Total Pageviews

Friday, September 28, 2012

It’s the third grade stupid

image from

I call myself stupid because the answer I've been seeking was right under my nose. I've been watching programs about education and reading just about everything I can get my hands on, but I think I found the answer I was looking for. It all came to me when I downloaded the latest Time magazine article titled " Why Third Grade Is So Important: the Matthew Effect by Annie Murphy Paul.

Just about Everything I've come across recycles the same-old problems such as parents, unions, government, bureaucracy, students, vouchers, punishment and money, and it's left at that until the subject comes up again. I think education is the key to all our problems.

I agree with the author when she states that the single most important year of an individual's academic career is the third grade. This is the year these students start learning  how to read-and decoding words by learning the alphabet. They go from, in her words, learning to read to reading to learn. It's a pivot point because according to Donald J. Hernandez, a professor of sociology at CUNY-Hunter College, third graders who lack proficiency in reading are four times more likely to become high-school dropouts.

It usually goes this way: struggles in the third-grade lead to a "fourth- grade slump" as reading- to -learn dominates the instructions. The substandard readers will begin to avoid reading out of frustration, and the traits of failure begin to take place. It gets even harder as the inferior reader progresses because classes in science, social studies, history and even math have to come to rely more on textual analysis.

Researchers have said that what distinguishes a super school from the rest is called the "Matthew Effect," taking from a Biblical verse found in the Gospel of Matthew: "For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath: It just reinforces what we have know all along," the rich get richer and the poor get poorer."

Some states have recognized the importance of reading and are taking a hard line stance: third graders who aren’t reading at-grade level don't get promoted to 4th grade. "Mandatory retention" bills have already been passed in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, and Oklahoma and are being considered in Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, and Tennessee. I'll have to keep that information to myself because, if my daughter found out, she would be asking for transfer to one of those states. She's been in and out of her principal's office and often overruled when she recommends a student for retention.

The author recommended some ideal alternatives: teachers and parents could get together and come up with an individualized learning plan for every third grader who needs help with reading-it might take specialized instruction, tutoring or even summer school. As she said the most important thing is taking action, and researchers have told us that we shouldn't assume that reading problems will work themselves out.


Pilot said...

An interesting take on the issue, to be sure. I waqs a late August baby, and always the youngest runt in my classes. I aced the third grade - literally. The teachers recommended I bypass fourth grade...but that was followed by my being transplanted from Baja Louisiana(Orange, Tx.) to Seadrift, and my folks thought better of it. Never again, did I make straight As. In fact, going from Jr High in Seadrift, to the bright lights and wimmin of Port Lavaca, was far more of a shock than anything I'd ever experienced. It very well be that my stellar 3rd grade was what finally kicked in again, and allowed me to actually finish (read learn to survive) high school. I completely agree with that being the time when I went from learning to read, to reading to learn........
Good blog Mike

Mike said...

Thanks Pilot

Lol... Baja, Louisiana I've never heard Orange Texas described that way... I had a friend who worked in the emergency room in a Conroe,TX hospital, tell me that there had to be more gunshot and stab wounds treated along the 115 miles between the cities than anywhere else in Texas...He may have been joking when he called it the 105E Meth HWY.

I didn't make the journey you did but I did move from being in the 3rd grade at Juan Linn to Shields elementary but I can't remember any of the details. You have quite a memory but it did seem that many people were held back during that period.

Pilot said...

"Held back" - possibly a politically correct term for "failed" a grade as we on the bay and bayou were taught. I find that these days, it is nearly impossible to be held back, prior to high school.......which I find to be a true disservice to myself and my children. Of course, the practice ceases in high school.....unless the "student" is an athlete.......which in a lot of pro roundball and football(real football) players, becomes evident in front of the camera..........We were fortunate to have been children of the '50s.

Mike said...

Yea,"failed " is probably the correct word and you're right we didn't do "political correct" back in our day.....I was very fortunate to have a smart sister who filled in the blanks when I struggled,the next day I was up with the class.

