Is There a “Right to Learn to Read”?

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of some 1,000 grade-school children from Highland Park, near Detroit, on Thursday. The suit alleges that both the school district and the state of Michigan have failed to ensure that students can read at grade level, as mandated under state law and by the US Constitution.

The lawsuit specifically cites a “right to read” provision in Michigan law according to which

A pupil who does not score satisfactorily on the 4th or 7th grade MEAP reading test shall be provided special assistance reasonably expected to enable the pupil to bring his or her reading skills to grade level within 12 months.

Three-quarters of the children in the school district do not have the basic literacy skills for their grade level, a state of affairs that is “severe and heartbreaking,” says Mark Rosenbaum, a University of Michigan Law School professor and ACLU cooperating attorney in the Detroit Free Press:

“The Highland Park School District leaves every child behind in its separate and oh, so unequal schools,” Rosenbaum said during a press conference at the organization’s Woodward Avenue headquarters.

“These children have no educational opportunities, and it’s as if they were living in an impoverished Third World country.”

Rosenbaum also told NPR that “No case ever filed anywhere in the U.S. has addressed a school system in such dire straits.”

While the lawsuit was filed on behalf of eight children, Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, emphasized that the lawsuit could have represented many more Michigan schools that are ranked in the bottom 5 percent and that Highland  Parks schools represent the “canary in the coal mine.”

“I’ve got an 11th-grade daughter who .. [is] reading at a third-grade level,” said one of the parents, Michelle Johnson, whose five children are in the school district.

According to The Washington Post, the ACLU had some of the students tested by an expert; the results (pdf) are, in the words of Professor Rosenbaum “heartbreaking.” Students were asked to write a letter to Gov. Rick Snyder describing their school. One 14-year-old student who was found to be reading at a first-grade level wrote:

My name is Quemtin . . . and you can make the school gooder by geting people that will do the jod that is pay for get a football tame for the kinds mybe a baksball tamoe get a other jamtacher for the school get a lot of tacher.

Another student wrote:

Hi My name is [name withheld] and i go the school at Barber Focus and i would like you to make Better reading Books and cleaner water and supply for the classroom

School officials, educators and politicians have  been aware of the plight of Highland Park students. In May, Gov. Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager to “fix” Highland Park Schools’ budget deficit which is more than $11 million up from $6.6 million, according to Michigan Public Radio.

Due to the immense deficit, the district has announced that all of its schools would become charter schools. Noting that his organization had been raising the alarm about Highland Park students’ low reading scores for years, American Federation of Teachers Michigan president David Hecker argued that “there is no evidence that simply turning struggling schools over to charter management companies will enhance student learning.” The decision to do so is based not on education, said Hecker, but finances.

But how to ensure Highland Park students of their “right to read” is up in the air. The ACLU’s Ross noted that, among many issues, the district lacks textbooks, student files are disorganized and buildings are in poor condition. As she emphasized, “this is not about pro- or anti-charter (schools), it’s not about funding, or pro- or anti-emergency managers” — it is not about many of the routinely-cited issues that plague struggling schools and school districts but about the children’s right to read, as guaranteed by law.

Is there a federally protected “right to read”? Or, in the effort to ensure that Highland Park students can read at grade level, is the ACLU’s lawsuit sidestepping more traditional educational reforms such as curriculum design and teacher training?

Related Care2 Coverage

Kids Reading Too Much? Blame the E-Reader

Teaching Reading Using…. the Written Word

Low Literacy in Adults Poses Serious Health Risks

 

Photo by Roots & Wings International

65 comments

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N4 years ago

If people can read, and are taught in such a manner that they love reading and maintain the natural curiosity that we're born with, and have access to a variety of books, with well-stocked public libraries available, they can educate themselves in many ways, as well as broadening their minds.

No wonder corporate industry both wants and denigrates illiterates...

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Lika S.
Lika P4 years ago

What cop outs... Turn them to charter schools because of the deficit?

A well educated community is what helps make jobs better, and higher income means better jobs, and economic growth. Turn the education to get screwed over like this just makes it so that business fails, and more people go into the cycle of poverty.

Make the schools better, and the deficits will improve in the future. By ignoring the situation, you're going to make it worse.

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Nicole Bergeron
Nicole Bergeron5 years ago

I think that if you cannot get a good education (for what ever reason), you should at least learn the basic reading of your language, once you learn that in school, if you have a love for it, you will find ways to make leaps and bounds in it. But many children ARE not even getting the basics. The basic studies are the foundation for every advanced class there is.

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Pamela Tracy
Pamela Tracy5 years ago

It is the dumbing down of America and young people all over the world...I saw it myself as a Peace Corps Volunteer...how young people were misled to disrespect education even young men..some young men learned after dropping out of secondary *high school" and went back to get their diploma....the powers that be do not want so much challenge from so many people being educated...educated women tend to have less children for the system to abuse...educated women tend to want a diploma...and if feasible college educations....educated women like myself who did not get a four year college degree...however have a total of 200 plus credit hours not funneled into college credits...we have a problem being recognized as highly intelligent just because we did not finish a college program...however the system did not even want us to be educated at all....this is not new...EVERYONE SHOULD READ ...READING IS LEARNING....I HAVE READ ABOUT PEOPLE WHO HAVE READ BOOKS AND ARE MORE EDUCATED THAN COLLEGE GRADS...SO READDDDDDD...READING SHOULD BE MORE THAN A RIGHT IT SHOULD BE A MUST.....

