Akron Public Schools should explore alternatives to costly reading instruction program

It was heartening to read that Akron Public Schools (APS) are investing significant amounts of money into professional training for kindergarten and first grade teachers ("Akron schools boost training," Oct. 18). Being able to read is critical to success in life and we have learned from recent national and state data that only about one-third of fourth and eighth graders are reading at a level considered proficient or better. This data is even more true for urban schools and children of color. We applaud APS for being a leader and taking the bold step to invest in teacher training, and that they are actively finding ways for teachers to earn professional credit for engaging in this training. We also know Akron Public Schools has planned this training at least in part to meet the structures and guidelines put in place in Ohio’s Dyslexia Guidebook, which is a consideration now on the table for all of Ohio’s districts as they implement professional development focused on reading instruction.

However, we can’t help but wonder about the enormous cost for this training — $350,000. Moreover, although the article noted the success of Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) in improving reading scores, other research has not found that LETRS training resulted in increased reading achievement (U.S. Department of Education, 2008). As districts like APS work to meet the guidelines of the guidebook in terms of which programs they can use to meet the standards, while also considering fully the needs of their teachers and students, we wish to press a bit against the cost of such programs, as well as suggest high quality, collaborative alternatives. Are there other options that are more local and still scientifically based, that the guidebook could similarly acknowledge as increasing literacy learning for young children?

In an Oct. 9 guest column in the Beacon Journal, I (Timothy Rasinski) was disappointed by the lack of communication between local schools and our area institutions of higher education and scientific research — in particular Kent State University and the University of Akron.

Indeed, several years ago a program called Fast Start for Early Readers was developed at KSU and aimed at helping K-1 teachers (and families) improve children’s literacy outcomes, especially for children deemed most at-risk for reading difficulties. Scientific research conducted at KSU, UA and Ohio State University has shown Fast Start to be effective in improving young students’ reading.

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Further, a study done at OSU found that the most at-risk first graders using Fast Start at home, after parents were trained and supported by teachers, made more than twice the progress in one critical foundational measure of reading than children not using the program at home. Another great feature of Fast Start is its cost — less than $20 per classroom. Assuming there are 3,500 kindergarten and first grade students in APS and that each classroom has about 20 students, the total cost for implementing Fast Start in every first and second grade classroom would be $3,500. That’s just 1 percent of the cost for the LETRS training — a savings of over $300,000 in comparison. (Sending the Fast Start book to the home of every kindergarten and first grade student would cost approximately $70,000 — 80% less than the cost for one year of LETRS.)

Fast Start is certainly not the answer to all reading difficulties our young students face — neither is LETRS. But programs like Fast Start, especially when they are developed locally and have scientific research to validate their effectiveness, should be given equal consideration within Ohio’s Dyslexia Guidebook when considering adopting instructional programs for teachers, students and families. We write today with the hope that this may be the beginning of a conversation, where together we engage with and invest in instructional resources and strategies with an eye toward the collaborative collection and implementation of emerging reading research, with the goal of improving learning outcomes for our students while recognizing and responding to districts’ financial constraints.

Timothy Rasinski, Ph.D., is a professor of literacy education and the Rebecca Tolle and Burton W. Gorman chair in Educational Leadership at Kent State University. Jen McCreight, Ph.D., is an associate professor of education at Hiram College.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Science based reading programs from Ohio worth considering