Academic journal article The Journal of Law in Society

The Right to Read

Academic journal article The Journal of Law in Society

The Right to Read

Article excerpt


There is no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way it treats its children.

--Nelson Mandela


"My name is [redacted] and I go too barber Focus school. The thing I whis the govern could do for my school is fix our bathroom, get us new computers, help us get more books, and more learning programs." (2)

In 2012, when this fifteen year old wrote these words, he was reading at the second- or third-grade level. (3) A student in Highland Park, a small city that abuts Detroit, he, like nearly two thirds of fourth grade students and three quarters of its seventh grade students, is not reading proficient. (4) Close to half of the students do not graduate in four years. (5) Under Michigan law, these kinds of results should never happen. In accordance with the Michigan Constitution's mandate that the State "maintain and support a system of public education, a little known state statute, MCL 380.1278 (8), requires that every student who does not show proficiency on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program ("MEAP"), the State's standardized reading proficiency test, in 4th or 7th grade shall receive "special assistance reasonably expected to enable the pupil to bring his or her reading skills to grade level within 12 months." (6) The statute, passed in the mid-1990s, creates a unique intervention, "special assistance" to raise student reading to grade level in twelve months. It targets a discrete population, fourth and seventh grade students who failed the reading portion of the MEAP. (7) It embodies the notion that the ability to achieve reading proficiency appropriate to age and grade level constitutes the root of all learning. (8) And it imposes on all school districts the duty to provide appropriate instruction and remedial assistance so that children can read at grade level by third grade--which experts consider the most critical milestone for students--and that they remain on track through eighth grade. (9)

Despite the foresight displayed by the legislature in crafting the protections at least theoretically afforded by this law, it appears never to have been implemented by the State, which has not had in place a structured literacy intervention plan, supplied the requisite literacy expertise, or woven literacy instruction throughout the curriculum at every grade level. (10) The Michigan Department of Education has phased out all literacy consultants and Wayne RESA, the regional educational service agency that provides a broad spectrum of services and support to Wayne County's 33 school districts and public school academies, has only two consultants in literacy to serve those districts and 110 charter schools/public school academies. (11)

In June of 2012, the ACLU of Michigan filed a lawsuit (12) on behalf of eight children ranging in age from nine to seventeen whose reading levels fall far below grade level and thus have been deprived of the ability to obtain a basic education. (13) The lawsuit asserts that the opportunity to achieve basic reading proficiency is a constitutional "bottom line." (14) Just a few weeks after the ACLU filed suit, Governor Rick Snyder announced that he would move the entire district, which was facing an $11 million deficit, into receivership and place it in the control of a for-profit charter operator, The Leona Group, L.L.C., with a five-year contract. (15) The "Emergency Manager," who the Governor had previously put in charge of the school district, (16) explained that the district could not continue in its present form and also repay its debt to the State. (17) She opined: "The Leona Group offered the best fit for Highland Park students and families ... In addition to their strong academic performance standards, Leona is committed to working in partnership with parents, the community, my office and the new board to ensure students in Highland Park receive the very best education possible. …

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