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Brewer wants greater emphasis on early childhood reading instruction

In an effort to promote better early childhood reading instruction, Gov. Jan Brewer wants to make it easier for those not formally trained in education to be able to enter classrooms as teachers.

In an effort to promote better early childhood reading instruction, Gov. Jan Brewer wants to make it easier for those not formally trained in education to be able to enter classrooms as teachers.

PHOENIX -- Third graders who can't read at the expected level for children their age should not be promoted to fourth grade, Gov. Jan Brewer said Monday.

And she wants to make it easier for those not formally trained in education to be able to enter classrooms as teachers.

Brewer, in her State of the State speech, said nothing in current law ensures that students have the basic reading skills they need to go on in school.

"Yet we continue to promote them to more advanced classes, knowing that at every stop we dim the light of their promise,' the governor said.

Rep. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, who chairs the House Education Committee, said Brewer is on the right track. But Crandall said the program needs to be structured so that it doesn't actually result in a lot of kids being held back.

The key, he said, is working with the youngsters much earlier.

"We know by end of first grade who's not on track to be reading by third,' Crandall said. "But we don't have any prescribed intervention.'

Brewer in her speech said she's willing to work with Crandall and Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, his Senate counterpart, to come up with a plan.

What Crandall has in mind is testing students in second grade to see how well they are reading. Those who are not keeping up would have to attend some sort of summer school or extra program to help them catch up before going on to third grade.

The same process would take place in third grade, Crandall said, with students who do not pass reading tests at the end of that grade sent to special programs. Only if they fail the reading test at that point, he said, would they be held back.

Crandall's plan faces one key hurdle: lack of cash. But Crandall said that can be solved by voters.

He specifically has his eyes on an 80-cent-a-pack increase in tobacco taxes approved by voters in 2006 to pay for early childhood development programs. The problem, said Crandall, is that ballot measure covers only youngsters through age 5, with no emphasis on literacy.

His plan to expand how the money can be spent, though, would require voters to approve changing the focus of that plan.

Brewer's proposal to let more people teach is based on her argument that Arizona needs to expand the pool of teachers.

"Isn't it astonishing that in Arizona today, Bill Gates and (former Intel board Chairman) Craig Barrett would not be considered qualified to teach students about computer science?' the governor said. "We must stop our gate-keeping and open the doors to all qualified and skilled citizens who want to teach our children.'

What is required is some pre-service training and, within two years, completion of a program to provide an alternate path to certification.

Brewer did not spell out what more she wants done -- or what regulations she wants repealed -- to further loosen the requirements.

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