Don’t Get Body Slammed by a Lowland Gorilla

Just last week a student of mine alluded to one of those ridiculous old Direct TV commercials.  Remember these?  “When you pay too much for cable, you feel down.  When you feel down, you stay in bed.  When you stay in bed, they give your job to someone else…” The scenario quickly devolves so that a gorilla is escaping from the zoo and body slamming you all because you started this chain reaction by paying too much for cable.   The call to action at the end of these commercials is always something like, “Don’t get body slammed by a lowland gorilla, get rid of cable.”

It might sound silly but when I looked up this commercial again this week I was reminded of some research I recently saw that showed despite relatively large academic improvements for Latino students over the last 10 years, almost 1/4 of Latino students are not proficient in reading and in many cases they are 3 grades behind their peers.

The research is disheartening since reading proficiency is a bedrock for so many other academic and life skills.  In fact, the article points out that, “students who are still poor readers by the end of third grade are less likely to understand what is taught in later grades… and reading achievement in fourth grade is a reasonably good predictor of high school graduation rates.”

I know this is an oversimplification but on some level, when you are behind in math, you struggle in math… when you are behind in social science, you struggle in social science… but when you are behind in reading, you struggle in everything.  Imagine what that does to the confidence of a 3rd grader.  I’m behind and I’m falling more and more behind every day.  If it were a Direct TV commercial, lacking reading proficiency would be the initial event that would start the inevitable chain reaction that leads to something horrific (dropping out of school, lacking job options, etc.)

The fact that this research directly identifies Latino students makes it even more critical, as Latino students are the largest minority group in the nation – they will make up one third of US students by the year 2030.

When I was discussing this data with a group of fellow educators, our conversation quickly turned to how to address this achievement gap — how to stop this chain reaction before it’s bitter end.  Several excellent ideas and resources were mentioned.  These included lots of communication, primary language supports, home visits, school supports in place for students and families, food closets, clothes closets, parenting classes, parent nights to learn how to help their students with class work or homework, providing equal access to technology, embedded intervention, and reading support offered early and often.

Ultimately, we’ve got to do something.  We simply can’t afford not to.  There is no single best solution for every school or district.  We’ve got to try different things, diligently measure the success of anything we try, and regularly reevaluate to make adjustments.

To boil this down to the simple message from the folks at Direct TV: “Don’t get body slammed by a lowland gorilla, close the achievement gap.”

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