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Lawmakers can make a difference for Indiana children

by Maribeth Cassidy Schmitt

All children can learn to read -- some just need a little more help than others. The Reading Recovery program provides that help by pairing struggling first graders with specially trained teachers for 30 minutes of daily instruction over a 12- to 16-week period. And it works.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Suellen Reed included Reading Recovery as the early intervention component of her "Reading and Literacy Initiative for a Better Indiana." The Indiana House of Representatives passed a budget bill this year that includes $8 million in funding for Reading Recovery implementation statewide. This week, the Senate has the opportunity to do the same. As the senators debate the issue, they will likely consider the effectiveness of the program, the need for such an intervention, and the cost of implementation.

Reading Recovery has a proven success record. According to statistics compiled at Purdue University from 1993 to 1996, Reading Recovery has served more than 3,100 Indiana children. Of the children who completed the program, 86 percent "caught up" with their peers. This is a phenomenal success rate with at-risk children.

The need for early intervention cannot be disputed. We are certain that early achievement levels predict future success or failure. In fact, the Indiana Literacy Foundation has warned us that the state prison system calculates future needs for prison beds by considering the number of children failing in the primary grades. Reading Recovery serves as a safety net for the lowest achieving children in the first grade, providing an opportunity for them to benefit from classroom instruction and begin their academic careers on track with their classmates.

The cost of Reading Recovery is an investment in Indiana children and teachers. Granted, individual tutoring does appear to be expensive and extensive teacher professional development is costly. But we must realize that it costs more to educate some children than others. And how does one attach a price tag to that? It costs far more -- in remedial programs, in lost earning power, in correctional measures and in human tragedy -- to allow a child to fail in school than it does to teach him or her to succeed, which is exactly what Reading Recovery does.

Henry Levin, who developed the Accelerated Schools Program, says we can expect to pay as much as 50 percent more to educate the child at risk of not learning to read. The program also provides an unparalleled professional development opportunity for teachers. They receive a year of training plus continuous mentoring and support throughout their tenure as Reading Recovery instructors.

The fundamental issue to consider is whether the money is being well-spent and producing effective results. Are we spending money over a long period of time, allowing children to struggle for years, or effectively preventing failure? Must children fail before we help them?

The best way to decide whether Reading Recovery works, is worth the money, and makes a significant difference in children's lives, is to talk to the children, parents, and teachers who are most directly affected by it. Their voices matter the most! The Indiana Senate needs to listen to them and follow the House's lead in funding Reading Recovery.

Partnerships among schools, universities, legislators, and state departments of education can assure access to literacy for every Indiana child. Reading Recovery presents an opportunity to do just that.

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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