February 23, 2016
This fall, the Park City School District will eliminate reading specialists, reading aides, volunteer reading tutors, ESL specialists, and ESL aides. As retired PCSD reading specialists (1996-2011 and 1994-2006 respectively), we disagree that the solution to inadequate test results is to cut back on remediation services.
But frequent disruptive changes have been a pattern in our District for decades. Over the last 20+ years, we have seen the classroom reading programs change drastically and repeatedly. Classroom instruction has gone from basal reading to whole language to guided reading to basal reading (again). Each approach required disavowing the previous method as outdated, then purchasing new materials and taking teacher planning or classroom time for hours and hours of teacher training. In fact, it was just 2010 when the District adopted a $250,000+ basal reading series. That series has already been abandoned for yet another new approach.
The reading specialist program has evolved as well, from insistence on providing struggling readers with intensive instruction with highly trained specialists to asking reading specialists to abandon direct contact with students in favor of frequent testing, data organization, and coaching teachers in the latest programs.
Now one "interventionist" will replace all of the support staff at each school. The job description currently on the District’s website seems to ask a school interventionist to carry out most of the responsibilities the reading specialists, ESL teachers, and their aides have had over the years. How will this one person, along with the already-existing coach, serve the needs of all the struggling students and their teachers?
All-day kindergarten is being touted as the new way to address the challenges of the District’s English language learners. It is wonderful to expose very young children to the building blocks of English and academic readiness; there’s evidence that the most crucial learning years are ages 0-4. We support preschool and kindergarten — though the benefits of all-day K are disputed. But we do not believe any amount of kindergarten can eliminate all reading struggles. Young readers of all backgrounds can struggle for a variety of reasons and their support must be based on careful assessment of their individual challenges and progress over time.
The recent enthusiasm for change reminds us of something a wise administrator once said: "Small, wealthy districts often leap from one new program to the next at a rapid rate. Larger districts do not have that ‘luxury’, and must work harder to improve their existing programs before changing direction." As the reading specialists, reading aides, volunteer reading tutors, ESL specialists, and ESL aides are eliminated and replaced by one interventionist, we remain unconvinced there is a solid plan for helping struggling readers. As experienced educators in this domain, we do not believe that the dissolution of the reading and ESL programs is a sound decision.