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New Chair at MU will Study Reading and Young Students' Success

Use of Chancellor's Fund for Excellence addresses nationwide reading problem

July 6, 2007

Story Contact:  Christian Basi, 573-882-4430,

COLUMBIA, Mo. — In the United States, 38 percent of fourth grade students are scoring below the basic reading proficiency level. Recent research has found that children who don't learn to read often have difficulty in other areas. A new position at the University of Missouri-Columbia's College of Education will be dedicated to understanding the best ways to teach and encourage children to read, focusing on their long-term success.

"Reading is a gateway skill, a foundational skill that can facilitate or impede progress in other areas. Once a student is behind in a set of skills, it can be very difficult to pull out of that hole," said Carolyn Herrington, dean of the College of Education. "By the fourth or fifth grade, a lack of reading mastery can have an enormous impact on a student's future success. When students reach their adolescent years, they start to employ coping strategies that can hide their deficiencies from others."

The new position in the College of Education, the Chancellor's Chair of Excellence, will encourage research collaboration among experts in psychology, medicine, education, health professions and human environmental sciences to improve researchers' understanding of how children learn to read and how best to prepare future educators to teach reading. The faculty member also will prepare graduate students and stimulate additional research studying the connection between reading and after-school programs, extracurricular activities and public policy.

"Children have such diverse backgrounds, and we need to incorporate how different backgrounds affect the reading process and identify which strategies work best with which kids," Herrington said. "We expect the faculty member will use the resources that we have available on campus in a number of different fields to tackle the critical issue of making sure every child is reading at grade level. We know that early intervention is key, and we need to develop and test multidisciplinary strategies that teachers can apply in the classrooms. This new position also will play a key role in professional development for current teachers so they can draw upon a variety of strategies to accommodate the needs of struggling readers from all types of backgrounds."

Funding for the chair will come, in part, from the Chancellor's Fund for Excellence, which has received unrestricted funds from donors in the For All We Call Mizzou campaign. MU Chancellor Brady Deaton has a strong interest reaching young children and preparing them for college admission.

"It is vital to our mission as the state land-grant, flagship institution that we help all Missourians prepare for college," Deaton said. "In order to accomplish this, we must understand how young children learn to read and how to best prepare future educators to teach children. This is a very urgent situation for our educational professionals."

Herrington said that she expects to have the chair filled within a year.