School district's program change hard to fathom

It's one of the first pieces of advice a new parent is likely to hear about raising the kids: Read to them.

Read to them regularly, and they'll grow up to be readers themselves. Make reading time engaging. Make it personal. Because educators know it too — and because they have steep federal reading benchmarks to meet — they long have focused on one-on-one and small-group reading programs.

Teachers covet aide time, rope in parents with an hour to spare and grab community volunteers, all in an effort to get more people reading to and with youngsters.

This is where it becomes difficult to understand a change afoot in the Medford School District.

The district announced this month that it will reorganize the way it uses a staff of 18 experts, calling them "instructional" rather than "reading" coaches.

Some of the coaches work directly with kids now, but that won't be the case come fall. Instead, their jobs will be to teach teachers.

For its part, the district wants to be clear that the $1.4 million devoted to the new program is not new spending. It's available because of reorganization.

That would be great if the reorganization made sense. But here the district is taking money, a large part of which is spent directly on children, where the effort is proven to pay off, and using it where there are no guarantees. The district could have decided to use just one or two of the coaches to test the new approach, but instead it will convert them all.

While it makes sense that teachers who understand how best to reach students will be more effective, it is not clear that more teacher training will outweigh the benefit of individual help for kids.

It's no surprise here that the district's teachers union opposes the change.

Although teachers might have a number of reasons to dislike it, the most obvious is that they will continue to face the challenge of handling kids with diverse abilities — and they'll have fewer hands available to get the job done.

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