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Herald-Times articles

Aug. 29, 2006

Is reading sinking? Some worry that reading is in decline, others not so sure
By Anne Kibbler
August 29, 2006

Silence isn't something you would expect in a room full of seventh-graders. But when the kids in Cathy Hawkins' career class sit down for their daily 20 minutes of reading, the only sound you'll hear is the rustle of turning pages.

Every student at Tri-North Middle School participates in the Tri-North Twenty - 20 minutes of reading, just for the pleasure of it. TNT, as it's known, is part of a plan that also includes weekly reading of the newspaper and a read-aloud session at the end of each grading period.

While Tri-North students work hard to keep their interest in reading high, there is concern that not all kids - or adults - are so diligent.

In fact, some worry that reading is in danger of losing its place in the world - with potentially dire consequences for society.

Among the worriers is Bloomington author and Indiana University professor Scott Russell Sanders. Students in his own classes at the university don't seem to have the same ability or interest in reading as in the past, he said.

"I think the decline of reading is a great loss to our society, and I think it also imperils democracy," Sanders said. Relying on the visual media puts too much power in the hands of too few corporations, he believes, whereas newspapers, magazines and books provide a far wider range of opinion.

"I think it's tragic that most Americans spend less and less time reading because as citizens, we need to make decisions about complicated and long-range issues, and those issues are extremely difficult to address if not through newspapers and magazines," he said.

"On a personal level, there's the loss of pleasure and insight and adventure that reading provides. Reading clearly invites us to slow down and reflect and pay attention," Sander said. "We can look up from a page, make a cup of tea, go out into the garden and reflect on what we've read. It's much more difficult, if not impossible, for us to critically process what we see than to critically process what we read."

Reading's real place unclear

Whether reading really is in decline, as Sanders believes, seems to be up for debate. National test scores indicate a slight increase in reading at the fourth-grade level.

But test scores slip in later grades, with almost 70 percent of American eighth-graders reading below their proficiency level, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

An analysis of student reading skills earlier this year at MCCSC showed that more of the district's students read at or above grade level than students in Indiana and nationwide.

But the study also showed that the percentage of MCCSC students reading below grade level increases as the students get older. And students in the upper grades tend to lose more ground during the summer, with the most notable loss occurring between sixth and seventh grades. By the time they reach the beginning of ninth grade, 28 percent of MCCSC students are reading below grade level.

IU education professor Larry Mikulecky, director of the Center for Innovation in Assessment, says the gap between kids who read well and those who don't continues to grow throughout the school years. By middle school, teachers in different subject areas often aren't equipped to deal with the wide range of readers they might have in their classes.

At the same time, Mikulecky says, bookstores continue to thrive, and first-generation college students continue to show up in undergraduate classes and community colleges - both indications that literacy is alive and well.

In the schools, there's a push to improve reading skills in the elementary grades, with close to $5 billion in the next several years coming from the federal government's Reading First initiative. And more schools are recognizing the need to continue working on reading as students advance.

Reading a K-12 enterprise

In the MCCSC, the focus on literacy starts in preschool and continues through 12th grade, according to literacy director Cathy Diersing. Community Partners in Reading, literacy groups, Reading Recovery, Read 180, a new software-based reading intervention program, all are part of the strategy.

Diersing also has just finished putting together a semester of professional development programs for teachers. MEAL (Much Enthusiasm About Learning), and SNACKS (Seeking New Avenues Creates Kids' Success) will train teachers in literacy activities ranging from kindergarten literacy groups to family outreach. Building bridges between schools and families is part of the corporation's job, she said.

Diersing said MCCSC middle schools already are doing "an amazing job of attempting to create a culture where literacy is highly valued." She's eager to promote similar efforts in the high schools. Not being able to read by high-school age is a primary cause of disengagement, she says. And when students are disengaged, they may drop out.

"For a long time, we made the assumption that if a student gets to high school and is still struggling with reading, the only thing we could do was modify our approach and the ways to access content," she said. "Now we keep helping them to read."

For secondary school teachers to succeed in helping kids to read, they must use several strategies, IU's Mikulecky said. Those include providing a variety of reading materials rather than relying on a single textbook.

Secondary students' reading success, he said, "comes down to three pretty simple things: how much time you are spending doing it; whether you are matched up with something within your reach; and if you run into problems, are you getting decent feedback."