Tell me about it,I didn't know who failed and who didn't until the first day of junior high football practice. Those guys had a year and half growth on us,making them the best players....:-)

We got an example of today's education at Montana's Mikes a few minutes ago...When the waitress gave us our bill,I gave her a gift card and a $20 bill...That was a mistake,it took her 10 minutes to figure it all out (with the help of my wife) so I decided to go back in wallet and give her a separate $5 bill because I didn't to stay another 10 minutes.

Rebecca said...

When you guys were in school, you probably were not expected to read as early as children are expected to be reading now. Reading by third grade is critical in public school because that's when standardized testing begins. So, in a public school setting, a child MUST be reading at grade level or performance on these tests will be poor from then on out.

Outside of a public school setting, children aren't always pushed to read as early. Private schools have the luxury of patience - being able to wait until a child is developmentally ready to read.

Children can become readers without reading instruction if given time and patience, assuming there is no physiological problems or neurological problems (sometimes I think these problems can be CAUSED by forcing a child to read too early or by expecting a children to read before they are developmentally ready).

The urgency to begin reading as soon as possible so that children will perform well on the state mandated tests at third grade is not good for children.

We push kids to read too early.

Standardized testing should not start until a child is about twelve years old.

I let my children learn naturally and as late as needed. My twenty year old learned before his kindergarten materials arrived in the mail. Biggest waste of money ever - ordering materials to teach reading when reading TO him and playing around with ABC refrigerator magnets seemed to do the trick. My sixteen year old learned to read at about eight or nine. My youngest, this year, at eleven, experienced a jump in his reading ability. My "thinker" was a late reader. Imagine that.

I never felt that learning to read was a race, so they learned naturally and much later than their public school peers were expected to learn. Who knows when each of my children would have learned to read if they had been pushed every day starting in kindergarten. Who knows what learning disabilities they would have been labeled with had they not been reading by first grade.

In the vacuum of public school, it is critical that children read early and that fact is because of early testing.

Anyway, I'm up watching the weather.

Rebecca said...

Sorry, didn't mean to type that big of a rant.

Honestly, because standardized testing is so abused, I don't think it should be used or results viewed by anyone but teachers and parents.


Mike said...

Honestly 'I don't know what grade I was in when I started to learn how to read.

I completely forgot about standardized testing and the article didn't really address it but I agree it might be too early to start putting pressure on the students and teachers..

I'm not sure I understand the concepts of waiting for students to learn how to read on their own and I'm not sure we have a lot of time. I saw a frontline special the other night featuring the Houston Independent school District.. They had 204,000 students and 70,000 of them are not up to their grade level reading.

Edith Ann said...

I attended a private kindergarten (my mom paid $9.00 a month tuition)in 1959 and we learned to read there. Jake is doing a little bit of reading and he'll be 4 in February.

I hear what you are saying Rebecca, but it occured to me as I observed Jake as his language skills develop, adding reading to that is natural. One is just audio and one is visual.

As a parent, I'd be freaking if my kid was 6 and not reading! But that is just me because (in my mind) you can't learn much if you are not able to read.

I do believe that a child that is read to becomes a lifelong reader. Jake is read to constantly. When he comes for a visit, he and I discuss beforehand what books he will be bringing.

But loving the discussion. Continue!

Rebecca said...

Kinda counter-intuitive to think that delaying formal academic instruction can actually help a child become a better learner, isn't it? But outside of a school setting, that's what has been observed.

I think the first five years of life can determine future academic success. It's not the reading by third grade, it's the life a child has lived before they even go to school that is critical to academic success.

We have lowered the compulsory age in the past few years. We have demanded that students read at an earlier age. Finland students start school at seven years old. (Though they have free day care as a country the formal schooling doesn't start until much later.)

My guess is that literacy begins in the crib. If a child gets to school without having been read to, they will always be behind their peers whose families make literacy a daily part of their lives - a bonding activity - and who make learning a priority. Can you imagine the difference between a child who comes from a home where literacy and learning is a value and child for whom this reading thing is new and seems to only happen at a school? New moms in Finland are sent home with a book and encouraged to read to their infants.

