BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for August 26, 2009
Duke to break ground in Nov. on $700m-$1b hospital expansion

Parents, teachers raise concerns over standardized "Reading Street" literacy curriculum

Dps To many parents and teachers, one of the more unpleasant outcomes of the No Child Left Behind law -- whose noble mission of forcing schools to be accountable for the success of all demographic subgroups in schools -- has been the tendency in many districts to centrally plan and program curricular choices, with districts in NC taking the guidelines transmitted from the Department of Public Instruction and mapping them out into precise directions for teachers with little flexibility.

Durham's Results-Based Accountability report from June 2006 includes several examples of heavier central support for in-classroom activities as ways to meet a third-grade reading score benchmark:

  • "Develop the Riverdeep instructional organizer for K-3 classroom teachers" (Riverdeep is a central repository where teachers maintain lesson plans -- and can receive and use exemplar lesson plans from other teachers, or the downtown office.)
  • "Implement benchmark testing in third grade every 11 weeks to gauge student progress"
  • "Curriculum alignment/ Standard Course of Study"

Now Durham Public Schools is, according to reports coming in from some upset parents, taking a next step on this path with the implementation of Reading Street, a standardized reading comprehension system from the educational industry titan Scott Foresman.

I've received or been copied on three separate, heartfelt complaints from parents in the days leading up to the new school year -- parents whose concerns have ranged from outrage over what they say will be a move away from "authentic literature" to those who've said teachers are hesitating to speak up about the changes for fear of their jobs.

It's an unusual level of concern I haven't seen since this spring's school budget debate. Below the jump I'm presenting the side of the issue presented by parents and teachers. School board members, in an email thread from one of the parents involved promised follow-up from DPS administrators; I'll be happy to share their perspective on the story when they have a perspective to share (as it must be noted that their perspectives are not well-represented in the story currently.)

One parent's plea over the program -- answered in turn by three members of the school board, one of whom (Leigh Bordley) sympathetically noted DPS' desire "to find the best balance possible that will serve all of our children in DPS" -- including the following concerns:

My two children ... are very excited to start school tomorrow. They love their school, their teachers and classmates. The kids are completely unaware that over the summer DPS has implemented a sweeping curriculum change for all elementary schools. Last year, in the forth grade at Club Boulevard Humanities Magnet School, one of the many well written, thought provoking books that my son's class read together, discussed and reviewed was ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY. This year, in lieu of authentic literature, they will be reading snippets of computer generated stories designed to teach something related to a specific bubble on a standardized test. In rolling this out swiftly across all schools the Magnet school system is completely undermined. Their individualized missions are essentially VOIDED.
 
This year, while cutting teaching, assistant and supplemental classroom positions, DPS has just spent MILLIONS of dollars in support of the BILLION dollar Scott-Foresman educational publishing industry. Our money has been spent on sets of highly scripted lessons with strict pacing plans. Our teachers are mandated to follow the one-size-fits-all formulas. There are two new full time "monitor" positions in our school to insure that the teachers are not straying from the script. This is on top of the human and monetary resources already devoted to our children spending a third of their school year taking standardized tests. How many high quality, educated, qualified, inspiring, caring teachers will we retain to teach under these unprofessional, demoralizing conditions? There is really no need for a qualified person to read a script. Think of the money that we will save on teacher salaries that can be shifted to the downtown executive branch.

Another parent at a different school independently contacted BCR to share their concern, based on an experience last year when a substitute teacher stepped in and used Reading Street while the regular classroom teacher was out for several weeks.

"It was horrible. It was multiple choice test prep instead of learning to read, understand, and critically analyze literature," this parent says.

Parents have also expressed concern that the Reading Street program will be implemented rigidly, with less curricular flexibility than schools enjoy today.

One tells BCR that teachers have been told -- besides the mandatory use of Reading Street -- that they won't be able to supplement its curriculum with supplemental reading from the schools' book rooms.

"Parents and the PTA have donated money to buy sets of chapter books from all levels so that reading groups can be based around excellent children's literature," she says. "The teachers have been told they can not use any of the books from the book room this year."

It's unclear whether Reading Street is a new acquisition or, as rumor has held at at least one school, that it's a package previously-bought by DPS and discovered to have been underutilized in a recent audit.

