If you're reading this, that probably means that someone, once upon a time, taught you to read. Most likely, this happened sometime in your first few years of elementary school -- -kindergarten or first, second, or third grade -- building the vocabulary and language skills you began developing earlier in your life, starting in infancy and even before you were born. Not surprisingly, then, you probably remember little about your laborious progress acquiring the skills that form the building blocks of reading -- recognizing the connection between print and meaning, learning to associate printed letters with sounds, putting those sounds together to form words, and developing the vocabulary and background knowledge to derive meaning from words on the page.
Deep Creek Elementary School is an education success story. In 2001, Deep Creek, where more than three-quarters of students come from low-income families and 80 percent are black or Hispanic, was one of the worst elementary schools in Baltimore County, Maryland. Its third-graders were reading at a first-grade level. But the new principal, Anissa Brown Dennis, expanded collaboration and professional development for teachers, implemented an aligned reading and math curriculum from pre-K through third grade, and offered summer learning and after-school programs for struggling students. Today, nearly three-quarters of Deep Creek students read on grade level, teacher and student morale is up, and the school has received local, state, and national recognition for its improvement.
Remember the 2000 presidential campaign? If it seems like it happened in another lifetime, maybe another country, think how education wonks must feel. That was the year that American voters told pollsters that education was their number one concern in the presidential election. The Republican candidate, George W. Bush, broke with years of Republican platforms calling for the abolition of the Education Department to make education -- and an expansion of the federal role in it -- a centerpiece of his campaign, and virtually every photo op featured him surrounded by a crowd of smiling African American children. The Democratic candidate, Al Gore, used the luxury of a budget surplus to propose significant new federal investments in education, particularly universal preschool.
In 1961, 13 three- and four-year-olds from poor black families began attending a preschool class at Perry Elementary School in Ypsilanti, Michigan. They were there as much to learn as to teach. A team of researchers followed not only their time at the preschool, but their trajectory over the next four decades, and the findings were startling: