There's no question that reading to your children from their earliest days is of huge importance. It's warm, close bonding time. It introduces the child to the cadences of our language. The child gets the idea that those little squiggles on the page have meaning. But learning to read is not quite as simple as one letter writer suggests ("Read to your kids," Readers Write, Nov. 3). Research has shown that only about a third of children learn to read by simply being exposed to reading; that's why the "whole language" instructional model didn't work for most children. A parent may be reading to his or her child every day, and that child may still struggle with learning to read unless that parent is able to provide some direct instruction in phonics.

Learning to read isn't hardwired into our brains. A professor once said that we shouldn't be surprised by the number of children who can't read; we should be surprised by the number who can. Every brain has to figure out the system for itself. Universal early childhood education is one answer for this learning process, if it includes some early literacy experiences like hearing letter sounds and recognizing rhyming words, and if teachers are trained to recognize early signs of difficulties. The same research has shown that if a child enters kindergarten unable to acquire reading skills, the deficit can be remediated with just half an hour of direct individual instruction each day.

This research has existed for decades, and I don't understand why school districts are still not allocating massive resources to these critical early years instead of waiting until it's too late for the frustrated and disheartened student to catch up with peers.

Kathryn LeFevere, Dassel, Minn.


Sadly, it's time for another round of the "blame game" about Minnesota's literacy problems. Although we've been aware of the gaping gap in reading proficiency for decades, nothing has solved it. The overwhelming majority are not proficient in reading, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Is there any hope? Yes! We need to enable children's brains from prenatal on. This does not mean pushing 2-year-olds to read. A substantial body of neuroscientific research has found that auditory processing is the key to language and literacy, and singing and music-making are the primary means of developing it. See the Auditory Neuroscience Lab at Northwestern University and the report "Music for Every Child" from the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation. Babies who are sung to become better at processing speech and learn language earlier. Toddlers who are rocked and bounced to a steady beat develop beat synchronization — children who cannot keep a steady beat will most likely struggle with reading.

It's not too late for K-5 students to develop auditory processing, memory and beat synchronization using songs and singing games to practice letter sounds, sight words, vocabulary and fluency. The Rock 'n' Read Project is proposing the Zap the Gap Campaign, a statewide initiative to communicate the science and disseminate singing strategies. Join us!

Ann C. Kay, Minnetonka

The writer is co-founder and education coordinator of the Rock 'n' Read Project.


The front-page article in the Nov. 1 Star Tribune ("Mpls. literacy gap splits school board") contained a word in the second paragraph — "write" — that almost made me choke on my morning coffee. As a former writing teacher and author on the subject, I was shocked, but pleasantly surprised, to see that word in print. In recent years the media have reported almost exclusively on reading and math issues, while writing has been left out of the discussion. Why? Because our moribund public education system has devalued its importance and covered up the degree to which our kids' writing skills have diminished; in other words, the media don't have much to report on the subject.

In 2012 I began monitoring the U.S. Department of Education's findings regarding writing skills among America's students. It was bad news — only 24% of the nation's eighth- and 12th-graders were deemed proficient in 2011. In researching for this letter I checked on the results of the 2017 assessment (the latest data available), but I found only obfuscation — no actual test results, just a lengthy explanation of how students handle the various types of digital devices that are now used to assess their writing skills. (Apparently, paper and pencil writing is "old school.") See the gobbledygook for yourself by googling "NAEP Writing-2017 Writing Technical Summary." To see the raw truth from the 2011 assessments, search "The Nation's Report Card: Writing 2011: Executive Summary."

Now, I know that the mere mention of the word "write" in an article about Minneapolis Public School parents and board members being fed up with failure will not necessarily result in meaningful action, but it gives me hope that perhaps some of the folks who are steering education's version of the Titanic will wake up to the fact that reading and writing should be taught simultaneously. Writing is complicated, and it demands well-trained teachers; it's not just about "journaling" after silent reading time.

No one would disagree that the most important skill we teachers can help our young people develop is thinking, and, while you can think without writing, you can't write without thinking.

Steve Ford, St. Paul


On paying for and supporting it

In response to the commentary in the paper from David Lebedoff, "Meaningful work shortage explains worker shortage" (Nov. 4), I have two suggestions on how more meaningful jobs can be created.

First, pay some of the service jobs more — a lot more. I'm thinking specifically about day care providers, direct support workers, personal care orderlies and home health care workers. The content of these occupations already make them meaningful. But because they are paid so poorly and hold little prospect for advancement, they are viewed as "dead-end jobs." We can change that perception by paying these workers a decent wage — enough to pull their families out of poverty and into the middle class. Removing the stigma of low pay from these noble professions will allow these care providers to point with pride at the work that they do.

Second, this is hard work, sometimes physically challenging, often emotionally draining. And as it turns out, these jobs will probably be some of the last to be replaced by robots. So, in order to attract more qualified workers into these occupations, let's shorten the workweek without shrinking the weekly paycheck. We can do this by adding to the wage the workers receive from their employer with an earned income supplement (EIS) from the government.

Let's look at an example for how this might work. Let's take a nonprofit that provides daytime social and vocational services to adults with disabilities. This company is enlightened and quite aware of the value their direct support workers provide. So they pay those workers a decent wage — $20 per hour or $800 per week. Now, we'll shorten the standard workweek from 40 to 32 hours, and make up the difference on the weekly paycheck with an EIS. On the workers' weekly paychecks they will see $640 from their employer ($20 per hour) and $160 from the government ($5 per hour). The workers lose no ground on their paychecks, and they gain an extra day each week to spend with their own families.

We've instantly created more meaningful jobs. If the nonprofit needed 100 direct support workers to be fully staffed with a 40-hour workweek, they now need 125 with a 32-hour workweek to be fully staffed. That is 25 new full-time jobs — good, meaningful work that is unlikely to be eliminated by automation anytime soon.

John Crea, St. Paul

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