One question that's out there: just how much flexibility there really will be.

School board member Heidi Carter replied to the Club Blvd. parent's missive with a re-assurance that supplemental and augmenting curricular interests will be supported:

We expect teachers to intervene with students who are behind in reading skills in order to help accelerate their learning so they can catch up.  We also expect teachers to supplement the universal curriculum with authentic literature and more in order to challenge high achieving students who demonstrate mastery of the essential skills.  We expect our principals and central office administrators to support teachers in this difficult work, and we hope parents and the community will be our partners in achieving the school system's mission.  

Yet a third parent who reached out to BCR -- who asked that their name, their school's name and any other identifying information be suppressed to avoid retribution towards teachers -- is hearing a different story.

When they were told about the new curriculum, they expressed their frustration and dissatisfaction.  In doing so, they were told that if they didn't follow the curriculum, they would be fired.  And, in an economic environment in which teachers are being laid off - with the supply of teachers greater than the demand - they're quite reasonably scared of being unemployed.  They were also told that there will be random, unscheduled classroom visits by central office to ensure the teachers are following the curriculum as prescribed.  They said their principal is holding the line, probably because [the principal] is under the same threat.

This parent also reported that teaching assistants will face a curtailed role in classroom support, with less flexibility in working one-on-one with students who are ready to move ahead to more challenging material.

The fear among some parents is that an increased standardization of curriculum will lead to a brain-drain of schools, with well-educated parents who overcome the (often unfair) stigma that surrounds DPS to pull their students out for charter or private schools -- and to the departure of DPS' best teachers to other districts.

Scott Foresman's literacy textbooks haven't lacked for controversy in other ways, though at levels of government much higher than DPS (and, thus, for which no aspersions should be cast upon the district.)

A 2007 report by the late Sen. Kennedy found "deep financial ties" between publisher Scott Foresman and the federal educational officials in the Bush administration who pressed states to buy the publisher's material for a federal reading effort. In September 2006, the federal official responsible for the Reading First program resigned after reports from the US Dept. of Education suggested "a lack of integrity and ethical values" in the program. (Learn more here and here.)

There are reports that this issue is likely to come up in a big (and very public) way at an upcoming school board meeting. More here at BCR as we know it.

Of course, the most intriguing endorsement of Reading Street may just come from this school teacher in another district, quoted on the ProTeacher community bulletin board:

When we did the Scott Foresman training, we were told to use the reading books for the selection tests. We are teaching the kids how to go back and find information. The only time they are on their own is when they do the unit or end of year tests. We don't help them with anything on those tests. They are responsible for it all. By teaching them how to look back and find answers, they are successful with the unit tests. When I did the end of the year test over the whole book, I only had one person who didn't pass. I didn't have a strong academic class either. They had just learned how to look back and find the info they needed. This is a skill that has to be taught, and those teachers that don't let them use their books for the selection tests are missing the boat.

Comments

Jen Minnelli

thank you for reporting on this important issue!!! i had no idea about the political ties between the bush administration and scott foresman. that makes this stink even worse!!

Jack

Disheartening information, but a good story.

We were told today that Club Blvd is having a meeting for parents Friday morning at 10a in their Media Center to discuss this. Perhaps a phone call or two might encourage them to also hold another meeting outside of business hours to allow more parents to participate.

Also, I've heard from other parents that a lot of people are planning to attend and speak at tomorrow night's Board of Education meeting.

Jack

JG

Considering the lack of success of DPS prior to the implementation of no child left behind, I find it hard to believe that implementing minimal standards is bad for students and parents.

Durham Schools are the worst of the Triangle. Guarantying that DPS Students master basic reading and maths is a minimum. Students who master reading will find these standard tests easy and won't need to spend to much time over them, allowing them to read and enjoy more challenging materials.

KT

JG,

I don't think the issue here is whether or not to have reading standards. Rather, the issue is forcing a particular curriculum that is very rigid on every single teacher and classroom. The best teaching happens when the specific dynamics between teacher and students in an individual classroom are acknowledged. Teachers need wisdom to know when something is not working, creativity to present the material in a different way, and even improvisation when dealing with unforeseen issues (discipline, bathroom breaks, tired kids, bored kids, etc). Many of our schools have great teachers who do just this.