Mary Andis, director of English/language arts at the Indiana Department of Education, agrees with Mikulecky that students need to be exposed to different materials. Part of the drop-off in test scores in the later grades, she says, results from kids' difficulties with reading textbooks. Encouraging them to read nonfiction they enjoy, she says, should ultimately make it easier for them to follow textbooks.

Andis and Mikulecky agree that technology doesn't have to be a hindrance to literacy. If kids watch quality television, they will take in quality information, Mikulecky argues. But "if you're doing dumb stuff, you're going to be dumb."

Andis says educators have much to explore in using computers to further literacy.

"Books will always be there, even if we move almost exclusively to a nonprint society," she said. Technology opens up new avenues, but it also means more challenges for students and for teachers, who need to learn how to transfer kids' excitement about reading on the computer to reading books.

"We have a lot at our fingertips, but I'm not sure we are using it very well," Andis said. "As parents and as educators, we have a long way to go in getting everyone excited about the possibilities."

Doing the reading math

89.1 percent: Percentage of MCCSC third-graders reading at or above grade level, fall 2003

96.1 percent: Percentage of MCCSC-third graders reading at or above grade level, spring 2004

70.2 percent: Percentage of MCCSC seventh-graders reading at or above grade level, fall 2003

87.9 percent: Percentage of MCCSC seventh-graders reading at or above grade level, spring 2004

28 percent: Percentage of MCCSC ninth-graders reading below grade level at the beginning of their ninth-grade year.

65 percent: Percentage of MCCSC adult education students reading below a ninth-grade reading level.

30 percent: Percentage of MCSSC adult education students reading below a sixth-grade level.



7.8 percent: Percentage increase in dollars spent by American consumers from 1990 to 2001 on reading materials.

45.4 percent: Percentage increase in dollars spent by American consumers from 1990 to 2001 on TV, radio and sound equipment.

Average annual expenditure on reading, by age, in 2001:

Under 25 - $60

25-34 - $111

35-44 - $136

45-54 - $172

55-64 - $183

65-74 - $159

75 and older - $128

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Show & Tell; Local learning highlights
by Hayley Schilling, student correspondent
August 29, 2006


Garfield weighs in on tips for school success

Fourth grade is not too early to start thinking about a career. That's one of the messages in "Explore: Your Guide to School Success," a free booklet the Indiana Department of Education is providing to students in Bloomington and around the state.

The booklet is one in a series aimed at kids in each grade. The fourth-grade guide, with the help of comic strip character Garfield, includes articles on "Six Tips for School Success," ISTEP sample questions and tips, and "Thinking Ahead: Middle School, High School, College, Careers."

There's also a page titled "Say 'Bye to Bullies and Hello to A Brave New You." And parents can read tips on how to help their kids succeed in school.

The booklets are produced by the department of education, the Indiana Commission on Higher Education, and the Learn More Resource Center, based at Indiana University.



My sophomore year will forever be known as the year of the acronym. It starts here: the anxious ticking of time, No. 2 sharpened pencils, proctors, and those pressing questions. Are calculators legal? Do I guess or leave it blank? Is my circle filled in neatly and completely enough? And the scariest one of all. … Why does my mom have such a strained look on her face as she recites the parent mantra, "I'm always proud of you, no matter how this turns out"?

Until recently, popular initializing was left for text messaging, MTV, and ESPN. But, now there is a family of new abbreviations creeping into my vocabulary, such as: the PSAT, a precursor to the SAT, ACT, MP3, PDA, etc. These tiny acronyms strike fear into the heart of any high school student. So, it was with some amusement that I recently picked up a new book by Alexandra Robbins called "The Overachievers," and literally could not put it down.

As I read stories about kids just like us - a teacher's pet, the awkward nerd, Miss Popularity, the superstar, an AP maniac, and an unlikely OA who rose to the top of the heap by conquering self doubt, my life and the lives of my friends played out before me. Let's not forget the pushy parents racked by guilt and stuck in competitive personal gratification mode. The bottom line is that we are faced with the worst timing possible. There are too many talented kids for money and placement in top schools, making the pressure to succeed quite simply overwhelming. Robbins' message is that the rules need to change, and I couldn't agree more. Colleges need to look at prospective students not by what they've done, but by what their experiences have made them.

Tenth-grader Hayley is providing bi-weekly diary entries. Seventh-grader Claire Atwood will be writing next week.

