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I'm adding my voice in support of Peter Hutchinson's Tuesday commentary "Writing on the wall: The kids can't read" and urging the Minnesota Department of Education and the Legislature to steer reading instruction/funding fully toward phonics, before it is too late for another generation of young students. I've seen the struggles of grade-schoolers firsthand as they try to guess what the words on the page are, based on context. It is ridiculous to think that they can master letter combinations, contractions, grammatical endings, capitalizations and all of the other arcane nuances of the English language without phonetics tools and rules to do so. It is such a demoralizing experience for children to try and try, fail to correctly guess the words and then be left with a feeling that it's their fault they cannot read. Rather than helping children learn to love reading by succeeding in it, our current "balanced literacy" curriculum makes them dislike reading because the learning process is bereft of logic, rules and tools.
We've seen the regrettable results of balanced literacy, as well as the widening gap between those who could afford tutors for their children to catch up via phonics and those who could not. This movie is all too familiar. Let us get on with funding a robust phonics training program for all teachers so that they can get our kids back on track with reading.
Jill Budzynski, Maple Grove
Hutchinson is right, but the problem may not be confined to public schools. I do not know how reading is taught in private schools today, but 20 years ago we enrolled our children in an elite Minneapolis private school for preschool. At the end of first grade, our daughter couldn't read. We asked the teacher when she would teach our daughter to read. The teacher answered that "they all learn to read eventually."
With no confidence that this elite school would actually teach reading, we decided to withdraw both our children. I gave up my 20-year career with a great Minnesota Fortune 500 company. I spent the summer researching how to teach kids to read. I discovered a program called "The Writing Road to Reading" by Romalda Spalding, which was an integrated program starting with the 70 phonograms of the English language (listen, speak, write). Within six weeks our daughter was reading "Little House on the Prairie" — she became an avid reader and never stopped! She went on to earn a degree in mechanical engineering at Boston University and is now studying for a master's degree in public health at the University of North Carolina.
Every child deserves to be taught to read by first grade, because reading is a gateway skill. A school (whether public or private) that does not teach a child to read is not doing its job. If the school's teaching methods are not getting results, then change the methods.
Judee Arnstein, Minneapolis
While Hutchinson is a highly qualified person to write about the educational needs of the children in Minnesota, his commentary on why kids can't read might have a simpler solution, for far less money. Parents should read to their kids and kids should read to their parents, every day. Parents should put the needs of their children foremost and be able to solve this issue.
Mark Destache, St. Paul
I have lived in the Twin Cities metro since moving here in 1978. I have children and grandchildren who have been educated in both Minnesota public schools and Catholic schools here. I have no experience in St. Paul schools, but I am trying to understand what I read in the Star Tribune. In the Dec. 27 Opinion section was a commentary titled "Writing on the wall: The kids can't read." The author was clear and wrote from credible experience, it seemed to me. In the Dec. 28 Local section was an article titled "St. Paul will require ethnic studies class." I believe the facts here as stated to also be accurate as far as they go.
However, I am trying to understand just how to reconcile what I am reading with regard to "education priorities" as a Minnesota parent. And I am having a tough time given the U.S. News and World Report rankings I researched on St. Paul's Johnson Senior High (mentioned in the local Star Tribune news story). Johnson was ranked No. 7 among the 25 St. Paul public high schools. But the reading proficiency score was 46%. (Math proficiency at Johnson was scored at 26%.) And finally, for this school U.S. News and World Report said graduation rates were 88%. How can all of this be true, and what does it mean to graduate from the No. 7 school in the district? How well can a Johnson graduate be expected to read?
Help me understand what is to be done as a first priority for these largely minority children in this district, in Johnson specifically, among the teachers and in the Legislature (with any new spending support) and so on. By definition (I think) you can have only one first priority if you are going to get something important accomplished. What is it for 2023 at Johnson (and across the state)? Can we find two, three or more leaders who can come to agree on a first priority and do something to cause a real change for the better and have measurable success? I expect to hear we can walk and chew gum at the same time. But, if my first priority is to get from here to there, I can forgo the gum if needed.
I will keep asking questions and keep trying to find answers. Join me, Star Tribune readers, please. Try to understand. Give me answers even I can understand.
Dennis Sellke, Minnetonka
Hutchinson's commentary says exactly how some of the surplus budget should be applied. He is totally correct that adults have left an entire generation of students behind by not using the scientific research that has been available about how to best teach reading. Educators tend to be attracted to unsuccessful reading curricula/strategies that aren't supported by peer-reviewed research.
Children need adults to step up now and advocate for their learning to read now more than ever. Our children are our future — future doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, astronauts, nursing home caretakers, etc. We can't afford to let our children down again, especially when we have the surplus.
Karen Erickson, Minneapolis
The writer is a retired elementary principal.
Neither side appears serious
How can we who live in relative comfort breathe even a whisper about how cold or travel-beset we are this holiday season when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott chose Christmas Eve to send three busloads of migrants into below-freezing D.C. temperatures and have them dropped off unexpectedly in front of Vice President Kamala Harris' residence? ("Migrants bused from Texas on a frigid Christmas Eve," Dec. 26.)
Yes, we have a very serious challenge meeting our promise to the world's "wretched refuse," but treating them as just another load of garbage is not a decent decision.
I do not excuse the Democrats. None of our politicians are stepping up to meet this challenge in an authentically useful manner. Instead they resort to political board games.
Thank God our citizens step up, albeit only to bring small succor because they do not have the wherewithal to meet needs sufficiently. I do not understand why this isn't a major political priority. Apparently entertaining each other by scrubbing gays from school books and moving government into our bedrooms and doctors' offices beats wise, humane decisionmaking about our vulnerable fellow beings.
Given this deep reluctance to seriously address the issue, it will never calm down or go away.
Shawn O'Rourke Gilbert, Edina