If the issue is that we have some teachers who need to do this better, then let's change how we approach professional development (or hiring) rather than stifle the teachers of excellence by requiring that they follow a scripted curriculum. I fear we will drive away good, creative teachers.

JAP

It is now public knowledge that NCLB was developed in the Bush administration as the best way to promote privatizing education by mandating tests with impossible goals and labeling public schools as BAD and ineffective based on the proof generated by these test results.

Durham Schools are perhaps the "worst in the Triangle" based on data specifically measured to undermine public education. I do not judge an education based on these tests and intentionally moved from Chapel Hill for my kids to attend Durham schools. We have been very pleased with the results.

Durham is lively, creative and has many social challenges that we will work through together. Dumbing down the public education is not what is best for any of our children.

I would like to know what criteria JG is using when he speaks of the lack of success of DPS prior to the implementation of NCLB.

No school system in the entire world has all of its children performing at the same academic level.

JAP

MSV

Put me down as another regular reader grateful for this story. As the parent of a DPS first grader, we are just beginning to see the realities of the district's reading curriculum, and I would have had no idea this was going on. While we have certainly been disappointed by the lack of real literature used in our child's reading curriculum, our individual classroom teacher supplements the leveled reading books with lots of classic and contemporary children's literature from a collection of books she's assembled over many years of teaching. Our class's students spend time each day selecting from these books, reading independently, and writing about what they've read. But I can imagine that as children rise to third grade and begin to face standardized testing, that kind of flexibility will become rarer.

Of course canned reading textbooks have been with us for a long time and have never held up well in comparison with Caldicott and Newberry winners. As long as teachers retain the flexibility and independence to balance the use of different kinds of reading materials--some to assess basic competency, and some to create complex information literacy, critical thinking, and a love of literature--I don't have a problem. What concerns me is the message teachers are hearing: use this one curriculum only, or else. I lack the knowledge and expertise to evaluate Reading First as a curriculum, but if it's the only way our children are learning to read, I guarantee our schools will continue to fail.

Kat (not KT)

Good teachers are already leaving DPS in droves, and have been for several years now.

To pick on the Carter quote: "We also expect teachers to supplement the universal curriculum with authentic literature and more in order to challenge high achieving students who demonstrate mastery of the essential skills." SO, only "high achieving" students will be offered supplemental "authentic literature"? What does that say about the core values of this model of "education"?

marbet

I am thrilled to see this post on BCR about the DPS mandated literacy curriculum. I would like to point out that this mandated curriculum is called ‘Reading Street’ not ‘Reading First.’ For a general description of ‘Reading Street,’ go here:
http://www.pearsonschool.com/index.cfm?locator=PSZ4Z4&PMDbSiteID=2781&PMDbSolutionID=6724&PMDbProgramId=30321&level=4&prognav=po

Since finding out about ‘Reading Street,’ I have been trying to do a bit of research about the curriculum from all perspectives, especially teachers. One site I came across of particular interest was this one:

http://www.teachnology.com/forum/showthread.php?t=4878&page=5

On this discussion site there are several pages of teachers’ comments about the program (many of them are less than pleased) -- I particularly recommend reading response #49 on page 5, as this teacher sounds like she is from a district that is very similar to some Durham schools.

I am concerned, as I don't want the unique nature of our schools replaced with worksheets and an incredibly detailed agenda, leaving little room for teacher creativity and alternative teaching styles.

I am also concerned that there was not more (if any that I know of) discussion of this huge change with top teachers, principals, Site-Based Decision Making Teams and PTA board members/presidents at each school. As of yesterday, I have not been able to find anything about this new curriculum on DPS's site.

I look forward to learning more about ‘Reading Street’ and how it will benefit all kids at DPS. I also look forward to learning who made this decision at DPS and why this curriculum was chosen over others.

