Two non-profits get very different reactions to Cleveland-Holloway proposals
BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for August 28, 2009

DPS responds on Reading Street parental complaints

Durham Public Schools has provided a public response to the questions over the Reading Street that emanated from parents and appeared here yesterday at BCR and this morning at the N&O.

A statement from Stacey Wilson-Norman, assistant superintendent of elementary curriculum and instruction, appears below and beyond the jump. As promised in yesterday's story, we're providing their response in full.

A Q&A on the program provided by DPS and forwarded from school board member Kirsten Kainz is also available: Download Questions-Answers-DPS-Reading-Street

In 2008-09 Durham Public Schools brought in three national reading experts to conduct a literacy audit of programs and practices to provide guidance to us in improving student achievement in reading. The audit found issues in vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.  Following the audit, DPS principals formed a task force to review the audit findings and develop priorities for literacy.  These steps were taken because reading data for our elementary schools clearly show that all students must be taught the state’s reading standards.
 
Principals identified needs for more time on task and improvements in classroom instruction in literacy.
 
In 2006, DPS adopted the Reading Street comprehensive reading instruction program during the five-year textbook adoption cycle.  (Note: some have confused Reading Street with Reading First--Reading First is the federal program that is in four of our schools.)


Reading Street is not a scripted program.  Although it provides daily, weekly and long-range plans, teachers have flexibility to use their expertise on delivering vocabulary, mini-lessons, guided reading and word work components.  We believe that Reading Street provides a good solution to the problems identified by the audit and our principals.
 
Each day, there is a 30-minute block of time when teachers can choose books from outside resources to use with their students, including books purchased by parent groups and books in the Media Center.  Teacher assistants will support teachers in their work just as they always have in small group and one-on-one sessions.  Academic coaches in schools will also support teachers in their work, and Central Services staff members will work with principals to monitor instruction in schools--just as we do now.
 
Our goal with the reading program is to teach children how to read the first time so they can accelerate their skills rather than spend teacher and class time teaching and re-teaching.  I would be happy to talk with any parent or teacher who has questions about literacy and the need in Durham Public Schools to ensure that every child can read at the highest level. Feel free to call me at 560-3730.

Comments

Syl

The N&O also posted a longer blog about what didn't make the print story. Not with this new statement or the PDF, but with some of what Stacey Wilson-Norman told the reporter that didn't make the issue.

http://blogs.newsobserver.com/bullseye/more-on-durhams-required-reading-program

JAP

I think that it is crucial that we audit and report on the following to show how they are trending since NCLB and intensive testing came to DPS:

1- ethnic diversity within individual schools
2- extent to which schools are criminalizing misbehavior and sending students to juvenile justice system
3-teacher quality based on education, degrees, national board certification, years of experience
4-spending on supplemental positions such as nurses, counselors, teacher assistants
5-spending on administrative positions and testing programs
6-a complete accounting of administrative positions and how these positions benefit learning

Hannah Demeritt

DPS has not answered (at least) two important questions: why was the decision only announced right before school started and why weren't parents, teachers or principals part of the decision-making process? This was disruptive and upsetting to all. When was the decision made? Why was it made without input from teachers, parents and principals? Does DPS realize that announcing the change with such short notice was a mistake? Did they delay announcing it because they feared opposition? Or was it just poor planning?

bennc

Most NC school systems, Durham's included, wait until the week if not the day before school starts before notifying new teachers they will be hired. This seems to be school system wide so I doubt this is based on poor planning at the school level. I would guess the timing of these and other system-level planning announcements are connected.

And regarding "including books purchased by parent groups": Is there room in the budget to get outside books via any other means? Sigh.

