News last month from the Minnesota Reading Corps was so good that it made headlines in the March 28 Washington Post: “Can volunteers help kids read more proficiently? New research says yes.”
The research, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, compared student outcomes at 25 Reading Corps prekindergarten programs in a variety of settings around the state with those from 25 similar preschools that do not engage Reading Corps volunteer tutors or use its methods.
The results were striking: In the Reading Corps classrooms, 4- and 5-year-olds consistently outperformed those in the comparison groups in recognizing letter sounds, rhyming words, letter names, picture names and alliterations. The learning gain is even more positive among preschoolers than the Reading Corps results in K-3 programs measured the year before.
It goes to show that then-state Rep. Alice Seagren’s hunch a dozen years ago was right: If you combine ServeMinnesota’s AmeriCorps volunteers, training and coaching with the literacy research of the University of Minnesota under the supervision of classroom teachers, then student reading performance will improve. That’s the Reading Corps formula, which Seagren championed first as the House GOP education chair and later as state commissioner of education. It’s working so well that it has been borrowed by seven other states.
That finding should fuel this year’s push at the Legislature to enlarge the Reading Corps. Today it comprises 1,200 AmeriCorps volunteers who work one-on-one with struggling readers at more than 700 Minnesota sites, including about half of the state’s elementary schools. ServeMinnesota, the state arm of AmeriCorps, is asking for $10 million more over the next two years to fund 480 more trained tutors. That would allow the Reading Corps to reach 74,000 children at a cost of $251 each, said ServeMinnesota CEO Audrey Suker.
With the results that the Reading Corps is posting, legislators should want it in every school. And Minnesota adults of any age seeking to make a difference in young lives should look at what the Reading Corps has to offer. Volunteers can work either full or part-time and earn a modest monthly stipend. After a year of service, they receive a higher education scholarship for their own use or, if they are over 55, for use by a child or grandchild.
The Minnesota Reading Corps is now accepting applications for the coming school year at minnesotareadingcorps.org.