I mention Finland because it's an example of how kids can begin formal learning at a later age and still come out ahead of the curve. I know it's not fair to compare us to Finland. The country values education and puts their money into their values. We value war and for-profit education. We do value real education (learning) for the wealthy. It seems like only our poor and disadvantaged students are tested and drilled to the ground. Private schools don't use tests the way we do in public schools.

When you and Pilot went to school - which might have been at a later age than is required now - you weren't expected to read as soon. There was not an urgency or stress to be reading by first grade and a proficient reader by third grade. You guys were grouped by ability so that your teachers could work with a classroom of students who might all be at about the same level, giving your teacher a better chance of teaching to all students at once, and more time to work with students one-on-one. Also, like Pilot said, it was ok to hold students back if they weren't picking up the skills required for the next level.

You guys also had more P.E. and there's a link between I.Q. and physical fitness in children. We also had more arts. I even had music education in elementary school in the 70s.

Anyway, sorry I go off on rants.

Rebecca said...

I'm to your blog like Writein was to the VA. ha ha

Edith Ann said...

Agree with the literacy points.

We were expected to read in the first grade. There was no public kinder, only Mrs. Johnson's private one. We had the Dick and Jane readers in 1st grade that we had in kinder.

The make up of the class was similar, and special ed kids were grouped together in another class. Not only did we have PE every day, we also had music every day and library once a week. We also had recess. Art was added in Jr. High. I think I received an exceptional education in Refugio. That realization became very clear when my own children entered VISD.

I'm still of the early reading thing, though. Sorry...

Rebecca said...

Oh. Did you check out Khan Academy's Computer Science section? It's so cool and a child can tweak code to see how it would change the program (animation)! It's learning by tweaking. Also, we are starting to use Khan Academy for more subjects, not just math. Have you seen SmART History?

There are more and more ways to learn using the internet. I signed my daughter up for a course here:

Rebecca said...

I'm for early reading if the child is developmentally ready and wants to read. I don't think all children are ready at the same time. Like I said, I had an early reader and a late reader. My late reader is my big thinker.

Mike said...

I’m not disagreeing with your logic. I ‘m saying it’s obvious that our educational system is broken and I’m open to new initiatives. I like the 3rd grade as a metric because the professor said if you are not at grade level by then; the chances the student will be a dropout is four times greater.

We all agree that reading starts in the home but we should also know that it’s not that way for the disadvantaged. San Antonio taxpayers will get a chance to do something about that in November. There is a pre-K initiative on the ballot. It’s a chance to start teaching the 3& 4 years, creating a more level field which will be to the city’s advantage. Right now,a lot of their money is wasted if the student drops out in high school.

Finland does have an exceptional system but we are not a country that tries to learn from other countries…:-(

I also agree that exercise, nutrition, proper sleep, and learning the liberal arts should be included in any plan for a better system…But children can revolt if you replace their chips with

Rebecca said...

It all boils down to the home, doesn't it? Even with nutrition.

Rebecca said...

I remember skipping lunch in school and saving my lunch money. =D I would have rather had money than food. That isn't true now.

Mike said...

Yes it does but "we mustn't let the perfect... be the enemy of the good" pre K might be that substitute. Not ideal but maybe it's worth trying.

It doesn't have to be rigid just a start with full knowledge it will be atrial and error until we get it right.

Rebecca said...

I'm for children being in a nurturing environment. I am aware that that might not always be their own home. D=

born2Bme said...

This was a loooong time ago, but I remember reading in the second grade. The teacher had a large round table in the front of the room and she would call about 5 students at a time to come up and read for her.
We also had a special education class where all of the slower students would go. They remained in that special ed. class until they graduated and if they didn't master things by the time it was time to graduate, they didn't get a diploma. They got to go up on stage, but the folder they were handed was empty. Students were also allowed to fail. It just made them try harder the next year so they could stay up with their friends. Failing is a large part of our society. What people do after failing is what's important.
We also had P.E., music until jr. high, recess. I really think that these things are an important to a childs developement.
I can't even imagine what I would have done in school withouth the breaks that P.E., music and recess provided during the day.

