Learning to read in fifth grade

My book, Our School, tells the story of a San Jose charter high school, Downtown College Prep, that tries to put underachievers — most from Mexican immigrant families — on the college track. The average student starts ninth grade with fifth- or sixth-grade reading and math skills, making it very hard to catch up. So co-founder Greg Lippman is leading a group called ACE Public Schools, which is trying to start a charter middle school in East San Jose to help students catch up before they start high school.

Last night, the local school board rejected the charter application, “citing a host of reasons, including the soundness of its curriculum, financial viability and the lack of a school site.”

Lippman is piloting the middle school with a summer school for incoming fourth and fifth graders who need help with reading: The average student is more than three years below grade level; half read at “kindergarten level,” says the Mercury News. One wonders about the soundness of the academic curriculum.

In one class taught by instructor Anna Moreland, students — some of whom will start the fifth-grade in the fall — are learning phonics. On Tuesday, they sounded the different sounds: o, oa. One student wrote “cote” for “coat.”

. . . Parents, many of whom speak only Spanish, are also counseled about the realities of their children’s educational abilities, and they are expected to do some work, too. Their first missive was simple but critical: Read with your children 20 minutes a day. If you don’t read, ask your children to read to you.

“Of course I got sad,” Lupe Fuentes, a Mexican immigrant, said about learning that her daughter Giselle Mendez, 10, is behind in reading. But Ganas, she said, is already making a difference.

“We watch less television, and we read more,” she said. The students in her daughter’s class “are learning to read and it’s helping me with my English.”

ACE, which has some politically connected people on its board, is helping start small autonomous schools within districts as well as charter schools in high-need areas. It’s connected to a grassroots community group that has been pushing for better schools for many years.

Josue Ramirez, who spoke for ACE at the school board meeting, was in the first graduating class of Downtown College Prep. He’s in the book. Josue is a junior at San Jose State; he plans to become a teacher.

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  1. Ideally your school would have a different purpose. It’s sad to see so many middle school charter programs for underachievemers. Wouldn’t it be nice to see a few more elementary schools that took 1st graders and graduated them as 5th graders who performed on the 5th grade leve.

  2. Robert Wright says:

    Lippman is the best of the best. Forward thinking, hard working, dedicated, shrewd and brilliant.

    Founding Downtown College Prep is like bringing back the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West.

    The school board should say yes to anything he asks. Anything.

    But they want conformity, not excellence.

    The wizard says, Go away!

  3. Schools in Florida are making progress by reaching into the homes of students to ensure that the students have English language materials to use for practice, and by working directly with families. Frequently, the school administrators make home visits and bring materials with them. There are also adult literacy outreach programs. That is a far cry from California’s approach.

    It is impossible to practice a language to the extent needed to learn to read if the only exposure begins at age six or seven, and it continues for only an hour or so a day. In elementary schools and middle schools, much of the curriculum is focused on spoken communication , collaborative learning, and other strategies that do not involve reading extensively for sustained periods.

    It would benefit San Jose greatly if students had English materials at home, and if parents read to them in any language beginning in early childhood. As it is, literacy does not have a high value in many of our students’ homes. Sadly, it is not uncommon to discover that the parents cannot read any language well. Unfortunately, they also often consider reading well to be unnecessary in their everyday working lives. Yet, when asked, they state that they expect their children to do well in school. Frequently, the same parents state that they dropped out of high school. Often, the parents say their own parents did not attend school.

    It is heart rending to watch the cycle of low performance continue from generation to generation.