Education Policy & Practice

Science and Math is Great, But Let’s Teach Our Students to READ

Posted on: January 7, 2010

President Barack Obama talks with Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching winners in the State Dining of the White House January 6, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

First, let’s note the obvious in this photo and then move on — White women.  Where are the men?  Where are the men of color (Call Me Mister)? Where are the women of color?

Now, I understand why, as a nation, we are looking to strengthen our math and science intellectual capital.  I understand the relevance.  However, literacy has been eclipsed, and my fear is that such an unbalanced focus will actually serve to perpetuate the competency gap, particularly among white students and students of color.

I simply fail to recognize how high school students, for example, who are reading on a sixth-grade level will excel in science and mathematics.


5 Responses to "Science and Math is Great, But Let’s Teach Our Students to READ"

Great post and so glad you included the picture. Interesting too. I was thinking along the same lines as I started working on state-by-state comparison of NAEP data for AYP subgroups. I could easily find the MATH data on the NAEP site but had the hardest time finding the Reading scores. A few months ago that was not the issue.

There are so many grants available for Math and Science; we are neglecting Reading, which is an integral part of both! If a kids can’t read Calculus or Chemistry content, can we really expect them to (accurately) translate those concepts to other areas? Absolutely not.


I think you may have been one of the reasons I commented about reading – I think you tweeted to that effect.

Hi. I just discovered your blog. I teach remedial reading to community college students, and we use a textbook called Reading Across the Disciplines. We spend the semester reading articles from the text, which include snippets from psychology textbooks, astronomy textbooks, political science books, etc.

Many high school graduates are testing into this class, which teaches them reading strategies in hopes of helping them to be successful readers in their college courses.

I agree with the point you are making, that students will not be able to be successful in other courses if they are reading below level. Allowing students to climb from one grade to the next when they have not mastered reading strategies is only hurting them in the long run.

Many of the students I teach are shocked at being placed into a remedial reading course and are convinced that they do not belong there, when in fact they do. Every semester, I have at least one student tell me they were in honors courses in high school and that they are embarrassed to be in remedial education. Middle and high schools need to do a better job of making sure students are equipped with and are utilizing reading strategies.

Hi mdeducator81,

You raise an excellent issue re: students who were in honors courses in high school that have tested into remedial reading. How is it that there is such a disconnect between high school and college? It should be a continuum of knowledge and skills – a steady upward progression. What do you find are the greatest challenges that students who come to your class face? I was all set to teach remedial reading at a community college in Charlotte, NC before I moved back to MD. I was eager to be in a position to help build that bridge between high school and college.

Thanks for your comment!

What are the greatest challenges that students who come to my classes face? That’s a good question…

One challenge is that they either goofed off in high school, or they didn’t receive the attention they needed, and now they have to try to acquire skills that they should already have.

I also get a few older students who have been out of school for as much as 20 years, and they face the challenge of acclimating to an educational setting. Last semester I taught a woman who had a 28-year-old son. She was in a class that consisted of students mainly 16-22 years old (must be an odd feeling to be in a class with kids younger than your own children).

Another huge challenge I see is that many students are aimless, which makes it difficult for them to stay motivated. Many students enroll in college, but they actually have no idea what they want to do with their lives. Sometimes I think it comes down to their parents threatening them and saying, you can either get a job or go to college or move out of my house, and college sounds easier than working.

Also, a lot of students are the first in their family to go to college, so in a way they’re really in the struggle alone, because nobody else in their family really understands the concept of going to college.

Poverty is another challenge. Many students do not have reliable transportation, and they rely on friends, relatives, or public transportation to get to school. They show up late or not at all to class. Also, many students balance school and work, and will sometimes choose work over school (I couldn’t make it to class because I had to work.).

And lastly, laziness. Some of my students are very honest with me and will tell me that the reason they missed the past however many classes is because they kept hitting the snooze button and couldn’t make themselves get up. Laziness is irritating, but I’d prefer students to tell me the truth rather than to pretend someone in their family died or their car broke down.

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Education Policy & Practice

January 2010

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