Rebecca said...

There is nothing more detrimental to learning (and behavior) than "burnout." Burnout can happen around junior high, but I bet it is happening sooner with the exclusion of P.E., recesses, music, art, etc...

born2Bme said...

Not to mention that physical exercise helps with the obesity rates.
I can remember P.E. I was running at top speed and moving the whole time I was outside.

Rebecca said...

On day I was at Region III to drop something off. I was watching the junior high students across the street doing something I guess would be called P.E. There were about fifty students walking in circles around and around the tennis courts. My children and I were shocked. every student had his ID card hanging from a lanyard around his neck. The scene looked so ... dystopian. I remember, at least in elementary school, (and I realize I was watching a junior high) we had several breaks throughout the day. We had enough time during our lunch break to organize and keep up with an ongoing game of kick ball. We did that ourselves. In junior high I know I had Athletics AND tennis. I had two chances to move around and be active. But to walk in circle after circle for P.E. is NOT what I could call healthy. D=

Edith Ann said...

Rebecca, I've seen the kids walking the 'track' at the elementary schools, too, and it is sad!

Our P.E. teacher was a real P.E. teacher. That is all he taught.

Legion said...

Like Pilot, I was born in late August, likewise I was usually the youngest in my class.

I don't remember when I learned to read, but I have a one page story written by myself in the 1st Grade, on Big Chief paper no less, around here somewhere. Even my block printing was hard to read back then, about 64.

When my son was 4, my parents gave him a Texas Instrument story reader as a gift. It was printed like a book but had bar codes under each word and a stylus to scan them, it would then say the word.

Being divorced from his mom who lived in a different state, I didn't see him for about 6 months after the gift. When I did, he could read and was proud that he had taught himself how to read. lol

Rebecca said...

Remember the Leap Frog Alphabet Learning Desk? We had one of those. You could type in random letters and it would say the name of each letter and then sound them out to make a word. My daughter would take Dr. Seuss books and type in words so that it would tell her what they were. She also tried to spell curse words and it refused to sound them out. LOL

BIGJ said...

The education system in America is kin to a neighborhood boy hoping one of his friends are slow enough, while running from a junk yard dog. I was in school during the 80's and 90's, I notice at least a couple of things. I remember during high school we have an option to have an algebra 1 class or two algebra classes, which splits the subject into an 1a and an 1b. With math being my weakness, I choose the latter program. The state education board ordered the classes to combine in one during the school year, thus forcing us to speed up on math. This made us in not understanding the subject. One teacher or a school official stated that some Texas businessmen want the the government to crank out better math scores. I also notice that the math path I choose had students who came from low income levels.

Second, I remember a school official encourages a student to drop out and join the workforce. I was shocked an official would allow or even encourage it. If the student was of a different economic bracket, I wonder would she do this? The standardize testing is another thing. We have spent two months wasting time leaning addition and subtraction instead of high school level mathematics.

Mike said...


I mentioned the Frontline Special on dropouts which featured Sharpstown High school in Houston. The local Krogers or Walmart might not have encouraged the teens to drop out; they didn’t take any steps to discourage the practice by hiring a majority of them.

When the dropouts were asked to state their reason for dropping out, most of the said they weren’t challenged enough or they felt that they were ignored. Many of the students on the verge of dropping stayed because they were playing football or involved in some school activity.

Most news outlets (even MSNBC) blamed the recent Chicago school strike on the unions and greedy teachers but that’s simply not true…Yes, the Chicago teachers (among the highest paid teachers in the nation) received a pay raise but they also received more counselors, teachers,librararys, therapists and resources. There are ~140 schools in Chicago that do not have a library. The teachers eliminated the clause that tied merit pay to test scores.

Overall, I still think 3rd grade is a good place to start where we require all students to be up to par and then we should gradually increase the metrics up to the high school level because we are getting further behind.

Mike said...

I think Legion hit the idea I was trying to promote...If we can teach our children how to read at an early age; some will self- advance...I like to read stories about successful people and it seems to me they excelled because of the extra work they put in..They got the basics through a formal education but they always wanted more....Every year my daughter has a student or two who is so far ahead of the others that she has to use them to help teach others or lose them to boredom.

born2Bme said...

