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October 1, 2007
Vol. 65
No. 2

Perspectives / Interventions That Work

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      Intervention is a scary word. As a headline screaming from supermarket tabloids, INTERVENTION reminds us of celebrities teetering on the brink of disaster. When the Sopranos mentionintervention, we all know the clock is ticking. No wonder parents hearing that word at school may fear their child is being given a label that will last a lifetime.
      Even in this issue ofEducational Leadership, the wordintervention is accompanied by statistics that signal crisis. There is the dropout crisis (almost one-third of 9th graders in the United States fail to graduate from high school) and the literacy crisis (43 percent of disadvantaged 8th graders are not proficient readers), to name two of the dangers that threaten the learning and earning future of students. Both of these crises cry out for interventions, but the problems seem so massive and out of our control, we wonder what single intervention can make a difference.
      When we chose this theme, the ELadvisory group asked us a number of questions about what we meant by the title, “Early Intervention at Every Age.” Are we implying that if we don't intervene now, dire things will happen? Are we implying that we can fix everything if only we get there early enough? Can you really haveearlyintervention atevery age? Are some ages more suitable than others for interventions?
      We decided to look at interventions that research and experience are validating as effective ways to reach not just students on the verge of crisis but also the many students who need an extra nudge to stay on the path toward success. Our articles look at crucial crossroads in students' lives—the early childhood years, the 4th grade marker, the transition to middle school, and the 9th grade year—times when interventions can have an incredible payoff. Our authors suggest that despite the implied threat in the word itself, intervention is a normal part of life in a lifetime of learning. Here are some of the most effective interventions.
      Early childhood education. Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke has called preschool “one cure for inequality,” and 30 governors this year have called for more pre-K funding. Increasingly, pre-K is seen as a prudent investment, with advocates citing evidence that every dollar spent can bring as much as $16 in reduced crime and higher incomes.
      Personal benefits of preschool are vast, as affluent families have long known. Not only does preschool improve the health and social skills of the children it serves, but it also gives them an academic edge when entering elementary school. For our poorest children, preschool with outreach to their families is even more effective, touching the lives of their younger siblings and parents. In short, preschool education is an intervention that works—if the teachers are adequately trained and the programs are sufficiently funded. Edward Zigler, one of the founders of Head Start, reminds us (p. 8) that in its 42nd year, Head Start is only serving roughly 50 percent of eligible children. Why aren't we funding it for all kids?
      Early and late literacy. Research also clearly points out that teaching students to read should be our priority. But how we teach them to read matters. Although some children grasp the process no matter which way they are taught it, others require different approaches. For example, as Robert E. Slavin and colleagues write (p. 22), middle schoolers who haven't mastered reading in their early grades may have no patience for materials and methods designed for younger children. They need instruction tailored to their interests and social situation. He describes an approach that combines reading instruction with cooperative learning, proactive classroom management, goal setting, and feedback.
      Shobana Musti-Rao and Gwendolyn Cartledge (p. 56) argue that young urban learners need an explicit, systematic approach that combines balanced literacy with extra doses of instruction, active student responding, small-group learning, and classroom management that ensures that students most in need of such instruction aren't being excluded from the very instruction they need.
      In “The Case for Late Intervention.” (p. 68), the authors offer a different perspective. What some students need is an indirect approach, they say, a massive exposure to books they want to read. Seems simple, but for many, free voluntary reading is the “intervention that works.”
      Relationship building. Interventions described in this issue range from those on a one-on-one scale (such as tutoring) to those that require total buy-in from a school (whole-school reform). All have at their heart relationship building. From learning to praise students for effort (p. 34) to unshakably insisting that students do not have a right to fail (p. 74), from an effective attendance program (p. 28) to a language arts class that celebrates students' personal stories (p. 48)—educators share the interventions that work for students.
      Is early intervention possible at any age? Yes, students do experience it that way. As Edward Zigler says, “Human development is a long and continuous process—stage built on top of stage. At each stage, kids need different environmental nutrients.”
      If they get those nutrients, perhaps nointervention will be necessary.
      End Notes

      1 Solomon, D. (2007, August 9). As states tackle poverty, preschool gets high marks.The Wall Street Journal.

      Marge Scherer has contributed to Educational Leadership.

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