The Editors' Blog

Here come the summer reading camps

We may have thousands of kids in the Triangle in mandatory reading camps this summer. Welcome to Senate Bill 795, kids, and Camp Sen. Phil Berger Not-By-The-Sea.

There are going to be some very unhappy moms, dads and kids who had other things in mind for the summer.

This facet of the “Excellent Public Schools Act” passed by the 2012 General Assembly is coming into view.

If you have a child in the third grade, you should read T. Keung Hui’s story. This may not be news to you, because stuff about this should have gone home. Wake County schools has web page that goes into all this.

But I know that parents are busy and sometimes don’t focus in tightly because they’re juggling a lot of things.

Well, here’s the deal. The key paragraphs in Hui’s story were this:

Last school year, the statewide passing rate on the third-grade reading exam was 45.2 percent. More than 58,000 students did not pass the exam.

In Wake County, the state’s largest school system, the passing rate was 57 percent, meaning more than 4,800 third-grade students didn’t pass the reading exam.

So let’s start with the fact that there may be 40,000 to 5,000 kids in third grade in North Carolina - including maybe 4,000 to 5,000 in Wake County - who aren’t going to pass the reading EOG.

There are some loopholes that will let some of them get promoted. But many of them are going to a six-week camp. And a subset of them aren’t going to get promoted to fourth grade.

The point of Thursday’s press conference at Dillard Drive Elementary was to encourage parents to keep their third-graders reading through the winter break.

What the press conference did was to make me a little panicky, and I’m not even Senate leader Berger, whose idea this is, and I’m sure not a school superintendent who is going to be getting the phone calls from parents this spring.

But the thought of 50,000 or so third graders stuck in reading camps all over the Triangle and North Carolina this summer gives me pause.

I mean, I think the presser at the elementary school was a good idea, but good gravy, there’s tens of thousands of parents out there who need help getting their third-graders’ reading skills upgraded over the next five months.

Here are three of the tips on the Wake School’s Read to Achieve web page. There are a number of other ideas.

• Find 20 minutes each day for reading.

• Take books with you and your child wherever you go.

• Request periodic teacher conferences to monitor your child’s progress.

By the way, the problem that I see right now is that no one really owns this. What I mean is that in six months, all hell will break loose when the letters go out to parents telling them to haul their kids to reading camp, and that their kids may be left back, and everyone will be pointing fingers.

Smack at the top of the Wake County Schools Read to Achieve web page is a link to the Excellent Public Schools Act. They have even made the link a separate color so you won’t miss it. So right away, there’s a hint that, hey, this was the legislature’s idea. You got a beef? Call Phil Berger.

Berger, who is a very smart man, will respond, surely, that the schools in North Carolina have had almost two years to prepare for an end to social promotions of third graders who can read at grade level.

Incidentally, and I have said this before, given that Berger has to collect the tax dollars that pay for a huge chunk of the K-12 tab in this state, it is entirely legitimate for him to be concerned that so many third graders are flunking the reading EOG. It is entirely legitimate for him to believe that we’re not getting enough return on our investment of billions of dollars in public education in North Carolina, everyone needs to stop pretending we are, and that it is the responsibility of the newly empowered Republican caucus in the General Assembly to finally say that the buck has been passed enough.

But only Berger and his crowd seem to be stoked about this. Elsewhere, there seems to be a lot of teeth gritting.

In an ideal world, the school superintendents and school boards, both parties in the legislature and the governor would all be owning this, and there would be one heck of a concerted push to get those third graders to pass the EOG. Lots of PSAs on TV. Lots of business community involvement. Lots of hoop de doo.

That’s not what this feels like.