Schenectady County

Researchers to offer ideas to address Schenectady’s reading problem

Educational researchers will have some bad news for Schenectady on Monday: There’s no easy solution

Educational researchers will have some bad news for Schenectady on Monday: There’s no easy solution to the city’s reading problem, 6,000 students unable to read at their own grade level.

Rosalind Kotz and Scot Felderman have researched the studies on reading, poverty and early education. There are solutions, they say, but no single program will be enough.

They will present their findings Monday at 7 p.m. in the McChesney Room of the main branch of the Schenectady County Public Library. The two are independent research consultants, but did this work without pay.

The good news: Schenectady has already implemented many of the programs studies say are effective. The bad: Despite this, half the students aren’t meeting educational benchmarks. So there’s something missing.

“It’s a continuum from zero to [age] 8,” Kotz said. “Where are the gaps?”

Felderman plans to outline the various programs research has shown to work — and the ones that just don’t seem to make a difference, even though they are popular.

Having volunteers read to children at risk of falling behind their peers is on his “no” list.

“This periodic reading does not work. It doesn’t,” he said. “We want to say, ‘Here’s what we know, what is likely to work, what is not likely to work.’ ”

What does work, they said, is home visits by professionals to help parents of at-risk children from birth until age 2. From then to kindergarten, they said, the key is full-day, quality day care programs.

Schenectady offers such programs already, although not every child in need of assistance is enrolled. The programs don’t have enough slots, and even if they did, many parents do not try to enroll their children.

But Kotz and Felderman believe agencies could do a better job with the children they have if they worked together in a “cohesive” way. They want the agencies to develop a research-based plan with yearly reports on how students who don’t read well are doing.

“We need these indicators to set goals for ourselves,” Kotz said.

But what about the many volunteers who read to children now? A new initiative to teach parents how to read with their children has gotten support, as have several other programs.

Kotz said the research flatly says that only professionals — trained teachers, social workers and others — can effectively work with children with subpar reading skills. But she acknowledged Schenectady residents want to find a way to help.

“We feel strongly this community is saying, ‘What role can we play?’ ” Kotz said.

Felderman added: “The idea of what volunteers can do is something we really want to get our hands around. But I think we really do have to look at the research.”

Among the findings he cited: By age 2, a child growing up in entrenched poverty has already fallen far behind.

At that point, Kotz said, such a child would need 40 hours a week of language development just to catch up with middle-class peers. Reading to the child, even daily, wouldn’t close that gap. “This is a major challenge,” she said.

But, she noted, it’s not unique to Schenectady. She cited a federal study that found a 35 percent high school dropout rate among children who grow up poor, in a poor neighborhood, and struggle with reading by third grade.

“That’s what we have in Schenectady,” she said. “We’re talking about a holistic change in how Schenectady raises our children.”

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