Mrs.Webster

Gotta love the irony of the misspelled words in JG's post claiming Durham's schools to be the worst in the Triangle.

sallyb

Being in education, I can see the problem that DPS is facing and I clearly understand where the parents who wrote posts are coming from. Durham has a lot of children who come from high poverty situations. I know as an educator, most children who come from a high poverty background are at least 2 to 3 years behind a child who comes from a middle or upper middle class background. We also know that children from poverty backgrounds have limited vocabulary. When children from a poverty background starts Kindergarten, they have only about 1,000 words in their vocabulary. A middle class, upper middle class kid has about 5,000 words in their vocabulary when they start kindergarten. In order for a child to stay on grade level, they must learn between 3,000-5,000 words a year. The only way a child can really do this is to be exposed to good books, fiction and non-fiction.

Many children from poverty situations are not read to at all as children. This is not fiction this is documented data. The only exposure to books and reading these children receive are from school. And the only way a child increases their vocabulary is through reading good books

Students from poverty have very poor comprehension skills. I know, I teach at a high poverty school in a different county. These students do not have the "background knowledge" or vocabulary to understand the very long reading passages on the EOG. The EOG reading is a comprehension test. It test the higher levels of Bloom's Taxonomy. It is not a recall test where you go back in the passages and find the answers. A student taking the reading EOG must use a lot of higher order thinking skills to answer the questions.

I am only speculating, but I bet DPS chose this program to help these struggling students to have better comprehension skills, build up their vocabulary and their "background knowledge" because their reading and vocabulary is so weak. ESL students struggle with the EOG as well because of the language barrier. They have a hard time with "figurative language" as well as the vocabulary.

Bottom line, DPS has a problem. They have a large population of students in poverty who are struggling, but yet how do you enrich and challenge students who are at or above grade level without sacrificing the education they deserve?

Kevin Davis

@Marbet: Thanks for the correction. I'm sensitivity to accuracy on the blog (and have gotten some good feedback that I need to dot my i's and cross my t's more precisely!) -- embarrassing to have two headline misses in two days. Appreciate the correction (and, dear readers, feel free to do so anytime.)

Thanks to all for the comments here. I think Sallyb makes an important point. Durham's schools _do_ face deeper economic inequality and disadvantage than its neighbors, one of the factors that creates a self-reinforcing segregation of the haves and have nots -- into what are likely to be "successful" and "unsuccessful" schools.

Which brings up part of the challenge Sally is getting at: if a program like this is needed to reach the students with the greatest obstacles to learning, how do you avoid alienating the engaged parents in the system.

Thanks for the comments, all. I understand DPS will have a statement on this soon.

L

I am so glad to see this being talked about and to hear that these programming changes are being reacted to in our community. We have to take ownership of our schools if we want them to grow and improve.

Here's some more information from the inside perspective (I am a DPS teacher): Reading Street a scripted program, designed so that teachers who don't do such a great job designing or teaching lessons can at least perform at an adequate level. As has been stated here, adoption of this type of program drives exceptional teachers away in droves because they are robbed of the ability to create engaging, thought-provoking, differentiated (leveled according to needs or interests of students) lessons. These materials were adopted two years ago and have been underutilized in the schools because teachers do not like them, mostly because of the level of scripting required, the flat, boring leveled readers provided, and the emphasis on standardized assessment.

It should also be mentioned that the new math curriculum adopted by DPS this year is very similar to this reading program. While the former math program had flaws and also contained some scripting, it was inquiry-based (students are making sense of mathematical concepts by exploring them in hands-on ways), which the new curriculum is not (think textbook with example problems, a page of practice problems, midpoint reviews, and chapter tests.)

I agree with the viewpoint expressed here that many of these changes are being implemented because our many struggling students are unable to achieve expected scores on standardized tests. Because both these new curricula present information in the ways students will see them on EOGs, decision-makers believe they will result in an increase in scores.

I look forward to the statement from DPS.

Jeff Dieffenbach

I don't know which tests DPS (or North Carolina) uses to gauge reading ability, but there are many that do a great job. If DPS kids aren't reading, there's a problem, one that Reading Street might help solve (I'm in no way connected with RS or Scott Foresman).

Throughout the article and the comments, there seems to be an implicit (and sometimes explicit) understanding that teachers should be designing lessons and perhaps programs and even curriculum. That's fine as long as those teachers are trained to do so (and take the time to test the efficacy of their designs), but my sense is that teachers don't have this training.