Groups doing well, but needs more help; Program that's key to attracting minority students needs some company if IU is to make its goal
August 29, 2006

Indiana University's goal of doubling the number of under-represented minority students by 2014 is ambitious, particularly at the same time admissions standards are becoming tougher. In plain English: the under-represented minorities at IU are blacks and Hispanics - the two groups that score the lowest on standardized tests used for college admissions.

IU's Groups Student Support Services program, featured in a two-day series by H-T reporter Steve Hinnefeld, must be one of the key components to helping IU meet its goal. The program helps first-generation college students - those without a parent who has completed a four-year college degree - get a strong start on the university experience.

About 65 percent of the students in the Groups program are either black or Hispanic. About half of the new black students at IU Bloomington every year take part in the program.

The students receive strong counseling, mentoring and support from program director Janice Wiggins, Groups alumni and the students' peers. The six-week experience is an introduction to the rigors of college, and includes the chance to build an invaluable academic and social network.

The program, which began in 1968, is getting better with age. During the last 10 years, the graduation rate for students who have entered the program has doubled.

"The Groups program is a major feature, historically and presently, of Indiana University's efforts to diversify the student body," said Charlie Nelms, IU's vice president for institutional development and student affairs. "And going forward, I fully anticipate it will continue to be a major piece."

IU needs to build on the success of Groups if it is going to have any shot at making its goals for minority recruitment. The university should investigate expanding it from its current enrollment of 300 students.

But more than that, IU officials must aggressively seek new avenues for attracting and retaining qualified under-represented minority students.

It's a diverse world out there, and IU's flagship campus can't be as effective as possible unless it reflects that.

Ivy Tech president plans to step down
Associated Press
August 29, 2006

INDIANAPOLIS - The president of Ivy Tech Community College said Monday he plans to step down, becoming the third Indiana public college president this year to announce his departure.

Gerald I. Lamkin, 70, became president of Ivy Tech in 1983. He helped transform it from a vocational school to the state's community college, which enrolled more than 69,000 students on 23 campuses this fall, up 7 percent from a year ago. He plans to step down on June 30, 2007.

"My time at Ivy Tech has been the most rewarding times of my life," Lamkin said in a news release. "We have made tremendous strides in establishing an effective and enriching community college system for the state of Indiana."

Ivy Tech took over the state's community college system last year. State leaders hope the school will help a higher education system that traditionally has pushed most students toward more expensive four-year campuses at Purdue and Indiana universities.

"In order for the state to reach its economic and work force development goals, Ivy Tech must be in a position to provide the training and education that is needed to prepare thousands of Hoosiers for the jobs of the future," Lamkin said.

Martin Jischke said earlier this month that he would retire from Purdue University next summer. Indiana University President Adam Herbert told trustees in January that he would not return when his contract expires in 2008. A national search will be conducted to replace Lamkin, who will serve as president emeritus.

Lamkin first become a member of the Ivy Tech staff in 1967 as an accounting and management instructor in Indianapolis. In 1972 he was named vice president for the college and dean for the Anderson, Connersville, Marion, Muncie and Richmond campuses. In 1979 he was named vice president for regional operations before becoming president in 1983.

Gov. Mitch Daniels, under whose administration Ivy Tech was transformed into a community college, praised Lamkin's leadership.

"Gerald Lamkin is the father of the community college system in Indiana," he said in the news release. "He has led Ivy Tech to its central position in the economic future of Indiana."

IU chemistry building closed briefly because of chemical leak
by Marcela Creps
August 29, 2006

The Indiana University Chemistry Building reopened Monday morning after hazmat teams closed it in the early morning hours to handle a chemical leak.

According to IU Police Department Capt. Jerry Minger, a professor in the chemistry building smelled something suspicious and called a building manager at about 11:15 p.m. Sunday. Investigation revealed a leak in a small tank of hydrogen chloride in Room 338.

A hazardous-materials team from the Bloomington Township Fire Department was called in and the building was roped off.

According to IU spokesman Larry McIntyre, the cylinder is kept in a fume hood that pulls air into the room to dilute the chemical. The air then is forced out of the building, with the fumes at a concentration low enough to make the air safe.

"It's just a slow leak," McIntyre said.

The chemistry building was reopened, but personnel were kept out of Room 338 until the leaking cylinder could be removed.

McIntyre said there was no danger to anyone in or around the building.

