Illiteracy will continue to thrive in America unless public policy-makers and private groups find more effective ways to eradicate homelessness and poverty, the vice president of the International Reading Association warned Utah teachers Saturday.
Speaking at the association's 23rd annual Utah Reading Conference in the Salt Lake Hilton, Dale D. Johnson said estimates of adult illiteracy in the United States range from 20 million to 80 million people, "depending on how you define illiteracy.""Those are huge numbers, but they don't capture the individual frustration and deprivation represented."
Johnson questioned what the future will hold for children when their parents "can't even read (them) a bedtime story."
He said children constitute the fastest-growing population of homeless people, with estimates ranging from 200,000 to 1 million. "Many of these are runaways, but the majority are the children of a single parent - usually a mother - who doesn't have a place to call home. Most of the parents themselves are illiterate, or have no money even for the most basic of needs - especially not for books for their children."
He pledged that his association will make poverty and homelessness a priority during the coming year and will institute programs to help get educational materials into the hands of poor children. "It will require a monetary commitment from our association, and it's one we're willing to make."
A study committee will be formed to decide how to provide tutoring and periodical subscriptions to children who need help learning to read, he said.
P. David Pearson, past member of the association's board of directors, took aim at current assessment procedures in America's public school system. He said even children with ready access to education have difficulty mastering reading skills, and laid part of the blame on the philosophy of "outcome-based education."
"I know superintendents who take their jobs with the guarantee (to constituents) that if test scores don't improve, they will resign. We're asking tests to perform a function they can't provide - a curriculum. I don't think any entity - school, teacher or classroom - can be accurately portrayed with a single number."
He said when many superintendents see test scores they don't like, they rap on the principal, who raps on the teacher, who raps on the students. "Pretty soon you have a situation where you single out all the kids who are doing bad on the test. And it's `either make them do better, or or tell them to stay home next time you give a test.' That approach breeds mistrust."
Conference participants chose from more than 50 workshop and lecture sessions during the three-day event, which ended Saturday. Jean Klein, a teacher at Central Elementary School in Vernal, was named Reading Teacher of the Year during a banquet Friday night.