The ‘Balanced Literacy’ Hoax

Chester Finn: My chief mentor, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, occasionally warned against “semantic infiltration,” which he correctly attributed to the late arms-control expert, Fred Ikle. It is, of course, the judo-like practice of using terms that are appealing to an audience as fig leaves for practices that the same audience would find repugnant—turning one’s … Continue reading The ‘Balanced Literacy’ Hoax

NYC – Balanced Literacy and Reading First Grant – $111 million. Why Wasn’t MMSD Successful?

Why didn’t MMSD qualify for Reading First dollars? NYC was awarded a Reading First grant of $111.4 million over three years for 49 public and 35 non-public schools. NYC offers Balanced Literacy to its school children. Madison offers Balanced Literacy. Why wasn’t the Reading First program able to become part of Madison’s Balanced Literacy? Part … Continue reading NYC – Balanced Literacy and Reading First Grant – $111 million. Why Wasn’t MMSD Successful?

Meeting the Challenges of Early Literacy Phonics Instruction

International Literacy Association: Learning to read can, at times, seem almost magical. A child sits in front of a book and transforms those squig- gles and lines into sounds, puts those sounds together to make words, and puts those words together to make meaning. But it’s not magical. English is an alphabetic language. We have … Continue reading Meeting the Challenges of Early Literacy Phonics Instruction

Madison School District’s Elementary Literacy Program

Madison Superintendent Jane Belmore (2.5MB PDF):

For the past four years, MMSD has been aware that the current implementation of balanced literacy, our core instructional program for literacy at the elementary level, has not resulted in all students making the progress necessary to meet grade level standards. The research shows that three key things are necessary for students to gain proficiency in the common core standards:

  • a highly qualified teacher in the classroom

  • a strong instructional leader in the school and
  • access to an aligned, guaranteed and viable curriculum (Marzano, 2003).

It is clear that MMSD has two out of these three in place: highly qualified teachers and strong instructional leaders. To maintain and develop strong teachers and leaders need well planned, embedded, ongoing professional development. The
School Support Team and Instructional Research Teachers provide us the mechanism for delivering this necessary professional development.
What is needed is a decision about a guaranteed, viable core instructional curriculum that is cohesive across all 32 elementary schools. All student will benefit from consistency across grades levels and schools. Our students from mobile families must have the security and consistency that this core will provide.

60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use.
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.

MMSD Literacy Program Review; “Instruction in Phonics Evident”, “Coloring, cutting/pasting and copying of other printed work would not be considered quality independent literacy work and this was seen in many classrooms”. Remarkable. Reading is job #1.

Lisa Wachtel, Executive Director of Curriculum & Assessment [104 Page PDF]:

