According to vocabulary scores released this month from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Nebraska students fell flat.
NAEP 2011 Nebraska average vocabulary score (0-500) for all 4th grade students was 222.
White 229, Black 197, Hispanic 202, free/reduced lunch 205
Student learning outcomes trace back to literacy. NAEP vocabulary scores are a new measure, but NAEP reading failure scores have remained constant for decades. People acquire an extensive vocabulary by reading. If a person has a large vocabulary, they were taught to read. The reverse is also true.
NAEP 2011 Nebraska average 4th grade reading scores 0-500
White 230, Black 199, Hispanic 208, free/reduced lunch 209
Percentage of Nebraska 4th grade students performing at or above the NAEP proficient level in reading:
All students 36 %
Free/reduced lunch 21%
Nebraska children 0-17 years in Poverty 2010 United States Census
White 14.5%, Black 52.2%, Hispanic 33.8%
Minority children are disproportionately poor. School’s lower expectations for poor and minority students are a self-fulfilling prophecy which brings in MORE for the system.
The majority of babies born in the United States last year were racial and ethnic minorities. The point at which minority children become the majority is now 2018. (Hope Yen Associated Press, Lincoln Journal Star 12/13/12) The generation we look to for funding our federal benefits and paying off our trillions of deficit spending are the children left behind in our education system.
“…only about half of young people (in the United States) ages 16-24 held jobs in 2011.” At the same time, “…businesses cannot find the skilled workers they need to compete in the ever-changing 21st-century economy.” (Youth and Work policy report Kids Count, The Annie E. Casey Foundation 2012) The unemployment rate for American youth 16-24 is about 17%, for Black youth it is 28%. (Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal 10/4/12)
We are told children do better whose parents teach them to read or whose parents are better off financially. This is true. Schools have abdicated their primary responsibility of teaching basic skills to others. Poor children have less opportunity for tutors and fewer parents who have available time or were taught to read themselves. Poor children are dependent upon school for their learning opportunities. A valid measure of school effectiveness is poor student’s achievement.
For a window into the extent of the crippling of Nebraska’s children, look no further than the Nebraska Department of Education “Nebraska Reading Writing Standards Suggested Parent Activities Grades K-1”, the optimum age for acquisition of phonics reading skills. The narrative promotes learning words as though they were pictures, guessing beforehand what the book may be about, and asking why the child guessed as he did. At best, memorizing words as though they were pictures doesn’t teach reading skills, and at worst, is crippling. Book guessing, like word guessing, is mind-numbing and pointless. The pre-school damage is reinforced as the child begins formal schooling. Teacher preparation is not aligned with the reading research.
As the child learns to memorize whole words, the brain’s right hemisphere (picture side) is trained to become active when the eyes view text. The 11/1/2012 Lincoln Journal Star featured a photograph of a well-meaning, dedicated mother as she “works on flashcards with her 3-year-old daughter” at a Lincoln library. The mother is holding a flash card picture with text below for her daughter to memorize the word shape associated with the picture. With enough repetition, the deep learning of words as pictures will be accomplished and the child crippled for reading fluency.
Conversely, Dehaene’s 2009 Reading in the Brain research is a study of how reading fluency is achieved in the brain’s left hemisphere. The left hemisphere is where letters and the sounds they make are learned one by one, a process known as phonics. When learned to the point of automaticity, those vital phonetic links are stored in the deepest recesses of the brain. Reading fluency is built on this framework of connections between letters and sounds.
Although effective teaching of reading, grammar, vocabulary and the mechanics of writing leads to knowledge, skills and competence, the U.S. has chosen a different path. The consequences of this choice are having a cascade effect on our society, culture and economy. A majority of Americans lack the requisite knowledge to participate effectively.
Since 1999, U.S.-based multinational companies have reduced U.S. employment 4% and added 39% more workers overseas. In 2010, capital spending by these companies rose at home by 3.3% and rose overseas by 8.6%. (David Wessel, WSJ 4/19/12) The U.S. labor participation rate of 63.6% continues to fall. (WSJ 12/8/12)
Microsoft has “more than 6,000 open jobs in the U.S… There are too few Americans with the necessary science, technology, engineering and math skills to meet companies’ demand.” (Brad Smith, WSJ 10/19/12)
An October 2011 survey of U.S. Manufacturers found 600,000 jobs left unfilled because employers can’t find the right workers. Today’s industrial workplace is “10% brawn and 90% brains.” Ed Hughes, Gateway Community College (Hemphill and Perry, WSJ 2/27/12)
Business has come up with a solution to the skills gap in America. Number three of the top four recommendations for growth at the November WSJ CEO Council 2012 was to “…remove barriers to immigration of skilled workers and encourage foreign students to remain in the U.S.” (WSJ 11/19/12) “Allowing skilled immigrants to stay in the U.S. would fill the hundreds of thousands of job vacancies expected in the sciences and technology.” (L. Gordon Crovitz, WSJ 12/3/12)
Chinese students’ applications for fall 2012 U.S. graduate schools master’s and doctoral programs rose 18%, after a 21% rise in 2011 and a 20% rise in 2010: the seventh consecutive year of double-digit gains.(WSJ 4/2/12)
“American schoolchildren continue to lag behind those of major competitors in math and science exams…” given to 60 countries participating in the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. (Stephanie Banchero, WSJ 12/11/12)
President Abraham Lincoln believed liberty begins with economic freedom and recognized the danger of rationing opportunity. January 1, 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation declaring all slaves in rebellious states “forever free”. (David Von Drehle, WSJ 12/29/12)
It is imperative we secure our liberty as a country. Effective, accountable education for all children is the path to economic freedom, growth and offers all “the right to rise”. Gabor Boritt, Gettysburg College