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Why cant U teach me 2 read?: Three Students and a Mayor Put Our Schools to the Test Hardcover – September 15, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
New York City radio journalist Fertig delves deeply into the success and failure of the federal No Child Left Behind Policy implemented by President George W. Bush in 2002, especially as Mayor Michael Bloomberg took up the challenge to improve reading, writing and math skills in New York City public schools. Using the case studies of three impoverished students of Dominican descent—Yamilka, 23; her brother Alejandro, 19; and Antonio, 18, who all came through these high schools and remained largely illiterate despite an enormous enlistment of school services (Yamilka, for example, was later awarded $120,000 worth of tutoring hours for educational neglect)—Fertig unearths some knotty issues affecting the scholastic success of inner-city students, such as English as a second language, family environment and, especially, misdiagnosis of learning disabilities such as dyslexia. Fertig looks closely at how corporate-minded Bloomberg shook up the system: forcing schools to demonstrate annual progress by testing and by gathering specific data (implementation of ARIS, the Achievement Reporting and Innovations System); sanctions for schools not performing; grading of schools in terms of their students' progress. The outrage was predictable, but the improvements surprising and real. Fertig tracks the efficacy of the balanced literary approach to reading and the harmful effects of text messaging and e-mail, for an overall excellent, thoroughly grounding survey of the state of literacy and education. (Sept.)
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“Beth Fertig cares profoundly for the students whose stories she tells here; she has compassion too for the administrators, teachers, specialists, and family members caught up in their struggle. Her generosity of spirit never interferes with her clear-sighted and rigorous account of the issues they all confront. Reading this book will change the way you think about the urgent, confused, elusive issue of literacy.” —Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression
“The notion that our nation’s public schools can teach every child is one that just about everyone can embrace, but it becomes more and more complicated when one examines the realities faced by specific students. Beth Fertig has given voice to real children who have slipped through the cracks in the New York City schools, and reminds us that even wellintentioned efforts by strong leaders to protect the next generation of students face tremendous obstacles. Fertig reminds us that we have a long way to go if we are to live up to the promise of giving every child a chance to read and to live the American Dream.” —Joe Williams, Executive Director, Democrats for Education Reform, and author of Cheating Our Kids: How Politics and Greed Ruin Education
“Beth Fertig’s lively book is worth a shelfful of foundation studies on urban education policy. This is reporting at its finest, combining clear explanations of political and bureaucratic battles with compassionate, revealing portraits of how life is lived by the countless thousands who graduate from our broken schools clutching certificates and diplomas they cannot read. Fertig conducts a skilled tour through the great labyrinth of big-city schools, showing how they succeed, why they fail, and why lasting change remains so elusive.” —Errol Louis, columnist, New York Daily News, and host of The Morning Show, WWRL-AM
“Why cant U teach me 2 read? is a finely detailed picture of public schools’ daily struggles to get students with the most difficult challenges to read. Its portrayal of heroics and heartbreak holds valuable lessons for the ongoing movement to reform public education.” —Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO, Harlem Children’s Zone
“An NPR reporter tackles the often overlooked American illiteracy problem through the stories of three students and one very troubled school system . . . [WHY CANT U TEACH ME 2 READ is a] carefully considered treatment of a troubling subject that will be particularly useful to educators and policymakers.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Using the case studies of three impoverished students of Dominican descent . . . Fertig unearths some knotty issues affecting the scholastic success of inner-city students, such as English as a second language, family environment and, especially, misdiagnosis of learning disabilities such as dyslexia . . . An overall excellent, thoroughly grounding survey of the state of literacy and education.” —Publishers Weekly
“Public radio reporter Fertig offers a view of the crisis in education through the lens of three young adults struggling with illiteracy. Yamilka, Alejandro, and Antonio, all products of New York public schools, legally challenged the system when it failed to teach them to read, securing special tutoring arrangements designed to compensate for years of neglect. Fertig intersperses their accounts with the politics of education reform in New York during the mayoral administration of Michael Bloomberg . . . Fertig also details various learning disabilities and historical and current research on techniques for teaching reading skills.”—Booklist, starred review
Top customer reviews
Fertig also follows three young adults, Yamilka, Antonio, and Alejandro, in their quests to learn to read. Each has come through the public schools as a functional illiterate, and each now has the legal right to obtain remediation. Researchers estimate that one in five children has a language-based disorder (like dyslexia), as does each of these individuals. Add to this the influences of learning English as a second language; poverty; overcrowded classrooms, and teachers who do not know how to address such disorders, all problems that Fertig presents, and you will come away from the book with a sense of the complexity and difficulty of teaching not only children, but adults, to read. The stories of Yamilka, Antonio, and Alejandro are inspiring, but also sobering.