Grades K-2 Literacy Walkthroughs
Background: Observations of literacy classes, or, walkthroughs, were scheduled for seventeen of MMSD’ s highest poverty elementary schools during the months of April and May. Three administrators visited each school for a half-day for a minimum of 12 hours of observation per school. All K-2 classrooms are observed for at least an hour by one of the three administrators. Second/third grade classrooms were observed in schools with multi-aged instructional designs. When substitute teachers are present, follow-up observations were attempted.
The purpose of the walk throughs was to provide schools with a baseline of literacy practices and to communicate a district snapshot of K-2 observable literacy practices when student routines and independence are well established. Although not a complete picture, the walkthroughs provided evidence of teaching emphasis, expectations, school/district implementation efforts and additional anecdotal information that might suggest potential areas for consideration.
Timeline: April16- May 25, 2012 Observations
May 30-31,2012 Meet with principals to discuss results of the observations
Observation Tool: Please see the attached document. This is an observation protocol merging documents developed by Fountas and Pinnell and Dom. This observation tool was selected because it captured the general categories of literacy instruction that would be included in a 90-120 minute literacy lesson. Observers could capture any of the elements observed during the 60 observations. An additional section, classroom environment provides a way to document materials and classroom structures.
Preliminary Findings:
1. The majority of primary literacy environments were organized around a Balanced Literacy Model. However, within that model, there was significant variation in what the model looked like. This lack of consistency was seen both within and across all 17 schools.
2. Most classrooms were organized in a planned and thoughtful manner. Attention was given to the development and use of a classroom library, individual book boxes and areas where students could work in pairs or small groups.
3. Although classrooms in most schools were thoughtfully organized, some classrooms were cluttered and there were not optimal environments for learning. It is recommended that IRTs work with teachers to create good physical environments in all classrooms.
4. Although the majority of classrooms had at least a 90 minute literacy block, some did not. Attention to direct instruction for at least 90 minutes is crucial for the success of all learners. Principals must make this a clear expectation. The literacy block must also be implemented with fidelity.
5. There was a lack of consistency both within and across grade levels based on common core standards and best teaching practices. This should be an area of emphasis for all schools. IRTs and principals will need to develop a tight structure of accountability that supports the Common Core State Standards and the Curriculum Companion tool.
6. In most cases, instruction in phonics and phonemic awareness was clearly evident. This instruction reflected the professional development both at the district and school level around phonics instruction, phonemic awareness and word work. Instruction appeared to be more systematic, targeted and focused than in previous years.
7. Guided Reading Instruction was observed in the many of the classrooms. It should be noted that in several schools guided reading did not occur five days a week. A wide range of practices were observed during guided reading. Teaching points were often unclear. Observers noted few teachers administering running records or maintaining other types of formative assessments.
8. Targeted, focused instruction around a precise teaching point is a critical component of quality literacy instruction. Focused feedback emphasizing areas of student mastery was also inconsistent. Again, consistency related to core practices as well as ongoing specific assessment practices should be apparent within and across elementary grades.
9. Professional development work should continue around the use of assessment tools. Principals must require the practice of ongoing assessment in all classrooms.
10. The development and use of anchor charts and mini lessons are critical pieces of strong core instruction. Anchor charts and mini lessons were seen in some classrooms and not in others. Professional development should address these ideas so that there is consistency across the district.
11. In many classrooms, the quality of independent student work was of concern. Teachers in all classrooms must pay careful attention to independent student work. This work must support the structure of the literacy block, be consistent with the focus of guided reading and be at each student’s independent level. Emphasis must consistently be on authentic reading and writing tasks. Work should be differentiated. Coloring, cutting/pasting and copying of other printed work would not be considered quality independent literacy work and this was seen in many classrooms (bold added).
12. Teachers were inconsistent in giving feedback to students related to specific learning. Clear, corrective feedback and/or affirmation of solid understandings will accelerate individual student learning and help learners tie the known to the new.
13. All students should also be receiving ongoing, focused feedback related to independent work and independent reading. Regular conferencing and assessment of independent reading and writing is a crucial component of a rigorous literacy curriculum.

Related: 60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use.

Madison School District Literacy Program Review’

Lisa Wachtel, Executive Director of Curriculum & Assessment [104 Page PDF]:

