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Joan Schuman & Cecelia Buckley: Why the Reading Recovery program more than earns its keep

The Senate vote contrasts sharply with the earlier House budget that slashed funding for the program by 75 percent.

Each year, Reading Recovery provides one-on-one tutoring to hundreds of young readers across the state, helping them to develop the literacy skills they need to be successful in school.

As legislators worked toward a budget compromise, we though it might be interesting to hear from parents whose children have been helped by the program.

When Meg Clancy reflects on raising her now-grown son, Aaron, she remembers a little boy who lagged behind in almost every developmental milestone. He walked later and talked later than most kids. And despite her best efforts to introduce him to the world of books, he couldn’t read a word when he entered first grade.

Educators at the Plains Elementary School in South Hadley quickly signed him up for Reading Recovery. For the next four months, Aaron met with the Reading Recovery specialist every day and came home each night with a bag of books to read with his family.

By Christmas, he was reading above grade level.

Clancy said Aaron “did brilliantly” after his participation in Reading Recovery. He went on to get “nearly straight A’s through school, and recently graduated from college with high honors.

“I get so disgusted every time I hear they want to cut Reading Recovery,” said Clancy. “I think it’s the best program in the world.”

Over 40 teachers in western Massachusetts are being supported (with ongoing professional development, school-based coaching, data collection and data analysis) through the Collaborative for Educational Services in their work as Reading Recovery teachers.

Cuts in state funding for the program could result in these teachers not being able to continue with this work unless the costs are covered by financially stressed school districts.

That may mean that up to 400 children in western Massachusetts schools will not be able to take part in the program that Aaron found so helpful.

Clancy attributes the program’s well-documented success to the intensive one-on-one intervention it provides struggling readers so early in their academic careers.

“If you don’t catch the problem when they’re young, it will follow them all through school,” she said, adding that children need to read well to be successful in all other academic subjects.

As a mother who watched her son catch up to his classmates in less than four months, Clancy saw the program help Aaron avoid years of frustration in school and life. She says the intervention is cost-effective because it rectifies reading problems as soon as possible, avoiding special education services. “It will cost cities and towns more in the long run to cut Reading Recovery now.”

Joan E. Schuman is executive director of the Collaborative for Educational Services in Northampton, where Cecelia Buckley is its director of professional services.

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