A letter IN FAVOR of the Ready to Read Act – SB 734
By Tamara L. Karwacki
March 10, 2019
Dear Members of the Maryland Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee:
As a Maryland constituent, a resident of Baltimore County and a parent of a child who was failed by the Maryland Public School System, I am writing in support of Senate Bill 734 – the Ready to Read Act. I understand your committee has had recent concerns focused around funding of this bill. My question to you is… how can Maryland's children afford for you to not pass this bill? Have you looked at the proficiency numbers from the Maryland Report Card website for the children you were elected to represent?
Senator Young – in Frederick County, 50.5% of third graders are not proficient in reading; and 38.4% of your county’s tenth graders will walk across the graduation stage in 2 years without the basic foundational reading skills to be successful in real life.
Senator Simonaire – in Anne Arundel County, 55.9% of third graders are not proficient readers. And in your county, half of tenth graders are not proficient in reading (50.1%). These students should have been flagged, and provided proper interventions in elementary school. That is not currently happening, very obviously. Employers don’t hire people who can’t read.
Senator Patterson – in Prince George’s County, 73.8% of third graders are not proficient readers. And, 75.2% (yes 75.2%!) of your district's tenth graders are not proficient in reading and have missed their opportunity to become college and career ready.
Senator Lam – 63% of Baltimore County third graders and 66.3% of Baltimore County 10th graders are not proficient readers. In Howard County, which is continuously praised as one of the best LEA’s in the country, only 51.4% of third graders are proficient. And, Howard has 39.1% of tenth graders not proficient. How can Howard be the best, when they are leaving so many kids behind?
Senator Kagan – in Montgomery County, another well respected school system, i.e. “one of the best”, we have 52.4% of third graders not proficient, and 43.8% of the tenth graders you represent will graduate unprepared for post high school due to a lack of basic reading skills.
Senator Gallion - In Cecil County, only 36.1% of your district’s third graders are proficient and less than half of your 10th graders are proficient (49.3%). In Harford County, only 42.3% of your third graders are proficient…. And just over 50% (50.4%) of your district’s 10th graders are proficient.
Senator Ellis – in Charles County, 59.2 % of your third graders are not proficient readers. Only 34.6% of your tenth graders are proficient. Charles County Public Schools will be graduating 65.4% of its tenth graders in 2 years without proficiency in reading.
Senator Carozza – In Wicomico County, 62.4 % of your district’s third graders are not proficient readers and 63.1 % of your tenth graders will graduate in two years without the basic reading skills that they need in life to be successful.
Senator Bailey – in St. Mary’s County, 55.7% of third graders are not proficient readers. And, almost half (48.9%) of the county’s tenth graders are not proficient. In Calvert County, 43.7% of third graders are not proficient and 34.5% of Calvert’s tenth graders have not gained the basic reading skills necessary to navigate the world after high school.
At the time of the year that PARCC is administered to third graders, the curriculum has changed from leaning to read to reading to learn. In all of the districts you represent, we are failing unacceptable and truly unfathomable numbers of children. In all but one of the districts you represent, we are failing more than 50% of third graders. So, I ask you, how in the world can we continue to do what we are doing when Maryland Public School systems are failing more than 50% of their students in reading and leaving them behind at the age of 10?
I ask you to look deeper into the funding. Our schools’ most basic function is to teach kids to read… but currently there are millions and millions of dollars being put into programs and curriculum that are not based on the science of reading. There is $23 million in Kirwan funding set aside for screening and supplemental reading instruction for students in K-3. Passing the Ready to Read Act is the only way to ensure that the $23 Million earmarked for FY2020 for Transitional Supplemental Instruction is spent responsibly.
Reading screening will ensure that the $312 million allocation in Kirwan for Transitional Supplemental Instruction (TSI) over 5 years is spent wisely. There are also federal grants focused on reading which Baltimore County has successfully sought. I encourage you to call Baltimore County Public Schools and ask them how they are doing early screening and early intervention which they began in the 2015-2016 school year with screening of kindergarteners….they are using a free screener. They did not have to find an additional 16 million dollars to do this work… they worked within their own literacy budget making it a focus to change this unacceptable trajectory for BCPS’ students.
I encourage you to look at what school systems are spending on lawyer fees, mediation, endless hours of drawn out IEP meetings where up to 8 staff members sit around tables during the school day interrupting instruction, payment to outside providers to provide proper testing, and the cost of non-public placement of struggling readers…. I will tell you that parents who can afford it, are hiring tutors, advocates, and lawyers, and are pulling their kids out of our public schools, many times at the expense of the public schools. Kids, who don’t have parents with the funds, are forced to stay in failure. This is 1000% an equity issue…. Please go onto the MD Report Card website and look at subgroup scores in the areas you represent….the subgroup scores make the counties’ 50%+ “All Students” failure rates mentioned above look like shining stars.
Due to recent federal legislation, nationwide, prisoners are now being screened for reading difficulties and are then being provided evidence-based interventions. Our school aged children can’t get best practices in preventing reading failure but our prisoners are? That will go over like a lead balloon with your constituents.
In 1999, it cost an estimated extra $6K per year to educate a child in special education than it did in the gen education classroom. That number is now elevated. When a child is not taught to read, and they struggle in later grades, the only answer is special ed. The numbers of students who have experienced the effects of no early identification and poor first reading instruction and who are forced into special ed because there is no other option, is growing.
My child experienced this. We removed my child from the public schools system after 3 years of back and forth trying to get him the help he needed. When we left the Public School system at the end of third grade (at a blue ribbon school mind you), he was a shut down learner, hated school and had lost all self-confidence. Today, after 3 ½ years at a private dyslexia school, he is successful, happy, learning and his future is bright. I am advocating for this bill and have been active in reading advocacy since we moved my son out almost 4 years ago, because I truly believe it’s not right that a child can succeed only when parents have the income to help. I am sure we can all agree that becoming a successful reader should not depend on zip code, skin color or affluence, yet our LEA’s prove currently, that it does.
We know what best practices are …they are represented in this bill. If you don’t understand why this needs to pass, I encourage you to reach out and learn before you make your decision. This bill has the support of so many educational related groups, organizations, senators, delegates, teachers, BOE’s, administrators, educators and parents, because the status quo of reading in MD is not acceptable. Not passing the Ready to Read act as members of the Senate committee in charge of educational bills, surely does not compute. I urge you to do your homework, look at the numbers, call BCPS and speak to the Superintendent who has made literacy a key focus of her system and who is implementing best practice screening and intervention across the 25th largest school system in the country…. this is not a cost issue.
We must turn this around….we must. Or, we will pay much more for it later…in social welfare programs, prison, and lack of a productive citizenship in our State. There is no one who can justify 50% failure rates of third graders in Maryland… no one. Please do what our children, the children you were elected to represent, need…
Pass the Ready to Read Act, as written.