Yudof presents plan for children’s literacy

by Kristin Gustafson

ROCHESTER, Minn. — If University President Mark Yudof gets his way, the state and the University would invest $15 million to $20 million in literacy for children before they even reach college.
Yudof presented his Minnesota Marshall Plan — which would ensure every Minnesota child reads at or above the third-grade level by third grade — to the Board of Regents on Friday at their monthly meeting held in Rochester, Minn.
The plan, to be funded by the state Education Department or other state institutions, would expand a federal initiative called “America Reads” and other early literacy plans.
State colleges and universities, including the University of Minnesota, would work with local school districts, providing tutors and other early-literacy resources.
University involvement is ideal, Yudof said.
“We know how to train teachers,” he told board members. “We know how to train volunteers; we know how to deploy them; we know how to do it efficiently so the costs aren’t driven up to a level that is not affordable.”
Yudof said early literacy is a high priority for the board, faculty members and himself.
“No skill is more critical for education than reading,” he added.
At the Minnesota Literacy Summit in September, Yudof pledged to renew the University’s commitment to primary and secondary education — particularly in literacy.
In the past year, the University sent out nearly 200 of its students to tutor in the St. Paul and Minneapolis districts.
While the students are trained and supervised using state-of-the art techniques, more funding is necessary, said Bob Bruininks, vice president and provost.
The 1999 Legislature turned down a $900,000 plan to fund University-led literacy efforts, prompting Yudof to pursue a statewide proposal.
“We’ll get out of this,” Yudof said. “Give the money to whoever you want to give it to, the State Education department or similar institutions, and we’ll be here to give you the training and give you the research results and work with the volunteers.”
As a land-grant university, the University is obliged to research, reach out and be accessible, Yudof said. If students do not graduate from high school, Yudof said, it is difficult to provide a University education.
Eighty percent of students who are still poor readers in fourth grade will function as illiterate adults, according to literature distributed at the regents meeting.
Nationally, 60 percent of urban fourth-graders read below their grade level, said Bruininks.
Poor children are automatically at a disadvantage. By age 4, a poor child might have been exposed to 13 million fewer words than a child from a working-class family and 30 million fewer than a child from a professional family, according to a two-year study by human development researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley.
Early literacy programs also complement Gov. Jesse Ventura’s goals of reducing class size, Yudof said. Carol Johnson, the superintendent of Minneapolis public schools, and Pat Harvey, the superintendent of St. Paul public schools, support the plan, Yudof said.
He encouraged the Republican, Reform and Democratic parties to work with the University and the state Department of Education to make the early-literacy program a priority.
“Why don’t we get off our duffs,” Yudof said.

Kristin Gustafson covers University administration and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3211.