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Three Keys to Overcoming the Class-Based Literacy Divide

By Tracy Weeden
 | Dec 07, 2017

Teacher CoachingIt is widely recognized that we are living in a "knowledge economy." The term, popularized by Peter Drucker in his prescient 1969 book, The Age of Discontinuity (HarperCollins), is used to describe an economy in which growth is dependent on the quantity, quality, and accessibility of information, rather than on the means of production.

How do we prepare our children for a future where information is everything and the jobs they will apply for may not yet exist?  Their success will rely on their ability to access—and to make sense of—an overabundance of information.

We can call this "the language of power”—the ability to translate seemingly unrelated data into an executable plan. This idea is directly tied to closing the opportunity gap for our youth.

To reach this goal requires a much more concerted effort to overcome the class-based literacy divide, which remains stubbornly in place. School districts must make it a priority that every student can read at or above grade level because when students are fully literate—regardless of zip code, mobility, or poverty—everything changes.

When the critical mass of students within a school district can read at or above grade level, it need not be a miraculous event. Success does, however, depend on three key ingredients:  commitment, coaching, and family engagement.

  • Commitment: There is no silver bullet for creating systems that support literacy; it just requires hard work and dedication from everyone involved—from the central office to the principal, teachers, students, and parents/guardians. When the science of reading is embedded in a school through increasing leader and teacher knowledge, schools become literacy incubators. Children blossom within these conditions, and we level the playing field, bringing all children together in intellectual experience and a future of achievement.
  • Coaching: No one gets good at anything without coaching. School leaders and teachers can participate in excellent professional development courses and leave full of enthusiasm, but research has shown that adaptation of the best practices taught in these courses is negligible. However, when effective professional development is followed by ongoing classroom coaching, adaptation skyrockets to 95%.
  • Family engagement: Home is where literacy takes root. To sustain positive change in schools requires engaging the family as part of each child's "learning team." Dispelling the notion that some parents don't care, and educating future teachers and leaders on the best ways to engage parents, is a piece of the puzzle we rarely examine in educational circles. With an invested principal, strong and committed teaching staff, and an aligned curriculum in place, schools can amplify their efforts by connecting family outreach to student learning in explicit, practical, and engaging experiences.

In my many years as a teacher, district leader, and educational consultant, and as the child of parents who came from extreme poverty and broke the cycle through literacy, I have seen firsthand that when taught a love of reading and learning at an early age, children internalize the language of power. In doing so, they take the first important step toward full participation in today's economy. 

tracy-weeden-headshotTracy Weeden, is president and CEO of Neuhaus Education Center, a Houston-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting reading success through teacher training and coaching, information and resources for parents, and direct literacy services for adults. Neuhaus works with school districts nationwide to improve their literacy programs. For more information, visit

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