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WHY CANT U TEACH ME 2 READ? by Beth Fertig


Three Students and a Mayor Put Our Schools to the Test

by Beth Fertig

Pub Date: Sept. 22nd, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-374-29905-7
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

An NPR reporter tackles the often overlooked American illiteracy problem through the stories of three students and one very troubled school system.

For 23-year-old Yamilka, illiteracy was literally crippling. Because she couldn’t perform basic cashier’s tasks, figure out her medication or even read the subway signs, she was essentially captive in her Bronx home. Astoundingly, Yamilka is a high-school graduate with a diploma in hand from the New York City public-school system. Her brother, Alejandro, and another student, Antonio, had similar experiences. All had learning disabilities that went undiagnosed or untreated for years, and all three were raised in Spanish-speaking families by parents who didn’t know how to advocate for them during their schooling. In many ways, these are still remarkable cases. Fertig found them because they had all legally challenged the school system for their illiteracy and won hundreds of thousands of dollars in private tutoring—it’s terrifying to think that there are many other students in similar situations who haven’t gone to such lengths to rectify their situation. The author’s chronicle of their private education gives fascinating insight into what went wrong in their public education. With enough time and attention from professionals who went to great lengths to figure out how they learned, each student became functional if not avid readers. Fertig tries to reconcile these methods with the problems facing the NYC public-school system, and emerges with a surprisingly optimistic look at the future of education. While large urban school systems will never have the resources that private tutors were able to give to these three students, both Mayor Bloomberg’s improvements to the NYC public-school system and the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act offer hope that at least the situation may soon become less dire.

Carefully considered treatment of a troubling subject that will be particularly useful to educators and policymakers.