Editorial By Sabine Taylor: Pre-K To Prison Pipeline “Funky Grammar, Proper Nouns”

by Rafeal Crawford
Sabine Taylor

I am Sabine Taylor and I will detail the Variables such as the socio-economic status, zero tolerance policies, poor instruction, and lack of parental guidance all play a role in the incarceration of youth entering the juvenile’s detention centers. However, when examined closely the root cause of the Pre-K to Prison Pipeline phenomenon is literacy in particular: Phonemic Awareness and Phonemic Decoding. “A child’s level of phonemic awareness on entering school is widely held to be the strongest single determinant of the success that she or he will experience in learning to read — or, conversely, the likelihood that she or he will fail.” (Adams, 1990; Stanovich, 1986).

Phonological awareness is the child’s understanding of phonemes used to sound out letters in a word. Each letter has its own sounds. Although there are 26 letters in the alphabet there are 44 Phonemes or speech sounds. However, without proper instruction understanding the nuisances within each letter can be extremely difficult and even more so for children who do not come from a literacy rich environment.

As noted in the Science of learning blog article by Denise Ruvalcaba “Phonemic Decoding: is the child’s ability to capture meaning of unfamiliar words by translating groups of letters back into the sounds that they represent, link them to one’s verbal vocabulary and access their meaning.” In many upper to middle income household with preschoolers the parents have gotten the message regarding the importance of developing early literacy skills. As a result before they enter Kindergarten their toddlers are beginning to master the speech sounds and decoding words at a faster pace than their peers in less affluent households.

Parents are increasingly enrolling their pre-school children in centers that offer a kindergarten boot-camp curriculum. Many of these enrichment centers surpass $1100.00 a month. Although the price maybe steep for some, many parents make the sacrifice because the schools have moved away from teaching phonics. The curriculum is focused more on sight word recognition via memorization. Students using memorization as their main source to learn sight words will have a strong bank of words to use and it will help them achieve some level of reading fluency. However as they matriculate through elementary school their ability to decode multisyllabic words poses a significant challenge especially during test time.

TestIn 3rd grade many of these students receive their first cognitive test that will count. Through my review of test prep courses, I have noticed that these tests are filled with multisyllabic words that are not part of the sight words that they learn in school. Students that participated in enrichment courses generally perform well in the state exams. On the contrary, those students who can only recognize sight words via memorization techniques waste a lot of time decoding words. In most scenarios the child is guessing what the word in question is and will most likely get a below average test score. These cognitive tests are high stake tests because the score will tell the school how to track that student i.e. Gifted, General or Special Education. Furthermore the prison system uses these test results to forecast the number of beds needed for the future.

Students who struggle with literacy many a times feel defeated in school and mentally withdraw because their level of confidence has been impacted by their test results. If you combine this feeling with their economic status and the fact that due to work schedules a parent may not be available to support the child, that student will seek validation from his/her circle of friends which may lead him or her to participate in criminal activities.

Aware of this statistic I became very alarmed with my daughter’s inability to decode certain phonemes. Although my daughter had achieved a score of 97% for verbal and math on the gifted test, I was still very concerned. Her school felt she was performing at level and suggested that I give her more time. However my gut instincts kicked in. I knew that literacy plays a major role in a child’s confidence and if I didn’t address this issue it would turn into a deficit. Furthermore trouble decoding words would affect her in other areas of study. Any gains that she had made in other subjects would be loss due to her lack of phonemic awareness and phonemic decoding. I therefore researched and came across the Orton Gillingham method also known as OG. This program uses a multi=sensory approach which includes kinesthetic, visual, tactile, auditory sensory modalities.

Keep Calm and Use OG

Orton Gillingham is prescribed for dyslexic students but some schools have made it a part of their curriculum for general education students. The OG approach teaches students how to become word detectives. They learn the root approach of Latin and Greek words and can decode faster. An OG student that knows one root word can in most cases spell out 30 words and link the word to its meaning. Similarly,ESL Students whose native language include Latin roots like Spanish and French can recognize english words and make the connection to those words sound and their meaning.

Take an instance of a teacher dealing with a class of 25 students with various levels of reading fluency. This is challenging especially to a teacher with no classroom assistant. More importantly, every year there are changes to the curriculum and the amount of time needed to cover every change in the curriculum is not increasing. With behavioral issues, time taken for lunch and recess and walking from class to class for workshops or specials such as music and gym all of these activities takes times away from the core curriculum. The average school day is slightly over 6 hours, when non curriculum time is factoredin the teacher is working with maybe four and a half hours of instructions. So with critical areas such as reading it needs to be effective.

The Indianapolis School district slide show mentions Torgeson and Hudson’s (2006) article;“Under the proper teaching conditions even students at the lower reading percentile can reach a threshold of accuracy and fluencyby the end of second and third grade. And then, going forward, they remain on par with their peers in accuracy, fluency and comprehension. In other words, it is possible to short-circuit the usual year-by –year widening gap between average readers and those with reading disabilities when the “catch-up” occurs within the window of the early school years (Grade 1-3)”

The most important key is that OG can help close the literacy gap, boost confidence, and reduce the number of youth impacted by the Pre-K to Prison Pipeline. All lower grades schools particularly in low-income neighborhoods should consider moving away from memorization techniques to the OG method.

The average cost to certify a teacher is $1,000. However this price doesn’t include discounts that would be gained via economies of scale during contract negotiations between the Orton Gillingham vendor and the school.

faucetOn the contrary, the average daily cost of confinement around the country is $240 or$87,000 a year to incarcerate one youth for minor offensives (Justice Policy Institute, May 2009). An average of $10,000 is spent to educate one child in the US.Imagine if we decidedto spend those dollars allocatedfor prison into the education system by training and certifying teachers on theOG curriculum or launch a pilot like the Indianapolis school system did.

Currently in my school district there are about 53,000 Pk-3rd grade students and between 1975 to 2000 staff members who are teaching at these grade levels. If they all received the training, it would cost about $2,000,000. This amount represents approximately 23 incarcerate young adults; conversely it could be used to reach 53,000 students.

In the long-term what would be the impact if 53,000 elementary children were reading on grade level. What problems would reading fluency solve? Would we prepare the next wave of future employees entering the workforce pipeline to solve the world‘s problems? Could literacy unlock the child’s ability to discover and explore their talents and invent the next generation of innovative products? Would we as a nation start to export more goods and services and provide work opportunities for a highly skilled workforce? How would the Gross Domestic Product be affected? Simply put what would be the opportunity cost if we shifted the paradigm? So will we ever learn the outcome? Maybe yes, maybe no. As the famous Michael Jordan Quote goes.“We miss a hundred percent of the shots we never take.”

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