WMU News

Engler plan turns welcome attention to early childhood reading initiatives

January 30, 1998

KALAMAZOO -- Gov. John Engler's plan to boost the reading skills of Michigan children by implementing a summer school program after the third grade for children not reading at grade level holds promise for focusing needed attention on the whole range of early reading initiatives, says a Western Michigan University elementary reading specialist. Engler announced the plan in his Jan. 29 State of the State address.

Dr. Paul T. Wilson, associate professor of education and professional development, says he's hopeful that the governor's proposal will start a statewide dialogue about how to address the entire range of factors that contribute to childhood reading development. And he hopes that focus will lead to funding to support statewide expansion of already successful K-2 reading initiatives that can alleviate reading problems even before third grade.

One such program is Reading Recovery, which has been based at WMU since 1990 and is designed to head off reading problems with at-risk first-graders. That program involves 16-20 weeks of one-on-one instruction that gives participating children reading strategies to meet their individual needs. Last year alone, more than 4,500 Michigan school children took part in the program, with 85 percent of them learning to read at or above their grade level by the end of the instruction period.

This individualized instruction for young students is a critical component of early reading programs. Wilson says he'd encourage such instruction to be implemented statewide and that appropriate follow-up methods become the basis for the governor's proposed summer reading program.

"To be effective, that program will have to use skilled professionals who know how to address students' individual needs," he says. "It is not something that can be packaged and delivered by paraprofessionals."

Wilson, a member of the board of directors of the Michigan Reading Association, says the governor is "absolutely correct" in his contention that reading well by the fourth grade is critical to future academic success. "In the fourth grade," he says, "the vocabulary and syntax demands of reading become more difficult and the topics become less familiar. That is when children start reading to learn."

For more about successful early reading initiatives, you may contact Wilson at (616) 387-3494 or Cheryl Roland, assistant director of academic communications, at (616) 387-8412.

AUDIO ADVISORY: Taped comments from Wilson will be available Friday, Jan. 30, at (616) 387-2032 (local) or 1-888-WMU-NEWS. Call the newsline and select (2) from the main menu. Total running time is 3:36. For information or assistance, contact Julie Paavola, assistant director of academic communications, at (616) 387-8413.

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