Across the Street column: Reading is the top priority |

Across the Street column: Reading is the top priority

Joyce Rankin
Larry Laszlo

I taught public school fifth-graders a long time ago, sometimes called “old school.” At least it seems like it these days. However, there’s one thing that never changes: reading. If you’ve been reading my columns this past year, you know that I believe reading should be the highest teaching priority. Since you are reading this column, you, too, have learned to read. But what are teachers required to teach and what demands priority in their classroom?

First, we look at all things that determine a curriculum. In Colorado, the local board of education and the district make determinations about classroom curriculum. Here are a few classroom subjects that we frequently hear are priorities these days: social-emotional instruction, climate change, sex education, bullying, school safety, active shooter drills, anxiety coping, comfort animals (college for this one), mental health, vaping, food insecurity, suicide prevention, trauma, feeling unsafe (fear), character building and mindfulness (to name a few).

How do teachers determine where they spend valuable classroom time? I hear selecting curriculum can be, and is, overwhelming for teachers. By the way, did I forget to mention reading and writing? What’s important, and how does a teacher prioritize?

To me, reading should be first and foremost on a teacher’s list. Evidence-based research states that students between grades K-3 should be taught reading skills for at least 90 minutes per day. For every year they are behind grade level, an additional 15 minutes should be added. Why? Because the most important role in education is to prepare children to become successful readers. This is the mission of the READ Act (Reading to Ensure Academic Success) that I’ve been sharing with community members in my district. In September, I was in Moffat County, a school district where teachers have learned the science of teaching reading. In this district elementary students have experienced considerable achievement growth, surpassing the state average, since their teachers were trained. I’ve also been in New Castle, Mancos, Norwood, Durango, Pagosa Springs and Pueblo. In October, I’m scheduled to speak in Montrose, Grand Junction and Steamboat Springs. Some subjects are challenging to measure, but evidence-based reading instruction is measurable, is proven to work and leads to success. In kindergarten through third grade, students learn to read, then they read to learn. And, quite possibly, acquire information, not from being told, but by reading firsthand.

If you know of additional subjects that are prioritized higher than reading, send me an email ( And please don’t include math, science, social studies, art and music. That’s “old school!”

Joyce Rankin is a member of the State Board of Education. The Department of Education is located across the street from the Capitol. “Across the Street” will appear monthly.

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