$1 million literacy project to reach African American boys

Alfred Tatum

Alfred Tatum, dean of the UIC College of Education. / Photo: Jenny Fontaine (click image to download)

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 at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has 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 the South and West sides.

The schools will be selected from those led by principals enrolled in UIC’s Urban Education Leadership doctoral program, which is designed to prepare principals to transform urban public schools.

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

“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 benefitted 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 have focused solely on reading skills, ignoring the need for students to gain intelligence across disciplines. In his framework, students will read materials relating to 10 academic areas, including science, math, sociology, philosophy and the classics.

He also noted that educators have failed to consider the “multiple identities that boys bring to the classroom — personal, cultural, economic, gender and community.

“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 has five objectives:

  • Professional development for elementary school principals that focuses on the literacy development of African American boys
  • Recruiting and training five UIC graduate students to become experts in reading instruction
  • Literacy initiatives in Chicago and suburban schools that directly affect African American boys in grades 3, 4 and 5, to be led by the five graduate students
  • The summer institute for African American boys and 20 parent-assistants, who will share their knowledge and experience with other parents
  • Publishing research and a database on how to use the Early Literacy Impact methods in other schools and principal preparation programs

Tatum said the project will teach standards for literacy leadership that correspond to standards of the National Policy Board of Education Administration and the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium. The two organizations promote visionary, instructional, organizational, collaborative, ethical and political leadership.

The Early Literacy Impact Project will begin this fall and is funded through summer 2018.

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