Why don't they advance the students that are so far ahead of their class, and bored?
I remember that my cousin got to skip a grade in elementary, and my son-in-law graduated HS at 14 in Alaska.

Mike said...

That’s a good question and one I don’t have an answer for but what if those
students aren’t really that exceptional and the other students should be at their level?

I remember posting some test question from a 1850 class test…I’m ashamed to say, I could not have answered any of the questions.

born2Bme said...

I think in todays society, it's more common for the average student to be less than what they can be. It's not the students fault, but it's the no-student-left-behind thing.
Kids should be allowed to fail when they don't perform up to their potential. It's what will happen in the workforce, so they need to get that mindset early in life.

Rebecca said...

If a student could fail, they wouldn't be passed along and then graduating without basic skills.

Would should divide students up by development, not age.

Also, instead of making a child fail a whole grade for being behind in reading is silly. They should move up a level in a certain subject when they master that subject and down when they need more time.

In fact, it would be really cool if schools used a system like Khan Academy's. Instead of failing a whole year's grade level, they fail or pass concepts. The *mastery approach* (you know it 100% before you move on to the next concept) rather than an ABCDF grading system. Why would you spend year after year acquiring partial knowledge?

Rebecca said...

The problem is, you would have kids all over the place for every subject. That will make it hard to teach all children at once, but it would make it easier to know exactly where each child is and to teach exactly what they need to "get it."

When I was in college working on my education degree there was a professor who advocated for portfolio assessment and allowing each student to work at their own level. She encouraged us to consider how the child improved throughout the course of the year and NOT on the one-size-fits-all tests.

In education reform, the mantra seems to be "we will try anything new, as long as it isn't different."

Rebecca said...

I was wrong to say that "having children all over the place" (level and mastery) would be a problem using a system where a child moves along at his or her own pace. We already have that! That's just reality. Children are not the same. They don't learn in the same way or at the same time even when you ignore those difference and use one-size-fits-all methods.

Mike said...

I don't have the credentials to carry on a decent conversational about what's wrong or what's right with our public education system. I do know that out army field manuals had to be dumb down so that our high school graduates could read them; I also know because of the lack of education, three million high tech jobs can't be filled by Americans. I see our worldwide standings continue to fall. That makes me believe that the status quo is not working.

It is my personal belief that reading is the catalyst to understanding.

Arizona, Florida, Indiana, and Oklahoma have taken a step to try a hard-line approach; I may be wrong but I’m willing to sit back and see if it works.

born2Bme said...

Rebecca, I agree with some of what you said, IF school was just about learning the subjects. It's so much more.
I can only speak for where I went to school, Ganado, but something as simple as having to line up before entering the school after recess was a learning experience. I didn't think about it at the time, but it taught us patience, calmness, orderliness, and that there are certain ways to do things that are more efficient than other ways.
Our adult lives are structured, so you have to teach kids that at a early age.
I have nothing against home school, but I feel those kids miss out on the "other" lessons that schools teach kids.

Rebecca said...

Oh. I wasn't talking about homeschooling. Even among public school teachers the topic of differentiated learning - not using a one size fits all type of method - is discussed and preferred.

When I discuss education, I am not speaking in the context of "public school vs homeschool." I'm just thinking of learning - in and out of a building.

As far as learning patience, that's not something you can only learn by waiting in line as a child. You may actually learn it best by people modeling patience or showing patience towards you. Many of the positive qualities that adults exhibit are not because of lessons learned in a school line. They can be genetic, the results of parents who modeled such positive qualities, or just plain old - maturity.

Don't think that homeschooled kids don't get to wait in lines. We still go to airports where we stand in line for hours after returning from another country, we still have to wait in line to board cruise ships... We still eat out and have to wait to be seated... When we go to the dentist we have to wait for our turn... We still live LIFE. Which is where these lessons are learned.

So, don't worry. It's ok. My children aren't going to grow up to cut in lines at the super market or run over your car at the ATM machine. =P