Monday, August 01, 2005


This week, Go Big Ed is announcing a private-sector, grassroots initiative to help make Nebraska’s K-12 educational system the best in the country.

If you would like to join the advisory board of this statewide effort, let me know by email. The goal will be to have Nebraska parents, grandparents, teachers, taxpayers, volunteers and voters all on the same page – doing what it takes to make the Cornhusker State’s K-12 education the best in the country.

The first plank in the platform is educating parents and teachers about the best way to teach young children how to read. Go Big Ed is announcing a series of free reading workshops on Saturday mornings at locations all across the state, from inner-city Omaha to one-room schoolhouses in the western parts of the state. They are targeted at parents and teachers of children in Grades K-3.

The free workshops will be held in meeting rooms of public libraries, restaurants and other locations easily accessible to parents of all demographics. We’ll be starting in Omaha, since the controversy over academics of inner-city children is the crux of the proposed takeover of suburban schools by the Omaha Public Schools. What if we could solve the reading disabilities of inner-city children by simply teaching them how to read correctly? Then maybe the OPS controversy would go away.

Depending upon available funds, I’d like to offer these at a weekly pace – every Saturday morning, somewhere in Nebraska, there’ll be a place where parents, grandparents, social-service agency workers, and anyone who really wants kids to do well in school, can gather for a free informational session.

The first session is planned this coming weekend, at my house, so that I can be trained, too. There’s a small group of us who will spend Friday night and Saturday morning with an expert phonics instructor, one of the stable of instructors I’m hoping to bring all across the state, to whoever needs this information.

I’m going to put my own money into this at the start, because I believe in it so much, and this will be my stab at public service – putting my money where my mouth is, and has been for many years.

In the future, I hope to bring in advertising revenue from learning-related vendors to help pay for this free instruction. But I also will seek donations, even though I’m not going to mess with becoming a nonprofit organization that can offer tax deductions. I just want to get this information out to the public. If you do, too, and would like to help fund these sessions, donations will be gratefully accepted. Make checks to Go Big Ed and send to: Susan Williams, P.O. Box 995, Elkhorn, NE 68022.

You don’t have to send me money to get on my advisory board, though, so please let me know if you’d like to play a role in this effort.

More later about these phonics workshops. And every day this week, I’ll announce another component of Go Big Ed’s plan to help make Nebraska’s schools No. 1.

Here’s background on why a reading revolution is the top priority:


Reading: First Grade Is the Deadline

Q. What’s all this fuss about little kids learning to read at such a young age? Aren’t parents who want their kids reading by age 6 or 7 just being overly-anxious?

No, they’re being smart. Reading reformers have been saying for decades that our schools are not teaching reading correctly in the early grades. Remember the book, “Why Johnny Can’t Read”?

That warning came two generations ago, and yet the ineffective methods of reading instruction are still in place.
It’s not “pushing it” to formally instruct children in the simple basics of the code of our English language at age 5 or 6. In fact, if you don’t – and very few schools do – you are setting up those kids for reading disabilities on down the road, as they struggle to make sense of text in their own ways. Their own ways are usually wrong.

Very few children work out how the code works without very specific instruction, and at least 25% of all children will need fairly intensive instruction.

Here is the bottom line: "There is nearly a 90 percent chance that a poor reader in first grade will remain a poor reader.” That fact is not from some independent reading reformer just trying to embarrass public schools. That’s from the Fall 2004 issue of The American Educator.

Reading reformers have been trying for decades to move schools away from the current philosophy about reading – Whole Language – and back to systematic, intensive, explicit phonics instruction in the early grades. All it would require is 20 minutes a day in kindergarten and first grade, bringing the children up off the floor on their beanbags and carpets, and into a proper posture at a desk with handwriting instruction, listening to the phonograms and starting their spelling notebooks.

These reading reformers have been talking ‘til they’re blue in the face, though. The education establishment isn’t listening. It isn’t going to happen any time soon.

Therefore, parents who care should locate a private phonics tutor for their children ages 4-7 and arrange private reading lessons – sooner, not later.

Homework: Here’s an excellent phonics program –
www.spalding.org – that might help you locate a good tutor.

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