Why wasn’t the U.S. Department of Education very saddened to announce the passing of one of the most important contributors to American education when Jim Trelease passed away a few weeks ago?
Where is the teachers union? Where are the principals of the nation’s 130,000 public and private schools?
Jim Terrys is dead! He himself made it clear that the most important key to a child’s academic success is being read aloud from the moment they are born until they graduate from high school.
Vin Scully, who had just passed away, was one of Jim’s childhood idols, and a friend once arranged for Jim to sit down for coffee with the famous Dodgers announcer. Over the past few weeks, however, national newspapers have been flooded with tributes to Scully. Jim found some narrow obituaries in the local paper before he died.
In the late fall of 1987, I received a letter and a book from someone I had never heard of: Jim Trelease.He read an article I wrote New York Times On the importance of reading novels in school, Jim said he liked the article so much that I might like his book: Read the manuala book sitting on it New York Times’ 17 weeks on the bestseller list and has sold over 2 million copies to date.
In that book, Jim presents a powerful study showing that the best academic students in schools are those who are read aloud and have the broadest reading backgrounds.
Over 25 years, Jim has repeated over and over in thousands of speeches: “The single greatest predictor of school success is the vocabulary of an incoming kindergartener.” Jim’s message is simple and easy to get lost in educational politics: Those who read the most are the best students in school.
Jim highlights the powerful stories of Betty Hart and Todd Risley of the University of Kansas. These two social scientists have made a remarkable discovery. They found that when children from professional families were 4 years old, they accumulated 45 million words of experience. Hart and Risley’s research shows that children from working-class families accumulate 26 million words of experience, while children from poor families accumulate 13 million words of experience.
Jim has repeatedly reiterated that there is a 32 million word gap between children from poor families and children from professionally wealthy families. Jim Trelease created a book based on this research, arguing that the only way to close the educational gap between poverty and wealth is through reading, and in his book, he provides one of the most insightful lists of books for each grade level. Our country has been striving to improve the quality of education. Check out a sample of these attempts: Open Classroom Movement, Single-Sex Schools, Standards-Based Testing, Integration, Magnet Schools, Charter Schools, Whole Language, Market Theory, Teacher Assessment, Computing, Tenure Reform, Assessment, Raising the Bar, No Let One Children are left behind, scrambling, local control, hard work, higher graduation requirements, children in school uniforms, extended school hours. None of this has closed the academic gap between poor children and children from wealthier families.
Jim Trelease made it clear that the problems in our education system have nothing to do with poverty, teacher unions, tests, standards, or money. The problem in our school is that many children are exposed to more vocabulary than others.
Jim believes that the moment a child is born, someone should read aloud to them every day. Jim believes that every child from kindergarten through high school should read aloud at school for an hour a day. Every child from kindergarten through high school should have an hour of homework for reading a novel. Every K-12 child should go to the library once a week, read their favorite books, and have teachers and parents who care deeply about their child’s academic and social success.
Jim believes that student assessments should simply demonstrate a child’s reading ability by reading aloud, not by filling out bubble answer sheets. Children who read a lot read successfully.When a fourth grader coldly reads aloud a page from Charlotte’s Webor 11th graders read a page out loud coldly the great gatsby. Why do our highest-achieving students come from our richest schools? Because they read more than children from poor and working families.
As a high school English teacher, K-12 district superintendent, and future college English teacher for 40 years, I carry Jim’s books in my briefcase, under my arm, and at lectures wherever I go. I Transforming five school districts from test-based, anthology-based, politically correct-based environments to book-filled schools where kids love reading, a daily reading experience, and daily reading assignments for books they love to read .
My doctoral dissertation at Columbia University, based on Jim’s work and advocacy, was about turning schools into reading schools and making reading the center of school activity.
I have worked in some of the poorest school districts in New Jersey and the wealthiest school districts in the state, and at each school I have been able to level the academic playing field for all children. how? Giving all children a rich reading background from preschool to high school, all because Jim Trelease sent me his books all because of one man who reformed education for our country The real key launched an individual campaign: everyone read aloud to the children. One day, instilling in them a love of reading and closing the 32 million word gap between children living in poverty and children living in great economic wealth.
Yes, Vin Scully is dead, but the baseball season is fading. Jim Tress dies. His message will not fade. If we want to truly change the American education system, we need to pay more attention to what Jim Treyce has been broadcasting his whole life. The best students in our school are the children with the most reading experience. They’re the ones who hit home runs again and again in school. Education experts shouted from the stands to improve the game. Kids who don’t read can’t even get to first base.
Jim Terrys is dead!
Christopher Devink’s latest novel is “ashes” (HarperCollins) and “Mr. Nicholas” (Paraclete Press). He wrote this article for the Dallas Morning News.
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