Dangerous alcohol levels worry police
by Marcela Creps
August 29, 2006

With Indiana University back in full swing, area police agencies are busy handling alcohol-related calls.

Since Aug. 22, the IU Police Department has cited 30 people, including 21 IU students, for alcohol-related offenses ranging from public intoxication to drunken driving to illegal consumption.

The number is down from last year, when IUPD cited or arrested 58 people during the same time frame, but Capt. Jerry Minger said the level of intoxication is worse than last year.

"The biggest concern for us is the number of times we've had to call ambulances," he said.

A review of records of the 30 arrests this past week shows that police requested an ambulance 10 times. There also were three other ambulance calls that didn't result in an arrest involving an intoxicated person.

While some people may still be able to walk home after a night of drinking, their paths can include vandalism, according to Bloomington Police Detective Sgt. David Drake.

"Antennas are broken off. Windows are smashed," Drake said. "That's a common thing. Those happen as well as trash cans knocked over all along Kirkwood."

And such behavior isn't limited to students. Early Saturday morning, Bloomington Police Department officers arrested two men, ages 22 and 23, on charges of criminal mischief and public intoxication.

According to the police report, a security guard saw the men walking down Morton Street swinging on light poles and posts. The duo eventually pulled down a light pole at Sixth and Morton streets, which was still lit when officers arrived.

Indiana State Excise Police officers issued more than 100 citations between last Thursday and Sunday for a variety of offenses. Excise officers charged 62 minors with possession, consumption or transportation of alcohol. There also were 18 minors charged with possession of fake IDs.

According to excise officer Travis Thickstun, police worked with retailers to catch underage patrons as well as adults who supply alcohol to minors. Excise hopes to set the tone for the school year to discourage underage drinking.

Thickstun said officers also were out this weekend looking for problems. He said one person who was cited walked in front of an unmarked police vehicle and made the officer stop so he could stagger across.

"Some people ask for it, I guess you could say," Thickstun said.

People lose their bearings

Intoxicated people are often confused about where they are and can be found in compromising positions.

In IUPD's 30 calls, intoxicated individuals have been found next to the flag pole at Eigenmann Hall, stumbling into the roadway on Indiana Avenue, and in the parking lot behind Kilroy's on Kirkwood.

"Not a good place to go unconscious," Minger said of the man found on Kirkwood. "It makes everyone a little bit more worried."

Last Wednesday around 7:30 a.m., IUPD officers responded to the Institute of Social Research at 1022 E. Third St. According to the police report, workers found a 20-year-old man wearing only boxers and pounding on doors and turning off lights.

"He had no idea where he was," Minger said.

The man, who had no idea where he lived, was cited for public intoxication and illegal consumption.

A few good Samaritans found an intoxicated male in front of the Sigma Pi house Saturday. After driving him to Teter Quad, the young man began vomiting into a trash can before passing out. Minger said officers used a sternum rub to try to awaken the young man, but to no avail. IUPD then called an ambulance to transport the man to the hospital.

Passing out can be deadly

Students passing out in unsafe places worry Jackie Booker, clinical director of the Bloomington Hospital Emergency Department.

"Alcohol poisoning is real," Booker said. "It happens to real people who don't have any intention of overdosing on alcohol. And they can die from it."

Booker said students need to understand that passing out alone can be deadly if a person vomits and aspirates or stops breathing.

Booker also warned that intoxicated people lose bladder control, which means hospital personnel either insert a catheter or put an adult-sized diaper on the person.

"We have to assess their breathing," she said. "We draw lab work. Sometimes we have to put a breathing tube down."

Booker said that intoxicated patients need a lot of care.

"This results in a very large financial burden just because we can't send them back to the dorms in an unconscious, intoxicated state," Booker said.

Not only is the abuse of alcohol dangerous, but for someone who passes out or is incoherent, the possibility of sexual abuse also rises.

"It just opens the person up to so many things," Booker said.

Excise violations

Indiana State Excise Police officers issued 107 summonses in Bloomington the week before classes began at Indiana University.

Most summonses issued were for illegal consumption or possession of alcoholic beverages, including: 62 minors charged with illegal possession, consumption or transportation of alcohol; 18 minors charged with possessing false identification; 11 adults charged with furnishing alcohol to minors; three people charged with drug possession, and 13 additional charges for a variety of offenses.

Throughout the week, officers worked with officers from the Bloomington Police Department, Monroe County Sheriff's Department and Indiana State Police.