As long as Montgomery County fails to teach children to read, it will have gaps

Karin Chenoweth:

In the words of the report, Montgomery County’s curriculum does “not include the necessary components to adequately address foundational skills.”

If you’re not immersed in these issues, you might not recognize just how scathing this language is. Montgomery County fails to do what just about all cognitive scientists and most reading researchers agree is critical to ensuring that children learn to read.

In addition, the report said that MCPS provided little to no support for students to build the vocabulary and background knowledge necessary for students to read well as they proceed through the grades. That doesn’t mean that teachers aren’t doing their best with what they have. But for decades the county has failed to provide a coherent, research-based curriculum that would mean that teachers don’t have to spend endless evening and weekend hours writing and finding materials. “Teachers should not be expected to be the composers of the music as well as the conductors of the orchestra,” the report said, quoting an educator.

In the wake of that report, Montgomery County adopted new curriculums for elementary and middle school that may help children to build vocabulary and background knowledge through the elementary and middle school years.

But if students don’t learn how to get words off the page efficiently and smoothly, huge numbers of children will continue to struggle academically. And there is little evidence that Montgomery County is providing teachers with either the knowledge or the materials to help them teach their students to read. Nor is the county ensuring that principals understand how to support teachers as they learn to improve reading instruction.

2005: When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before:

On November 7, Superintendent Art Rainwater made his annual report to the Board of Education on progress toward meeting the district’s student achievement goal in reading. As he did last fall, the superintendent made some interesting claims about the district’s success in closing the academic achievement gap “based on race”. 

According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading. He made the same claim last year, telling the Wisconsin State Journal on September 24, 2004, “for those kids for whom an ability to read would prevent them from being successful, we’ve reduced that percentage very substantially, and basically, for all practical purposes, closed the gap”. Last Monday, he stated that the gap between percentages scoring at the lowest level “is the original gap” that the board set out to close.

Unfortunately, that is not the achievement gap that the board aimed to close. 

2006: “They’re all Rich White Kids, and they’ll do just fine, NOT!”

2009: An emphasis on adult employment.

2013: What will be different, this time?

Madison Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham, 2015:

Shortly after the office was proposed, Cheatham said non-district-authorized charter schools have “no consistent record of improving education for children, but they do drain resources from public schools, without any control in our local community or school board.”

Rather than invest in what we know works in education, this proposal puts resources in strategies with mixed results at the expense of our public school students,” she said in May 2015

2011: A majority of the taxpayer supported Madison School Board aborted the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter school.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, lead by Governor Elect, Tony Evers, has waived Massachusetts’ style elementary teacher content knowledge requirements for thousands of teachers. 

Compare Madison, WI high school graduation rates and academic achievement data.

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.