teacher should be able to describe to you in some detail your child’s incremental movement forward or the specific skill in which she is falling short.
When your first-grade child isn’t making progress in reading or seems to have reached a plateau, you need to move quickly. Ask for a meeting with his or her teacher, and if that’s not effective, ask for a meeting with the reading specialist at the school, and then the principal. Once you have your team assembled, you’re looking for a plan of action. You don’t want to hear anyone say, “She’s just not ready,” or “He’ll catch up,” or “We need to wait another year until he is farther behind in order to get help.”
If you hear, “Maybe we need to hold him back until he is ready to read,” you’ll need to ask even more questions. There are some reasons for holding kids back that may make sense (although the research here is not clear.) But for most struggling readers, learning to read is not a question of maturity. The real question is, “What about next year’s instruction will be different from this year’s instruction?" Giving your child the same ineffectual method of reading instruction for another year is not going to help. You want to leave that meeting with a thoughtful, targeted plan of attack, one that starts tomorrow.
Peg Tyre is a journalist and the author of "The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve," published by Henry Holt.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.