It makes no sense to me that the teaching of basic skills such as reading and math be determined at the local level. Children don't learn to read differently just because they happen to live on one side of an arbitrary boundary or another. Rather, best practices in reading instruction should be developed and tested at the national (if not international) level and then deployed across all schools.

JAP

http://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffdieffenbach

The fast growing private education industry benefits
greatly when we label our schools and teachers
a failure based on unreasonable testing requirements.

JAP

KT

Jeff,

Did you really mean to say that "children don't learn to read differently..."? I find it hard to believe that you really think this since you are an education consultant.

Children do learn to read differently for many reasons and that is why a single curriculum (especially one that is strictly scripted and regimented) can never meet the needs of every classroom. We need teachers, not robots.

clic

The theories expressed here about NCLB being a tool engineered by the Bush Administration in order to undermine Public Schools, whether reality based or not, verifies itself with scores of Parents being driven to send their children to Private Schools in order to receive an education, not a "test passing set of skills."

One thing is certain, DPS' answer to NCLB is a lazy "teach to the test" one, without any regard for the children it sacrifices for the sake of a good salary. Thank you NCLB.

This is obviously unacceptable, and I invite everybody to express their displeasure to the board tonight. Carl Harris and his minions need to be fired.

Jeff Dieffenbach

First of all, I'm not an educational consultant.

Please read my post more carefully. What I wrote is that "Children don't learn to read differently just because they happen to live on one side of an arbitrary boundary or another."

I fully appreciate that children learn to read differently. But those differences are cognitively based, not geographically based (other than ELL issues, of course).

Kevin Davis

Durham Public Schools has issued a statement and Q&A on the subject of Reading Street:

http://www.bullcityrising.com/2009/08/dps-responds-on-reading-street-parental-complaints.html

Kat (not KT)

So, Jeff, are you or aren't you the Boston-based VP of Cambium Learning Co JAP "LinkedIn" above? And if you are, I do wonder why someone from Boston is so interested in Durham NC's choice of teaching systems.. oh, wait, your company helps schools implement learning programs! I guess a bad system can always be made worse by adding some Outside Expert Consultants.

KT

Jeff,

I am glad that you clarified your statement. So, if children learn to read differently (based on cognitive, but other issues as well) then how can those children be best served by a one-size-fits-all program?

Jeff Dieffenbach

Kat, I'm interested in education in general. A Google Alert pointed me to this article, which I found to be interesting. I made two relevant points: that most teachers are not trained to design curriculum, and that the approach used to teach reading shouldn't vary by location within the US. Kat, do you agree with those two points?

---------------

KT, I did not clarify my statement, I repeated it and corrected yours. And, I'll do that again--I never said that children are "best served by a one-size-fits-all" (OSFA) program. I don't know enough about Reading Street to know if it's OSFA, nor did I suggest that it might be used alone.

I'm a huge believer in the RtI model:
1. Qualified teachers ...
2. ... applying effective core programs ...
3. ... and using a screening assessment, ...
4. ... supplementing for those not at benchmark, ...
5. ... using progress monitoring to check for improvement, ...
6. ... and implementing intensive intervention for those still not on track.

This implies teacher PD, core programs, strategic and intensive supplements, and screening and progress monitoring assessments. I know of no single program that delivers all of this, even if we limit ourselves to K-3 reading, for instance. Many publishers offer quality products that can be pieced together to create a comprehensive RtI system as I've outlined it above.

The key is having educators willing to apply this model and the ability to select quality products to support their work. KT, do you generally agree with this?

RGH

There is a great deal of money in this for Scott Foresman. Consequently, I am very suspect of the DPS decision to implement this program, especially if it was indeed top down, without evaluations by teachers and parents.

As to the DPS FAQ, I haven't looked, but it is probably self-serving. I mean what else could an intelligent person expect?

I'm a retired businessman, and father of four grown children who went to DPS. It is good to see this discussion.