Please with hold- DPS teacher

I am a Special Education teacher in Durham and just learned of this program myself last week. The district claims that this program was adopted to "provide equity of materials across schools" and to ensure all elementary school students are receiving access to the same curriculum. They must have meant all but Special Education students since none of the Special Education teachers at my school have received these materials. Some may heave a sigh of relief at hearing that thinking that the Special Ed. students will receive instruction appropriate for their individual needs. Think again- we've been told that we must teach this curriculum as well and that we can not deviate from Reading St. apart from the 20 minute "Double Dose" period of instruction. First of all, it is illegal and abhorrent to deny students with disabilities from receiving access to the same instructional materials and technology as their non-disabled peers. Since Special Ed teachers do not have the materials, nor the technology to implement many of the center activities--like operable computers these children are being denied appropriate access to the curriculum. Secondly, since when does a one-sized-fits-all approach help equalize things? If Student A comes to school with a learning disability and Student B does not, how does it make sense to teach these children in the same way- likewise for students who have little exposure to literacy and technology at home. How is this equitable? I am not a proponent of Reading Street nor Reading First nor any "program" that negates the art and joy of teaching, but again, how does it make sense to give the neediest students who need more support less materials? Finally, there is NO time built into the schedule for real learning or as one teacher said to me "We do not even have time to pee!" If a student has a question or a group is struggling with a concept and the ten minute whole group session is over--too bad! If a teacher takes extra time to address these scenarios and an administrator, monitor, or central office person happens to be on a "Learning Walk" and walks into that classroom, the school and teacher will be penalized for not being on schedule. This happened at our school last year with Reading First. I just don't get it and despite the fact that I am only in my sixth year of teaching, I think it is time for me to retire.

MSV

Again, there is a fundamental disconnect between what DPS administrative staff is saying in defense of their decision and what teachers are saying about its implementation. If the teachers aren't on board, the curriculum could be perfect (unlikely) and it won't matter a bit.

MSV

I'm personally gathering as many comments on this from teachers as I can. Here's a brief excerpt I received from one correspondent:

"I talked to my friend who teaches at Creekside. Reading Street is as bad as it seems online. My friend had created a learning center following the Scott Foresman guidelines that her principal loved, but she was told to shut it down because it wasn’t pre-approved by DPS, who has dictated all centers. (Kindergarten can no longer build with blocks or play dress-up/ dramatic play or house – they are not approved). Children can only be grouped into below level, at level or above level; no other gradations are accepted. My friend said that while there are some positives about the program, there are so many more negatives that there is no way this can be considered a positive move. She was surprised that I hadn’t called sooner to ask about it – but not surprised to find out that I didn’t know. “Of course they don’t want parents to be upset so they didn’t tell you”.

Jack the Ripper

Look at the scores in Durham Public Schools!!!! I am a teacher and its plenty of other teachers who dont read with your child on a daily basis, they dont plan, they dont choose books with focus or appropriate level,or use higher level thinking questions(they may need a script) and until now......some unfortunate schools had no books, supplies or materials. Parents trust this program and teachers GET TO WORK!!

DPSParent

What Jack says in his first few lines is, of course, absolutely true. DPS has serious problems that need to be addressed. But no curriculum will cure those problems on its own. Our schools need the right curriculum in the hands of the right teachers. Reading Street has been criticized from so many directions that parents and teachers have every right and reason to question whether it's the best curriculum for our schools. So I will not, nor should other parents, merely "trust" this program. We should and will continue to question our school administrators until the disconnects between what our teachers are saying and DPS central office is claiming are resolved.

Lara Willox

While I am concerned about the scripted nature of the reading program, I am more disturbed by the lack (absence) of social studies time in the school day. In my child's school, teachers were provided schedules that did not include any block of time for social studies while science was mandated to be taught every day. It is no coincidence that the only subjects tested are provided time in the schedule. Social studies is supposedly integrated in the reading curriculum, however the connections are shallow and most times not related to the North Carolina social studies standard course of study. Social studies is vital in elementary schools, children learn about their families, neighborhoods, cities, states, the establishment of rules and laws, and most importantly how to be a good citizen. Social studies also provides opportunities for students who are not represented in the traditional curriculum to see themselves as important contributors to our society.

DPS Parent

I have heard one teacher say they will have to fire her to stop her from enhancing / straying from this highly scripted program. This appears to be more about teaching all kids at the lowest possible level, with no accomodation for kids at or above grade level.

