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Dear Governor & Legislature: Thank You

Superintendents: they heard you.

Teachers: they heard you.

Parents: they heard you, too.

Gov. Snyder and Grand Rapids executive John Kennedy last week joined legislators, members of the governor’s staff and Grand Rapids Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal to announce the results of the Governor’s Third-Grade Reading Work Group. We’ve a proficiency problem, they declared, and their recommended solutionwas more time dedicated to reading in the classroom, early intervention with students, better data analysis to identify students in need of early intervention, and coaching to help teachers provide more effective instruction.

Retention for students who are not proficient, the solution recommended by Rep. Amanda Price 18 months ago, wasn’t mentioned. If all of the interventions recommended do not achieve the desired effect, something called “smart promotion” was suggested. Move the student forward in those areas in which proficiency is demonstrated and provide intensive remediation in those areas where it is not.

They listened. They responded. As someone who was taught the value of saying please and thank you, I think their recommendations deserve a big “thank you” from the education community for a proposal that would:

  • Appropriate $17.5 million for FY 2015-16 for districts providing additional instructional time to pupils in grades K to 3. Added time may be provided before, during and after regular school hours or as part of a year-round balanced school calendar. Funding allocated to districts in an amount equal to $165 per first grade pupil;
  • Appropriate $3 million for FY 2015-16 for the purpose of providing early literacy coaches to assist teachers in developing and implementing instructional strategies for pupils in grades K to 3 to ensure pupils are reading on grade level by the end of third grade;
  • Provide  $1 million for 2015-16 to award in competitive grants for parent education pilot programs for parents of children less than 4 years old;
  • Provide $950,000 (first of two years in funding) for professional development in a department-approved research-based training program related to state literacy standards;
  • Appropriate $1.45 million for grants to districts that administer department-approved screening and diagnostic tools.

I’m not naive. I know many of our superintendents or board members were more focused on their school budgets, as many have gone years without a true cost of living increase in the foundation grant. Many believe NO new programs should be approved until they begin receiving increases sufficient to meet their ongoing cost of operation.

Still, what incentive will the governor and the Legislature have to ever respond in a positive manner to our input if we respond negatively or are indifferent to everything they do, even when they’ve listened to our ideas?

So please, say thank you.

This response to Michigan’s poor proficiency rate in third-grade reading is far more thoughtful and productive than retention. It lines up with what West Michigan already is doing through the Reading Now Network and is consistent with states that boast much higher proficiency rates in third-grade reading.

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Ron Koehler
Ron Koehler
Ron Koehler is the Kent ISD Superintendent and offers his commentary on issues in education.


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