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Politics of Education Class Battles Illiteracy

Government professor Doug Reed

Government professor Doug Reed talks Andrew Levine (C'11) about his experience as a tutor at Randle Highlands Elementary School in Southeast D.C. Levine's tutoring is part of a community-based learning component to Reed's Politics of Education class.

November 12, 2010 –Students in government professor Doug Reed’s Politics of Education course are seeing the result of failed educational policies in the form of young, low-income children in Washington, D.C., who aren’t reading on grade level.

The students are helping children in grades first through third in the city’s poorest neighborhoods through the DC Reads program.

A Critical Stage

Hannah Klusendorf (C

Hannah Klusendorf (C'12), a student in Doug Reed's Politics of Education class, takes a break from tutoring two students at Davis Elementary School in Southeast D.C. Klusendorf is one of the elementary school's coordinators for Georgetown's DC Reads program.

“A lot of research has shown that if kids aren’t reading by fourth grade they have enormous challenges staying in school and then eventually finding employment,” Reed says. “So what DC Reads does is help these public schools get kids through that very critical stage.

Reed got the idea to have his students tutor the children after participating in a two-day session this past May on community-based learning.

Led by Georgetown’s Center for Social Justice Research and Teaching (CSJ), the session was part of university’s annual Teaching, Learning and Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI).

Political Microcosm

“I want the students to think, in complex ways, about how education is shaped by politics and how it also kind of creates a kind of politics of its own,” Reed says. “I wanted to add a community-based learning component to help the students see some of these conflicts play out in microcosms in schools today.”

The DC Reads program began in 1997 as a local response to the America Reads Challenge, a literacy initiative established to improve reading proficiency for all elementary students.

“[Reed] is not only using DC Reads in a mutually beneficial way to support education, he is thinking about how research can be informed by the programming that goes out into the community to generate changes in education,” says Nathaniel Roloff, program director for DC Reads at CSJ.

“Some of our most engaged tutors … are from this course,” he explains.

Education Reform

“The work I'm doing with children reminds me what we want out of education reform - children who can read, who feel they can succeed in school and want to be there, and eventually who will be able to move on to college or employment,” says Andrew Levine (C’11), a government major who tutors first-, second- and third-graders at Randle Highlands Elementary School every Saturday.

“When I work one-on-one with children,” he says, “I can see which strategies of teaching work better than others, and this can often stand in for what educational policies could be more successful in the future.”

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