And DPS wonders why parents with the means pull their kids out of DPS...

krizz10

I am an educator and a parent. I see the differences in how my first grade son was taught last year in kindergarten versus how my daughter is taught this year in kindergarten (same teacher both years). This program has taken an effective teacher who implemented best practices and has made her a mediocre teacher. This curriculum may help improve poor teacher's performance thus increasing achievement of those students who may have struggled in the past, but it is going to do nothing for higher achieving students but lower their performance (I guess this is one way of narrowing the achievment gap faster). I see no differentiation. Everyone gets the same thing regardless of the fact that everyone needs something different to grow. My husband and I are now having conversations about pulling our children out of DPS if the use of this curriculum across the board is continued. I speak with lots of frustrated teachers daily -- good teachers -- DPS will be losing them soon too, as they are feed up. Instead of dealing with ineffective teachers on an individual basis, DPS has decided to treat all of their teachers like they don't know what they are doing. Why? Because it is the easier solution to the problem. Well, when it comes to educating our children-- the BEST solution should be implemented, not the easiest.

Catherine Green

Aside from the quality of the new curriculum, the chief problem is that the inept bureacracy of DPS's Central Office (remember Central Services in the movie Brazil?)is treating its teachers like a bunch of mindless clerks. These are professionals! There are lazy, mediocre teachers who have survived by dint of their own brand of social promotion but for the most part, teachers are hard-working people dedicated to our children's well being. As a matter of self-respect no teacher should be willing to have this rammed down his or her throat or put up with having their classrooms invaded by "coaches" who are essentially DPS spies. Coaches! How Orwellian! Oh, and Jack- "dont" has an apostrophe (don't)

Melissa Rooney

It's worth reading comments from the original BCR article on this issue.

I'll make my point again here. Due to budget constraints, DPS completely cut summer school last year, yet spent 'millions' (I've read) to buy this standardized and privatized reading curriculum. Does anybody see the disconnect here? Those kids who are falling behind in school, fell even further over the summer, and I don't think a new, standardized curriculum is going to help them make up the difference.

TH

Melissa, DPS purchased the Reading Street Curriculum back in 2006 according to DPS's Central Office. Also supposedly teachers, administrators, and parents had input on the purchase. This predates my time in Durham so I have no idea if this is correct. DPS is also saying that the funds used to purchase the program came from their state allotment for text books. So this is not a case of DPS writing a check for this over summer school.

But I agree that it stinks that summer school was dropped. Nor am I sold on Reading Street.

Deep Throat

Where is the research, good quality research, that shows the program works? The publisher lists none on their website. The program is not listed on the Dept of Education's What Works Clearinghouse (see http://www.whatworks.ed.gov). Show me the data!

John Simmons

My kids used Reading Street in another district before coming here to DPS. They were taught by trained teachers who were taught how to use the program to its fullest. The program is highly thought of and over a three year period 90% of the students in 1st through 6th grades increased their testing scores and their reading skills. This program is engaging, research based and has all of the tools needed for kids to increase their skiils. It has a great online piece that parents can follow and see what their kids are doing. I have no doubt as a parent that my three kids are getting the best material in the nation to learn from. For Disabled and slower kids, Reading Street has all of the NIMAS qualifications and can be used in a format those kids need as well. So before blasting a program that is not understood, look at the research behind the program, look at the results from other districts and look at how happy your kids will be when their testing scores begin to rise. Or are the parents and teachers of this district so locked in to a remedial thinking pattern, they cannot come out of the middle ages of education. Reading street is the best...give it a chance!

TH

John, my family too came from a district where Reading Street was introduced. The results were not nearly as sunny as your glowing report. So some of us do actually have experience with this program and based on that experience have valid concerns about the program. And I've found that the large percentage of the parents here in Durham who are engaged in thoughtful conversation regarding Reading Street and the new literacy mandate HAVE read the research. And the research is not conclusive... some research is showing no improvement at ALL.

Also, the new literacy mandate is NOT just about Reading Street. Parents and teachers are concerned over how the program was mandated, how it's being implemented, and that fact that it's NOT being utilized as even Scott Foresman recommends. Not to mention teachers have complained that the part of Reading Street that they actually like is lacking in resources because the district did not buy the entire package. For instance, some teachers love the books on tape component but only have 1 book on tape from Reading Street. Not one book per unit. But one book period. This isn't very helpful once the class has moved beyond that one book.

So no, it's not just about the program of Reading Street or understand it. It's about sooooo much more than that.

shubba luba ding dong!

There is like a Germin sight that I think means the f word I realy dont think what so ever that thta could posibly be legal! I will send in the name and the auther and illistater of this book in on Monday afternoon I forget the name right now, but my child is in 5th grade and he shouldnt know about this stuff!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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