Molly S

So far, I only know that my son's teacher is very upset about curriculum changes that seem arbitrary, mandated and not necessarily in the best interests of the students. If there is to be a discussion at the school board meeting I hope to see prior notice. I am glad that most of the posts here are intelligently thoughtful, but the bit about Bush administration politics and conspiracy theories with educational publishers is simply ridiculous. Since when was anything politically inclined in Durham NC aligned with Republicans? Please ----

Kevin Davis

@Molly: There are multiple issues intertwined here, inartfully so and exacerbated by an error in my original story. Just to clarify:

1) The NCLB legislation -- passed with bipartisan support -- has, to many parents' way of thinking, had well-intentioned goals that have led school systems to "teach to the test" in a big way in order to make sure students pass EOG tests. That's not just a factor in reading, but in other subjects -- and some of the other comments appearing from parents in the media have suggested less time for (EOG untested) social studies and more time for (EOG tested) reading skills.

2) Addressing the bigger picture of the interrelationship between Reading First and Reading Street is more complex. Let me summarize here, and lay out more details below:

* Reading Street is a curriculum available for purchase by schools. Reading First is a program for funding scientifically-tested literacy programs in schools. (I inadvertently combined the terms in this article originally, which DPS has noted.)

* Reading Street's program author is a man named Ed Kame'enui, who is according to one source a professor and director of the Institute for Development of Educational Achievement at the University of Oregon. He has also served as director of the Western Regional Reading First Technical Assistance Center. (http://bit.ly/qhbQc)

* Reading First TACs were federally-funded by the US DOE "to provide expertise on improving reading programs using teaching methods proven to be effective." (http://bit.ly/OBljJ)

* A congressional report spearheaded by Sen. Kennedy found that "due largely to his contracts with Pearson/Scott Foresman, Dr. Kame'enui's income soared in the period following the implementation of the Reading First program." (http://bit.ly/yV1xp)

* The congressional report came on the heels of a report by the USDOE inspector general about issues in Reading First. (http://bit.ly/lvFEV)

* Kame'enui's guidelines were among those used by the NC Department of Public Instruction in selecting Scott Foresman as one of five publishers whose materials were used in Reading First. (http://bit.ly/PZuiu) (I have not been able to determine whether it was Reading Street or another Scott Foresman program that is used in NC DPI's guidelines for Reading First, or in the four Durham schools that use Reading First.)

* Reading Street -- whether used in Durham's Reading First program or not -- is an approved program for the use of federal Reading Street funds. (http://bit.ly/FWAk2)

Here's where the rubber meets the road on this:

Our schools are under federal pressure to improve test scores on reading and math. To do so, they're turning to out-of-the-box curricular programs from educational vendors.

The USDOE has approved Reading Street as one program to meet Reading First grants -- but the program author of Reading Street himself was involved in providing states with "assistance in reviewing reading programs and assessments," an issue that raised questions about Kame'enui and conflicts of interest.

I am *not* saying that DPS did anything improper in selecting this "data-driven," "assessed" program to improve reading. Instead, I'm criticizing the broader marketplace of these kind of educational programs and tools.

What I am saying -- and what I think a lot of parents are thinking -- is that we're seeing teacher-planned, decentralized curricular choices replaced with more centralization, including centrally-selected courseware like Reading Street.

As DPS pointed out in their statement, Reading Street was evaluated by teachers, administrators and parents and felt to be the best choice for a district-wide literacy curriculum.

Yet there's a substantial base of skepticism -- some of it at the national level from teachers opposed to the trend towards centrally-purchased and -implemented curricula -- about whether these programs work.

To me, the fact that Reading Street was authored by a person who was later named in the Bush administration's review of its own educational assessment raises questions in the minds of many about the quality, independence and efficacy of the entire system that is creating the educational materials used in schools.

We're turning to these curriculum programs -- nationwide, not just in DPS -- to try to improve the education in our public schools. But do these programs work?

When the assessors of programs' efficacy are also authoring programs, some are going to wonder if these investments, which take autonomy out of the hands of teachers and put them into those of educational publishers, will work or not.

Perhaps they will. Molly is correct that these issues are fairly isolated among themselves. But it points, to my mind, to give credence to some skepticism about our broader national approach to improving education.

Jeff Dieffenbach

@Kevin Davis, you write ...

"What I am saying -- and what I think a lot of parents are thinking -- is that we're seeing teacher-planned, decentralized curricular choices replaced with more centralization, including centrally-selected courseware like Reading Street.

