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Reading Intervention Program Politics 101

All Politics Is Local in Education

All Politics Is Local: Especially in Schools

Let’s face it. Education is politics. More specifically, “All politics is [sic] local,” said Tip O’Neill, the longtime Speaker of the House of Representatives. The sooner we understand that, the sooner we can realize our collective calling as teachers: to make a difference in the lives of our students. 

We teachers love to whine. It’s a staff room staple and a good coping mechanism. However, when we turn simple whining into a political action plan it becomes productive whining. 

I’m a secondary ELA and reading intervention teacher turned publisher. I have also served as a district reading specialist in Elk Grove Unified School District in the Central Valley of California. Over the years I was assigned to quite a few elementary schools and learned a fair amount about leadership skills. Through plenty of failures and a few successes, I learned that to have an impact in and beyond the classroom, I had to learn a political skill-set.

My passion has been to serve the needs of struggling readers: in particular, those grades 4 through community college. I’ve been fortunate to be able to implement that passion in elementary, middle, high school, and freshman college settings. I’ve had a hand in creating plenty of reading intervention programs. None has been perfect, but I’ve learned to get more of what my students and/or teachers need by learning Reading Intervention Program Politics 101.

The End Results

I’ve learned to take a friendly, but assertive stance with administrators regarding reading intervention: No collaboration or prep time? Can’t teach it. Not enough consistent instructional time? Won’t teach it. No money for resources, printing materials? Nothing to teach. No training in teaching resources/programs? Don’t know how to teach it. Excessive paperwork, documentation, meetings, completing assessments that won’t inform instruction? Not going to happen. Assigning reading intervention to new, inexperienced teachers because they can’t say, “No?” Not if I can’t help it.

Now that’s some tough talk, and many teachers would say, “I couldn’t say that to my principal or district curriculum specialist.” Or “You clearly do not know my supervising admin!” Or “The my way or the highway approach won’t work in my district. I’d be out on the highway.”

Fair enough. But I do believe we teachers need to be more assertive on behalf of our neediest kids. We have to learn to work smarter, not harder. Following are three (of many) ideas as to how to take a friendly, but tough stance with administrators to meet the needs of struggling readers. Would love to hear more ideas!

The Political Process

1. Let the data argue your case. Distance yourself from your demands. Teachers learn early on in their careers to answer this parent question: “Why did YOU give my son a D grade?” with “Your SON earned the D grade” or “The ASSIGNMENTS AND TESTS gave him that grade.” We need to do the same when advocating for our struggling readers. It’s hard for some administrators and teachers to put the horse (the students) before the cart (the program); they always want to put the cart before the horse. However, starting with program design, funding, resource and personnel allocations will always produce untenable and frustrating results.

My political advice? Start with the needs of the students and design instructional structures to address some of those needs.

A caveat is in order… Successful reading intervention depends upon the specificity of diagnostic assessments. You can certainly pre-screen with the BIG tests and teacher recommendations, but these can’t be used for reading intervention design. Ideally, you want to use diagnostic assessments that will design the program, place students, and provide teachable data. As a publisher, I can’t resist failing to mention the 13 whole-class reading assessments that will do these jobs. Download them for FREE after the article.

2. Be a political animal. Your administrators and district personnel certainly are, and you need to grow into one for the sake of your students. Of course, this comes much more naturally to some teachers, than to others.

Learn the pressure points and how to apply them without damaging relationships. You can learn to be assertive and nice at the same time. For example, when data has been secured which indicate unmastered reading skills for students, the students and their parents have a right to know what those deficits are and what it will take to meet those needs. Students and their parents can be your squeaky wheels to advocate for the resources and program structures that will make sense.

And to expand just a bit… Politicians and administrators learn how to isolate special interests and divide in order to conquer. Teachers need to employ political countermeasures to these political techniques. To our point: The test data and identified learning needs are perfect commonalities to bind together a student and parent advocacy (let’s call it support) group. Why share the test data individually with students or with parents via email or phone, when a group meeting would be more efficient and supportive. Both struggling readers and parents prefer to know that they are not in this alone. Confidentialilty and privacy concerns can often lead to isolation and the divide and conquer results and prevent concerted action. Clever teachers can share data communally while protecting individuals.

Teachers who want to improve their effectiveness in “education politics” should study those parents, teachers, and administrators who influence decision-making. You don’t have to be just like so-and-so, but you can certainly learn secrets to their successes and apply them to your own comfort level. Don’t forget the power of the group. Find allies for the sake of your students.

3. Choose your battles. Although my opening The End Results seem rigid, they really aren’t. The criteria still allow the creation of imperfect structures for teaching reading intervention along with maintaining student access to the core curriculum. Be assured that teachers who hold out for the optimal instructional situation will never have an opportunity to impact the lives of kids who desperately need their help. After all, some is better than none; but only if the some is really, really good and has the prioritized support of the whole school and/or district. Politics is the art of compromise.

For example, let’s say that your diagnostic assessments given to a screened set of sixth-graders indicate that 28 of these students have not mastered the alphabetic code (phonics). Additionally, their teachers report that these same students have comprehension deficits (no wonder), low and inaccurate reading fluency, poor vocabulary, and they don’t know their multiplication tables!x%#0@. You, your principal, students, parents, and teacher allies agree that something must be done.

The principal only has funding for one teacher to teach a three-week summer session. The principal and parents want the teacher to fix all of these problems. The

Phonics Review Unite

Phonics Boot Camp

political teacher’s answer is “No, but.” Let’s see what is possible with measurable results. Hmmm… Multiplication is out, because this is reading-only funding. Comprehension is out because we don’t have the testing tools to measure results. Reading fluency can be measured, but three weeks is not enough time to impact fluency deficits. How about phonics? We do have a three-week phonics review unit which can produce measurable results. Bingo. The point is to cater your available resources and your instructional constraints to the student testing data. Things have to match. You can’t fit square pegs into round holes.

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

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