This book also contains a solid bibliography, useful is you are interested in this subject. "Why cant u teach me 2 read?" is an engaging book for both teachers and for the general public. If you are one of the lucky ones who learned to read quite effortlessly, this book will give you empathy for those whose acquisition of reading skills takes persistence and constant work.
by Beth Fertig,
Copyright 2009, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 18 West 18th Street, New York 10011
I am a veteran elementary school teacher with over 35 years of teaching experience in two states and four countries. I have hungered to discover why we teachers are often told to make, to us, inexplicable and questionable changes to our customary teaching practices learned in respectable teacher training institutions, informed by further in-service training and our own best observations. Beth Fertig's book offers a very welcome and lucid backward look at the theories and political realities that guided the shaping of public school policy from the days of John Dewey in the 50's to the late 80's when there was widespread perception of the crisis in public education.
Her book is very well-researched and I was very impressed with her evenhanded presentation of the many expert voices whom she consulted and who have weighed in to suggest changes that would result in more effective public education for all children, but especially those who have to date been least well served, immigrant children and children with learning disabilities.
Ms. Fertig has a rare ability to really listen and to allow the voices of her interviewees to speak their own thoughts unfiltered by any agenda of hers. She skillfully interlards her chapters on Bloomberg's reforms and the implementation of NCLB legislation with the personal histories of three teenagers who were functionally illiterate though they had spent many years in the NYC schools. She documents their agonizing efforts in their late teens and early twenties to learn to read in private tutoring programs paid for by the City in recompense for the City schools' failures.
As I read, it became clear that it is precisely because of Ms. Fertig's evenhandedness and ability to listen impartially that researchers, policy makers, politicians, educators and students trust her and allow her into their lives, classrooms and hearts. She had remarkable access to people in many seetors and they clearly felt at ease with her and were remarkably candid in offering her their innermost thoughts, reservations and fears. I was impressed too, with the sheer amount of time she spent in repeated visits to classrooms to see how teacher's were coping with the changes that were piping down to them. She also spoke at length to administrators to hear the chronicle of their efforts to comply with new policy and make learning successes an actuality for their students. This is the kind of first hand reportage that a teacher like me can really believe in and relate to.
Throughout the entire book, her passionate ooncern for the three individuals, whom she brings to life as painful witnesses to the failures of public education is very evident. It compels our sympathy and recognition of the profound cost of failure in public school education, not only to these individuals but to society as a whole.
Finally, in faithfully following and lucidly describing the data and research of her experts, the unrolling effects of the decisions made by politicians and policy makers, the observations and insights of educators and administrators, and the experiences of Yamilka, Alejandro and Antonio she does not propose any glib answers to the current crisis. When on June 23, 2008, Mayor Bloomberg held a press conference at PS 175 in Harlem to jubilantly announce the good news that math and reading scores were up in NYC schools as a result of his administration's dedicated efforts dating from 2002 when he entered office, she reports how "despite all the focus on accountability measures and data-driven instruction, there was simply not a clear answer to why one school went up (in test scores) while another went down."
Still, by reading this book, I gained access to the knowledge of many well-meaning and well-informed people who, like me, are passionately involved and concerned in making informed changes in best educational practices to better our schools so that youngsters like Yamilke, Alejandro and Antonio do not have to suffer as they have done.