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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

5.0 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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Review

“With the thoroughness of an excellent journalist and the sensitivity of a novelist, Beth Fertig writes about three young New Yorkers lost in the forest of illiteracy. Why cant U teach me 2 read? makes clear that learning to read requires also being taught how to read—there is no classroom exchange more central between a student and a teacher.” —Richard Rodriguez, author of Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez

“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
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (September 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374299056
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374299057
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,048,127 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Mark Lamster on October 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I hope you have had the good fortune to be taught to read, unlike the subjects of this book, because this is a story that absolutely deserves your attention. New Yorkers probably know Fertig as the education reporter of WNYC, and here she delivers in book form an extension of the incisive, objective journalism we have come to expect (and that is vanishing, tragically) on the radio. Here she tracks three special-needs students, Yamilka, Alejandro, and Antonio, who have fallen through the cracks of NY's educational system. Their stories are told with a heartbreaking elegance. How does our system account for them? What obligations does it have, and what can be realistically expected? If you care about the future of New York and, really, of public education everywhere, this book is a must read.
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Format: Hardcover
When I sat down to read "why cant u teach me 2 read?" I knew that I'd find a well-written, informative account of the state of literacy education in the United States. I knew that I'd find the stories of three students who made it through the New York City school system without learning to read. I knew that I'd follow them as they tried to gain literacy as adults. But I did not know that I'd be turning the pages with eager anticipation, dying to know how the stories of the three protagonists unfolded. Although my inability to put this compelling book down led to a few sleepless nights, I am grateful to author Beth Fertig for this important work, and grateful too for all the wonderful teachers that made it possible for me to read and enjoy "why can't u teach me 2 read."
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"Why cant u teach me 2 read?" is an unusually well-written and interesting look at the general state of literacy education in the United States today and at how it takes place in a particular set of schools: the New York City public schools. It chronicles in detail the efforts of Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein to raise reading scores, but also sets this effort against a history of literacy education in the last hundred years, especially the tension between whole language and phonics-based approaches. Since Beth Fertig is a reporter, not an educator, her account is refreshingly devoid of education jargon. It is also balanced, offering a range of perspectives while careful not to endorse one teaching method over another.

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.

M. Feldman
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Why Cant u teach me 2 read? Three Students and a Mayor Put Our Schools to the Test
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.
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