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Bronwyn M.
Bronwyn Mackay5 years ago

All over the world, language, literacy and general educational standards have fallen drastically and dangerously with the One World Government behind this. It is NO ACCIDENT, it is a planned action to prevent people from becoming literate. After all, literate people are able to read and understand things and this hideous 'New Age' governing body wants drones, not intelligent, intellectual, reasoning people to contend with. I am qualified Speech, Language and LIteracy Specialist and I was disgracefully 'sacked' due to an unblemished record of having learning disabled students LEARN TO READ AND UNDERSTAND THE SPOKEN AND WRITTEN WORD BETTER THAN THEIR AVERAGE AND ABOVE AVERAGE PEERS!!!! What an evil indictment this is against our government/s. If I can do this with just 30 mins a day for 3-4 days per week, imagine what a classroom teacher SHOULD be able to do having the same student for the remainder of the day, and of course all the other "BETTER" equipped students to deal with!!!!! Wake up people and realise that our children, OUR HERITAGE, OUR FUTURE is being destroyed before our very eyes by the most evil government force ever devised on this planet. I am not a weirdo, nor am I a liar, I tell you the absolute truth. WE ARE ALL UNDER THIS ONE WORLD GOVERNMENT WHICH IS HEADED UP BY A SMALL NUMBER OF THE WORLD'S RICHEST MEN AND IT IS CENTRED IN ROME!!!!!! Get on your faces before Almighty God, REPENT AND PRAY EARNESTLY FOR HIS MERCY AND GRACE so you will have the cour

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Bronwyn M.
Bronwyn Mackay5 years ago

All over the world, language, literacy and general educational standards have fallen drastically and dangerously with the One World Government behind this. It is NO ACCIDENT, it is a planned action to prevent people from becoming literate. After all, literate people are able to read and understand things and this hideous 'New Age' governing body wants drones, not intelligent, intellectual, reasoning people to contend with. I am qualified Speech, Language and LIteracy Specialist and I was disgracefully 'sacked' due to an unblemished record of having learning disabled students LEARN TO READ AND UNDERSTAND THE SPOKEN AND WRITTEN WORD BETTER THAN THEIR AVERAGE AND ABOVE AVERAGE PEERS!!!! What an evil indictment this is against our government/s. If I can do this with just 30 mins a day for 3-4 days per week, imagine what a classroom teacher SHOULD be able to do having the same student for the remainder of the day, and of course all the other "BETTER" equipped students to deal with!!!!! Wake up people and realise that our children, OUR HERITAGE, OUR FUTURE is being destroyed before our very eyes by the most evil government force ever devised on this planet. I am not a weirdo, nor am I a liar, I tell you the absolute truth. WE ARE ALL UNDER THIS ONE WORLD GOVERNMENT WHICH IS HEADED UP BY A SMALL NUMBER OF THE WORLD'S RICHEST MEN AND IT IS CENTRED IN ROME!!!!!! Get on your faces before Almighty God, REPENT AND PRAY EARNESTLY FOR HIS MERCY AND GRACE so you will have the cour

SEND
Bronwyn M.
Bronwyn Mackay5 years ago

All over the world, language, literacy and general educational standards have fallen drastically and dangerously with the One World Government behind this. It is NO ACCIDENT, it is a planned action to prevent people from becoming literate. After all, literate people are able to read and understand things and this hideous 'New Age' governing body wants drones, not intelligent, intellectual, reasoning people to contend with. I am qualified Speech, Language and LIteracy Specialist and I was disgracefully 'sacked' due to an unblemished record of having learning disabled students LEARN TO READ AND UNDERSTAND THE SPOKEN AND WRITTEN WORD BETTER THAN THEIR AVERAGE AND ABOVE AVERAGE PEERS!!!! What an evil indictment this is against our government/s. If I can do this with just 30 mins a day for 3-4 days per week, imagine what a classroom teacher SHOULD be able to do having the same student for the remainder of the day, and of course all the other "BETTER" equipped students to deal with!!!!! Wake up people and realise that our children, OUR HERITAGE, OUR FUTURE is being destroyed before our very eyes by the most evil government force ever devised on this planet. I am not a weirdo, nor am I a liar, I tell you the absolute truth. WE ARE ALL UNDER THIS ONE WORLD GOVERNMENT WHICH IS HEADED UP BY A SMALL NUMBER OF THE WORLD'S RICHEST MEN AND IT IS CENTRED IN ROME!!!!!! Get on your faces before Almighty God, REPENT AND PRAY EARNESTLY FOR HIS MERCY AND GRACE so you will have the cour

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George Boggs
George Boggs5 years ago

There is a problem. I blame most of it on the administrators. They refuse to hold children back in the lower grades. It would make them and the teachers look bad, as if they were not doing their job. That is sad. Some of the good teachers just give up. That is when and where the Board of Education should step in and replace Principals and or teachers. The grade testing is a must. Teachers and Administrators must be held responsible. The records of each teacher, should follow them where ever they go, from one job to another. The Teachers Union contract should be for One year at a time, so they can eliminate the bad ones. There has to be a way to help these under preforming children, and it must come from the local level. The government can not do every thing for every body. It boils down to each school system must be held accountable.

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Von C.
Von D5 years ago

I don't know where people got all these lists of things they claim to be rights these days. The only right you have as far as school is concerned, is that school will be provided for you to attend. What you do with that right is up to you. You aren't guaranteed to learn anything. You have the right to sit there and do nothing and learn nothing if you want. If your children don't learn anything it is your fault, not the schools. Perhaps the parents need to cut back on all the after school activities, or maybe spend some time with their own children to make sure they are learning.

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Kamryn M.
Kay M5 years ago

there probably should be.

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