PPI celebrates International Literacy Day and greets back-to-school season with a creative proposal for closing America’s literacy gap: the Digital Teachers Corps. It’s a new civic enterprise aimed at unleashing the untapped power of digital media to boost literacy among our most vulnerable children.
The Digital Teachers Corps is the brainchild of Michael Levine, director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, and a leading proponent of digital learning, and James Paul Gee, Mary Lou Fulton Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State University.
Based on the model of Teach for America, the Digital Teachers Corps would recruit 5,000 digitally savvy teachers and dispatch them into low-income schools districts where the “fourth grade slump” is most pronounced. This is the pivotal year in which reading progress stalls for many disadvantaged kids, who then fall progressively behind in learning more complex academic content.
“Video gameplay, net surfing, and media production tools, cell phones and other mobile devices are popular parts of nearly every tweens’ social repertoire,” the authors note. “They dominate the hours that children spend outside of school: low-income kids are especially heavy digital medial users. Yet these tools are nearly absent low-performing schools.”
The Digital Teachers Corps is not a new government program. Levine and Gee challenge U.S. foundations to create a competition for the best design for a non-profit organization focused on a specific goal: Ensuring that 80 percent of all 10-year-olds are competent readers by 2020. Once the volunteer Corps is up and running, however, it would seek supplemental support from the Corporation for National and Community Service in the same way that Teach for America, Habitat for Humanity and other non-profits do.
A key problem, say Levine and Gee, is that teachers lack training in the integration of digital learning tools into the classroom. The Digital Teachers Corps would recruit and train talented and digitally proficient college graduates to teach in schools in 250 low-income communities that serve over 200,000 kids.
In effect, the Digital Teachers Corps would be a new civic-public collaboration aimed at harnessing the power of social media, online learning, computer games, mobile telephones and other digital tools to boost literacy. It’s an imaginative response to a stubborn problem that undermines both equality and U.S. competitiveness, and PPI is proud to commend it to your attention.