Principals, parents work together for literacy

Alfred Tatum

Alfred Tatum, dean of the College of Education, in the UIC Reading Clinic. Tatum received funding from the
Kellogg Foundation for a project to improve the literacy of African American boys. Photo: Lloyd DeGrane

 

Literacy expert Alfred Tatum believes a new generation of literacy leaders must work with urban school principals and parents to empower African American boys.

Tatum, dean of the College of Education, received a three-year grant of nearly $1 million from the Kellogg Foundation to improve the literacy of 100 African American boys in grades 3, 4 and 5 by working through 20 parents and five school principals in schools on Chicago’s South and West sides.

The schools will be selected from those led by principals enrolled in UIC’s Urban Education Leadership doctoral program, which prepares principals to transform urban public schools. The project begins this fall.

Each principal will choose four parents to assist students in a five-week summer writing institute based on Tatum’s summer institute for African American adolescent males.

“Essentially, I’m preparing emerging literacy leaders and parents to do what I’ve been doing, but with younger students,” Tatum said. “The purpose is to nurture leadership in teaching literacy in the primary grades.

“Although reading education has benefited from 45 years of policy shift, many standardized assessments indicate that educators across the country continually struggle to advance the reading and writing skills of African American boys in the primary grades, particularly in high-poverty neighborhoods.”

Tatum said most previous literacy efforts focus on reading skills, ignoring the need for students to gain intelligence across disciplines. In his project, students will read materials in 10 academic areas, including science, math, sociology, philosophy and the classics.

Educators fail to consider the “multiple identities that boys bring to the classroom — personal, cultural, economic, gender and community,” Tatum said.

“As a result, literacy reform efforts have underestimated the depths of literacy needs in both segregated and integrated schools,” he said. “Additionally, institutions of higher education do not have a strong track record of preparing principals as literacy leaders, especially leaders who work to advance the literacy development of African American boys.”

The Early Literacy Impact Project will recruit and train five UIC graduate students to become experts in reading instruction.