May Editorial Winner

The right call

WAYNE TROTTER, The Countywide & Sun

“If we promote a third-grader to the fourth grade because he or she is 10 years old and not because they are reading proficient, we’re setting that child up for failure. And we’re doing so not to make that child’s life easier but to make someone else’s life easier.” Gov. Mary Fallin After vetoing HB 2625
As she must have expected, Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of HB 2625, the Reading Sufficiency Act, reaped an immediate firestorm of criticism.
Joe Dorman, the presumptive Democratic nominee to challenge Fallin in November, said he was “outraged” and wrote “Shame on you, governor” on his Facebook page.
“It is unfortunate that our governor would oppose not only the parents and educators who trusted her as the leader of our state, but also oppose the senators and representatives who voted to support the legislation,” wrote Linda Hampton, president of the Oklahoma Education Association.
“Basically, that represents the voice of the people and she went against that,” said Meredith Exline, a spokesperson for the Oklahoma Central Parent Legislative Committee. “The decision may be to retain a kid but shouldn’t it be up to the people who know them the best — educators and parents?”
Effective arguments, we suppose, especially if one is reaching out for higher office or running a labor movement. But all the simplistic rhetoric in the world can’t bandage over the harsh reality of this situation: Children who fail to learn to read are likely to lead unhappy and impoverished lives, maybe worse. Gov. Fallin was right to veto HB 2625 and her presumed Republican allies in the House and Senate would be wrong to override that veto.
Why? Because under the Reading Sufficiency
Act (RSA for short), plenty of extra chances are provided for third-graders to avoid retention. All this bill does is create a new one that in practice will be more subject to subjective, emotional judgment than those that already exist. HB 2625 may look good on paper but history tells us that if it becomes law, it will be abused somehow and somewhere in Oklahoma. When that happens, the losers will be the children, not the parents and certainly not the educators.
The RSA allows children three chances to pass the test and prove that they can read not at the third-grade level but only at the first-grade level. Beyond that, the RSA offers six “good cause exemptions” as alternate routes to the fourth grade.
What HB 2625 would do during a two-year window is add another way to promote a weak reader. A team consisting of the student’s parents or guardians, the child’s reading teacher for the past year, a reading teacher at the next grade level, the school principal and a certified reading specialist could promote the student with a unanimous recommendation. Is that subject to schoolhouse politics? You decide.
Retention may sound like the worst thing that can happen to a 10-year-old but it really isn’t. It can be the finest gift a student ever received if he or she learns to read during that “lost year.”
Weakening the RSA with too many loopholes will destroy its effectiveness. We urge all legislators, and especially those who represent Pottawatomie County, to think twice before voting to override this veto.
Gov. Fallin learned to read very well in the Tecumseh school system, but the odds are very strong that not all of her classmates were so fortunate. Some of her old friends and Barnard School playmates are likely to be suffering right now from the consequences she described in the most compelling part of her veto message:
“Oklahoma has many great schools and dedicated, hardworking teachers. But the fact remains: We are facing a crisis. We are failing to teach too many of our children the most basic skill required to succeed in school, in the workplace and in life: How to read. The results are devastating. Fourth graders who cannot read often become tenth graders who cannot read. These children become adults who struggle to find and keep living wage jobs and who are unable to support their families. Our prisons are filled with men and women who never learned to read.”
Well said, governor. Good work on the veto, too. The RSA gives enough chances and has enough exemptions as it stands. Granting another will put more children in jeopardy.

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