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Recently the organization representing state education superintendents issued a statement urging their members to make reading instruction a core focus.

During the rest of this season, we will have an ongoing discussion of why the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) took such an unusual step and the implications of its statement.

To kick off this series of discussions, noted reading researcher Dr. Alfred Tatum talks with Karin Chenoweth and Dr. Tanji Reed Marshall about the state of reading in the United States, including how difficult it is to know with certainty how well American children read—and how much they read. Tatum talks of the need to ensure that all children learn to read not only at a basic or proficient level but at the kind of advanced level that will ensure that they are able to access the kinds of texts that allow them to learn about science, social studies, math, and the arts.

“Many of our students went from undeserved to underserved,” Tatum said, adding that many students have been thought of as not “deserving” certain kinds of texts, which then leads to them being underserved and unable to develop their multiple identities as scientists, historians, mathematicians, writers, and artists. “We have legitimized underperformance,” he said.

“It’s so much better when we have our instruction sit at the intersection of helping kids become better readers and helping kids become smarter about something.”

Tatum linked the ability to read with the ability to protect and advance communities.

“It’s not just about their literacy development, it’s about their lives. If that doesn’t allow us to stay steadfast I don’t know what will.”

The podcast was recorded on February 23rd, the day before Tatum was moving from Chicago, where he served as dean of the school of education at University of Illinois-Chicago, to his new post as provost and vice president of academic affairs at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.

He is the author of Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males: Closing the Achievement Gap (Stenhouse Publishers, 2005), Reading For Their Life: (Re)building the Textual Lineages of African American Adolescent Males (Heinemann, 2009) and Fearless Voices: Engaging the Next Generation of African American Male Writers (Scholastic Teaching Resources, 2013).