Friday, November 28, 2014

PA Axes Reading Specialist Programs

Turns out there is more than one way to reduce the job requirements for teaching.

Pennsylvania's Department of Education has apparently announced its intention to cut Reading Specialists off at the knees. In an email dated November 5, the department apparently indicated that they would add the Reading Specialist Certificate to the Added By Test list. In other words, it will no longer be necessary to go out and do a Master's Degree's worth of college coursework to become a reading specialist. Instead, aspiring reading specialists would just take a test.

The Keystone State Reading Association is not delighted. Neither are the colleges and universities that make money by training reading specialists. And neither should the rest of us be.

I find the whole concept a little bizarre. I've been an English teacher for 35-ish years and while I know a thing or two about reading, I wouldn't call myself a specialist.

If I wanted to be a specialist, I would take some classes because reading is a highly technical and complicated field, and I would benefit from taking courses with other practitioners as well as having structured opportunities to work on my technique with actual live human beings. I don't think my quest to be a highly competent reading specialist would be improved by the alternative of grabbing a Praxis-style cram book and then hoping to correctly answer a brace of questions on an adult-aimed standardized test.

Why allow for such an approach to the readings specialist certificate? Certainly not to make life easier for teachers-- here in PA teachers have to do a Master's Degree's worth of work to keep our teaching credentials (plus more hours every several years), so why not pick something directed and useful? Is it for students and their families? Are parents calling Harrisburg to complain that their child's reading specialist knows too much as is too well-trained for the job? I'm going to bet the answer is "none of the above."

So who benefits? Could it be perhaps anybody who wanted to operate a school but wanted to cut back on the costs of things like, say, reading specialists? Is this one more move intended to make charter staffing easier and cheaper? Granted, it's less destructive than the Ohio plan for just doing away with the requirement for specialists entirely, but it still does nothing to elevate the profession, the teaching of reading, or the quality of instruction here in the Keystone State.

The KSRA has a nifty link to letters that you can fill in and send to anybody in Harrisburg who might conceivably help. It's true that this is probably one of the major battle fronts in the struggle to preserve public education, but it is one more thing to chip chip chip away at the level of professionalism and expertise required to work with students. It's one more way to create a world in which anybody can stand in a classroom and be a content delivery specialist, at least for a year or two, as long as they've gotten some clearances and some paperwork done.

Why not demand that reading specialists be trained, and trained well, in their field? Passing some test is not enough. Harrisburg is wrong on this one. Reading specialist should mean more than "passed a special test."


  1. I was a reading specialist for the last dozen (or so) years of my 35 year career. I had to take an extra 20 credit hours of classes...and I added a year's worth of training followed by continuing study as a Reading Recovery teacher. I'm retired and still working as a "volunteer reading specialist" and trying to keep up by reading professional journals.

    I know that I struggle with helping some students...

    Aside from saving money by not hiring reading specialists (I retired when my job was cut), there's also the "reformy" claim that more education doesn't matter. I think it's because so many of them have no academic credentials in education. Why would Arne Duncan, for example, admit that it's necessary to have education training to work in the education field. That would be an admission that he was woefully unqualified for the job he has...

  2. Oh goodie -- I can stop practicing law, take a test (I'm good at standardized tests), and move to PA to be near my best friend and become a reading specialist. I mean, I'm qualified, right? After all, I did use Bob Books to teach my kids to read.. What else could possibly be necessary?

    And in the meantime, we're going to rate teacher prep programs on how well their students perform.