Bill Filed in Massachusetts Aims to Improve Early Literacy Education

According to PBS, reading is one of the most influential and important elements to determine a child’s success in education. It is now widely understood that early literacy development occurs at the beginning of life, and that is it mainly dependent on environmental influences, such as parental involvement, socioeconomic status, and curriculum.

Because of this research, Massachusetts Senator Joseph A. Boncore (elected in 2016, Democrat) filed a new bill at the end of August, called “An Act Relative to Early Literacy Education,” aiming to stress the importance of early literacy in schools around the state.

“Early literacy is the key to the academic success of our children,” said Senator Boncore in a press release. “Our bill will provide at-need schools with the resources and tools necessary to ensure the success of all students.”

Why is This Necessary?

The legislation was originally pushed by Ready to Read Massachusetts as a “strategically targeted multi-year plan to dramatically improve 3rd-grade reading proficiency” which would include measures for prevention, student identification, student interventions and support, and educator support.

Meaning, students would have access to reading coaches and reading interventionalists in high-need schools, as well as a curriculum focused directly on improving literacy, paired with specific teacher training. Students in kindergarten and 1st grade who are struggling with reading would be put in a plan aimed to help those “struggling readers,” with the option of summer literacy classes. Ready to Read also hopes to cut down student absenteeism, which the program claims is a “key driver of low literacy levels.”

According to Ready to Read MA, although Massachusetts may rank first in the nation in education, far too many of students still cannot read proficiently. 43% of students in the state are reportedly not reading at a grade-level by the end of the third grade, and 60% of Black students, 64% of Latino students, and 67% of English Language Learner students are not reading at grade-level by the end of 3rd grade.

Ready to Read also stresses that, “students who can’t read at grade-level by the end of third grade are four times more likely than their peers to drop out of school.”

The legislation reads:

“The General Court finds that: All students can succeed in school if they have the foundational skills necessary for academic success. While foundational skills go beyond academic skills to include such skills as social emotional competence, they must also include the ability to read, understand, interpret, and apply information. A lack of reading proficiency by fourth grade creates lifelong consequences, and the obstacles to that goal begin at birth. In order to succeed in school and in life, every child needs to receive proper vision and hearing screenings, among other services.

Massachusetts has prioritized early learning through its investments in preschool and
full-day kindergarten and the General Court recognizes that these investments can best be
leveraged by adopting policies that support a continuum of learning from birth through fifth grade and beyond.

With support from the early literacy grant program, districts will be able to better identify, assess and intervene with students who are experiencing significant reading difficulties, and provide literacy-related professional development for educators.”

What’s The Cost?

Boncore also stresses that it is much more cost-effective for the commonwealth to invest in early literacy education rather than to “absorb for remediation in middle school, high school, and beyond” because young students (those before 4th grade) are much more able to absorb information.

The new grant program created alongside this bill filed would be called the Early Literacy Education Grant Program, and its purpose will be “to assist school districts and Horace Mann and commonwealth charter schools with the implementation and provision of early literacy education programs and services for students in kindergarten through grade five.”

Funding will be based on a per-pupil basis at the kindergarten and elementary school levels, giving priority to districts with a larger economically disadvantaged student population. According to the legislation, the department will not issue any grant in an amount less than $50,000 per district per year.

“Too many Massachusetts students are struggling to read — creating lifelong education, economic, and social consequences. Literacy is perhaps the single most important education issue because if you can’t read, you can’t learn,” said Ranjini Govender, Executive Director of Stand for Children Massachusetts.

Stand for Children Massachusetts aims to improve schools throughout the commonwealth while also empowering parents to take an active role in their child’s education.

“This legislation provides critical support to school districts and educators so that they can identify and help students early on,” Govender continued. “All kids deserve an equal opportunity to succeed and literacy is a vital component to this. We’re proud to work with our elected leaders to continue the state’s leadership on education and ensure every Massachusetts child can read.”

What Can Parents Do?

The bill also highlights the importance of parent interaction when teaching children to read. A 1985 National Commission on Reading study reported that reading aloud to children is the single most important activity for literacy development and eventual reading success. Studies have also confirmed that children who are read to from an early age are more likely able to learn to read faster and easier and that early exposure to books is an important element of literacy development.

According to GetReadytoRead.org, children that are read to early on at home are also more likely to learn how to speak and write faster. Children who don’t experience this are typically likely to start school with poor early literacy skills.

“An important partnership between a parent and child begins before the child enters kindergarten,” the legislation reads. “When the parent helps the child develop rich linguistic experiences, including listening comprehension and speaking, that help form the foundation for reading and writing, which are the main vehicles for content acquisition.”

Children can easily increase their early literacy by playing name games, listening to parents use everyday words, and listening to books being read by parents or guardians. Nursery rhymes and rhyming books and riddles are also deemed helpful.

Parents are also encouraged to point out words on signs and to read the stop signs and other traffic signs aloud when you are driving with your child. Parents can also find letters on products, on signs, and on television.

According to ReachOutandRead.org, “dialogue reading” may be the most helpful tool, when you “repeat sequences of interaction between parent and child.” This is when the parent points out something in a book, asks the child to give a label or description (What’s that? What’s that doggy doing?), the child responds, and the parent gives feedback (Right, he’s playing with a ball!). At its simplest, the routine involves pointing (Parent: “Where’s the doggy?”), at its most complex, a prediction or explanation (Parent: “Why does that doggy look sad?”).

Grover J. (Russ) Whitehurst, the Herman and George R. Brown Chair, and director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, did research on dialogue reading and concluded that this type of reading is much more effective than just reading directly to the child. This also promotes early language development.

If this bill passes, Massachusetts will join many other states such as California, Alabama, Texas and many more with statewide literacy laws. With Massachusetts joining this list, over half of the states in the United States will have created legislation targeting early childhood reading development, according to Literate Nation. As more states recognize the importance of early literacy, hopefully soon enough, the entire nation will push similar legislation.

This story is a reissue of a story published yesterday that incorrectly referred to the bill as “passed.”

Jessica Filippone

Jessica Filippone

Jess is a senior at Emerson College, studying journalism with a primary focus in news management. She is also an anchor and on air personality for 88.9 WERS FM Boston. When she isn't writing or doing her radio thing, you can find her on the beach with a New York Times Best Seller.