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TIME TO “LEARN”: Comprehensive Literacy Bill Introduced in Congress

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"Literacy must be education priority number one."

On November 5, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation (LEARN) Act, a comprehensive literacy bill that would authorize $2.35 billion to support state and local programs to ensure that children from birth through grade twelve have the reading and writing skills necessary for success in school and beyond. The following day, U.S. Representatives John Yarmuth (D-KY) and Jared Polis (D-CO) introduced a companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. Joining Senator Murray as original cosponsors are Senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH)Representative George Miller (D-CA), the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, is an original cosponsor of the House bill.

“Literacy must be education priority number one,” said Murray. “It’s the building block that keeps students engaged in school and on track to college and a successful career. The LEARN Act will provide a new comprehensive and statewide approach to literacy. It will help ensure that high-quality literacy instruction starts early and continues through high school for students who need extra support. The LEARN Act also comes at a critical time for Washington state as budget cutbacks continue to affect the resources available to address literacy.”

The fastest-growing professions have very high literacy demands, but almost half of all high school graduates and nearly all students who fail to obtain a high school diploma lack the literacy skills needed to succeed in college and work. This problem does not start in high school; it can be detected at all educational levels. According to the most recent results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), in both fourth and eighth grade, only about one third of all students read at a level considered proficient for their grade.

Of the $2.35 billion included in the bill for comprehensive literacy programs, 10 percent would go to programs for children from birth to age five, 40 percent would be allocated to programs for students in kindergarten to fifth grade, and 40 percent would go to programs for students in grades six through twelve. The bill would also require a rigorous national evaluation of the programs that includes stringent conflict of interest restrictions for the programs’ peer review process.

The bill would also work to enhance each state’s role in improving literacy instruction by supporting the formation of state literacy leadership teams and the development of comprehensive state literacy plans that include a needs assessment and an implementation plan to ensure high-quality instruction in reading and writing from early education through grade twelve.

The LEARN Act would also support school districts’ creation of high-quality literacy programs in schools by targeting funds to low-income schools and provide high-quality professional development for instructional staff, providing teachers with expertise in literacy instruction, analyzing data to improve student learning, and effective implementation of literacy instruction strategies. It would also provide students with explicit, systematic, and developmentally appropriate instruction in reading and writing, including but not limited to vocabulary development, phonemic awareness, the use of diverse texts, and the use of technology for generating and presenting ideas.

“By introducing the LEARN Act, Senator Murray and Representatives Yarmuth and Polis have outlined a comprehensive approach to teaching reading and comprehension that would move away from the current practice of siloing literacy instruction based on grade level and toward an approach that supports children from the cradle through commencement and ensures that they have the literacy skills necessary to succeed in college and careers,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia.

More information on the bill is available here.

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.