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June 28, 2004

Program tackles state's reading achievement gap,
70% reach goals

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—The University of Michigan America Reads literacy program, which is used as a model nationwide, is helping close an achievement gap that leaves 40 percent of children unable to read at their grade level by third grade.

Each year, U-M sends 125 University students into nearby low-income areas to serve as tutors for young elementary school children who are at least a grade level or more behind in their reading. U-M research conducted to assess the program shows more than 70 percent of kids who complete the program are able to successfully catch up to reading at grade level.

"We've committed to getting these children up to par," said Whitney Begeman, program director of U-M's America Reads Tutoring Corps., which is based at U-M's Ginsberg Center for Community Service & Learning and supported by U-M's Office of Financial Aid and the U-M School of Education. "When we pick a certain literacy skills area to hone in on, we can get success rates to 90 percent. It's always a work in progress."

The program focuses on pre-kindergarten through third grade when most reading skills are taught. Research has found that students who fail to catch up with their peers by fourth grade are unlikely to ever catch up on their own.

The U-M student tutors each work with three to four young disadvantaged children per year. The tutors go to 12 sites in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Willow Run and Ypsilanti, making U-M's program one of the largest America Reads programs in the nation. Miami University in Ohio recently revamped its America Reads program to model itself after U-M's and other programs have also used the program as a role model.

Tutors spend 30-45 minutes twice a week with their students during the school year. One of the biggest challenges for education reform efforts, Begeman said, is that about a third of low-income children are part of families that frequently move.

America Reads programs began in 1997 as part of the Clinton Administration's efforts to improve education. Since President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act in January 2002, the federal government has continued to provide funding for student tutors, who have starting salaries of $9.25 per hour at U-M.But programs are now organized locally with far less federal guidance, putting more decision-making at the local level.

Begeman, a U-M graduate in her fourth year directing the program, said many tutors from all academic fields get involved with the program as freshmen or sophomores and remain committed to it throughout their years at U-M, working 10 to 20 hours per week. As each tutor gains experience, their skills improve—further boosting the reading scores of the elementary school students it serves.

Related links:

U-M's America Reads Tutoring Corps.

Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning

 

Contact: Joe Serwach
Phone: (734) 647-1844
E-mail: jserwach@umich.edu