...

Yet there's a substantial base of skepticism -- some of it at the national level from teachers opposed to the trend towards centrally-purchased and -implemented curricula -- about whether these programs work."

The question of whether programs work is of course exactly the right one.

1. An effective comprehensive reading program (core programs, supplements, assessment, and professional development) might be developed by a single entity, or it might come from a variety of sources.

2. Teaching reading is NOT the same thing as teaching literature, where it makes perfect sense to have a teacher select texts and passages and assess the students' work.

3. The needs of strong, average, and struggling readers don't vary by locality. As such, there's no inherent benefit to developing a reading program locally.

4. Reading programs need to be research-based and outcomes tested. Doing so takes time, expertise, and funding.

5. Compared with the US Department of Education or educational publishers, local schools and the teachers within them have relatively little time for program development, relatively little training in program development, and relatively little funding for program development.

The above being the true, I contend, is there really an argument in favor of the local development of a reading program? Shouldn't teachers be doing what teachers do best, which is taking effective tools and engaging students with passion, awareness, and experience such that understanding transfers to the students in their care?

Katie

I have briefly discussed some of this micromanaging with a very well respected and successful elementary teacher. This teacher has managed to have ALL of his/her students reading at or beyond the expected level (including ESL and academically challenged kids), with only one or two exceptions (who have since been diagnosed with serious learning disabilities). I have been in this teacher's classroom and seen the extra things done to achieve this goal -- including one-on-one reading of books with each child EVERY day, thanks to the help of a teaching assistant who IS encouraged to work one-on-one with the kids. Now this teacher and others are frustrated that their successful strategies are being undermined by mandated curriculums from the administration. Teachers need autonomy in their classrooms, so that the children can get the most out of what every INDIVIDUAL teacher has to offer. It is foolish for our school system to impose the same, standardized curriculum in every classroom. Not only does this undermine current, individualized and successful teaching strategies, it undermines the teachers' enthusiasm, and as a result, that of our kids.

We want our kids to get equally successful and engaging education, but this does NOT equate to equal, standardized classroom activities and tests...quite the contrary. What's next? Will we have a computerized screen at the front of every classroom and a few babysitters walking the room to make sure every child pretends to pay attention?

DPS would do better to mandate that all parents read at least one book with their children EVERY day of the school year, and require them to check off a weekly record in this regard. Those who don't do so should be required to attend a meeting with the principal for discussion. I know several engaged parents who have been active in their children's education, and whose children are doing very well in school, who have been questioned (and that's putting it lightly) by the bureacracy regarding their child's absences and tardiness. If parents can be required to regularly bring their kids to school on time -- no ifs, ands, or buts-- then surely they can be required to at least check a box indicating they have read with their child each day.

Melissa Rooney

It is frustrating, to say the least, to read that DPS has spent millions on this standardized reading program. The whole point of reading is to open up a plethora of avenues for children to explore -- not to give them the tools by which to pass standardized tests.

More importantly, I seriously question the methods DPS is employing in an effort to better their image. For instance, DPS cut summer school this year. I was surprised that parents weren't upset about this, until I remembered that most of the kids who need summer school do not have the luxury of engaged parents. As a result, those children who are having problems reading took many steps backward, starting well behind where they left off in May.

I was sucking up the summer school cuts until I read about the millions spent on Reading Street. I would much rather see DPS spend millions to continue these kids' education through the summer, so that they can at least maintain their current reading level, if not catch up with their classmates.

It appears America is now starting, in earnest, to outsource education -- to entities like Reading Street, who stand to make a lot of money out of the deal, but also to administration at every level. I feel for the teachers whose intelligence and commitment to their students are being left behind...along with the kids they are teaching.

Effi Cinecy d'Cost

Surely if it's all about teaching reading and not literature, DPS could save some big bucks by getting rid of teachers and replacing them with computers (like the foreign language labs at university or the Rosetta Stone language learning programs).

Why bother with utilizing a human's brain when it's simply a matter of learning a skill and teaching to a test?

The kid can simply listen on headsets and parrot the words back into the computer for instantaneous progress on the successful mimicking of the words. Nuance be damned!

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