Grades K-2 Literacy Walkthroughs
Background: Observations of literacy classes, or, walkthroughs, were scheduled for seventeen of MMSD’ s highest poverty elementary schools during the months of April and May. Three administrators visited each school for a half-day for a minimum of 12 hours of observation per school. All K-2 classrooms are observed for at least an hour by one of the three administrators. Second/third grade classrooms were observed in schools with multi-aged instructional designs. When substitute teachers are present, follow-up observations were attempted.
The purpose of the walk throughs was to provide schools with a baseline of literacy practices and to communicate a district snapshot of K-2 observable literacy practices when student routines and independence are well established. Although not a complete picture, the walkthroughs provided evidence of teaching emphasis, expectations, school/district implementation efforts and additional anecdotal information that might suggest potential areas for consideration.
Timeline: April16- May 25, 2012 Observations
May 30-31,2012 Meet with principals to discuss results of the observations
Observation Tool: Please see the attached document. This is an observation protocol merging documents developed by Fountas and Pinnell and Dom. This observation tool was selected because it captured the general categories of literacy instruction that would be included in a 90-120 minute literacy lesson. Observers could capture any of the elements observed during the 60 observations. An additional section, classroom environment provides a way to document materials and classroom structures.
Preliminary Findings:
1. The majority of primary literacy environments were organized around a Balanced Literacy Model. However, within that model, there was significant variation in what the model looked like. This lack of consistency was seen both within and across all 17 schools.
2. Most classrooms were organized in a planned and thoughtful manner. Attention was given to the development and use of a classroom library, individual book boxes and areas where students could work in pairs or small groups.
3. Although classrooms in most schools were thoughtfully organized, some classrooms were cluttered and there were not optimal environments for learning. It is recommended that IRTs work with teachers to create good physical environments in all classrooms.
4. Although the majority of classrooms had at least a 90 minute literacy block, some did not. Attention to direct instruction for at least 90 minutes is crucial for the success of all learners. Principals must make this a clear expectation. The literacy block must also be implemented with fidelity.
5. There was a lack of consistency both within and across grade levels based on common core standards and best teaching practices. This should be an area of emphasis for all schools. IRTs and principals will need to develop a tight structure of accountability that supports the Common Core State Standards and the Curriculum Companion tool.
6. In most cases, instruction in phonics and phonemic awareness was clearly evident. This instruction reflected the professional development both at the district and school level around phonics instruction, phonemic awareness and word work. Instruction appeared to be more systematic, targeted and focused than in previous years.
7. Guided Reading Instruction was observed in the many of the classrooms. It should be noted that in several schools guided reading did not occur five days a week. A wide range of practices were observed during guided reading. Teaching points were often unclear. Observers noted few teachers administering running records or maintaining other types of formative assessments.
8. Targeted, focused instruction around a precise teaching point is a critical component of quality literacy instruction. Focused feedback emphasizing areas of student mastery was also inconsistent. Again, consistency related to core practices as well as ongoing specific assessment practices should be apparent within and across elementary grades.
9. Professional development work should continue around the use of assessment tools. Principals must require the practice of ongoing assessment in all classrooms.
10. The development and use of anchor charts and mini lessons are critical pieces of strong core instruction. Anchor charts and mini lessons were seen in some classrooms and not in others. Professional development should address these ideas so that there is consistency across the district.
11. In many classrooms, the quality of independent student work was of concern. Teachers in all classrooms must pay careful attention to independent student work. This work must support the structure of the literacy block, be consistent with the focus of guided reading and be at each student’s independent level. Emphasis must consistently be on authentic reading and writing tasks. Work should be differentiated. Coloring, cutting/pasting and copying of other printed work would not be considered quality independent literacy work and this was seen in many classrooms (bold added).
12. Teachers were inconsistent in giving feedback to students related to specific learning. Clear, corrective feedback and/or affirmation of solid understandings will accelerate individual student learning and help learners tie the known to the new.
13. All students should also be receiving ongoing, focused feedback related to independent work and independent reading. Regular conferencing and assessment of independent reading and writing is a crucial component of a rigorous literacy curriculum.

Related: 60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use.

Madison School District Literacy Program Evaluation

Lisa Wachtel, Executive Director of Curriculum & Assessment:

2010-11 was the first year in which a formal curricular review cycle has been initiated. According to the program review cycle approved by the MMSD Board of Education, literacy was the first area to be reviewed. As a part of an intensive first year (Year 1) review cycle, the Literacy Evaluation and Recommendations were presented to the Board in February, 2011. At the March, 2011 Board meeting, a panel presentation was made in addition to sharing updated action plans and budget implications. Additional budget clarifications were made at the April, 2011 Board meeting.
Recommendations Requested on June 6, 2011
It is recommended that the Board approve the Literacy Program Evaluation: Findings and Recommendations.
It is recommended that the Board approve $611,000 to support the Literacy Program Evaluation recommendations. $531,000 of this amount is included in the Superintendent’s 2011-12 Balanced Budget Funding for READ 180 in the amount of $80,000 is included in the recommended funding for additions to the 2011-12 cost-to-continue budget (memo dated May 16, 2011) from cost savings measures.
It is recommended that the Board approve the plan to purchase learning materials to support literacy in the amount of $415,000. In October, 2011, the Board requested a plan to outline the purchase. This plan supports the Literacy Evaluation Recommendations, including K-12 literacy instructional materials, Dual Language Immersion, and equity purchases. Funding for the $415,000 purchases is included in 2010-11 contingency accounts (Fund 10) transferred to Curriculum & Assessment (Fund 10) to supplement the Instructional Learning Materials Budget (ELM).
Supporting Documentation
The full report, K-12 Literacy Program Evaluation: Findings and Recommendation for Continual Improvement of Literacy Achievement & K-12 Alignment was submitted by courier to the Board on February 22, 2011. This document is in a 3-ring binder, and is not being re-sent in this packet
A summary document, titled Recommendations, Cost Considerations and Plan Description (dated March 17, 2011) provides more detail regarding how the action steps are being carried and reflects the most current budget requests totaling $611,000.

Comments on the Madison School District’s Literacy Initiative and Budget Proposal

First of all, our thanks and compliments to you and the administration for undertaking the assessment of literacy in the District. Thanks also to staff and outside advisors for their contributions to making the Report and Recommendations the most meaningful and significant direction for systemic change toward achieving measurable results in student achievement and staff performance in the District’s recent history.
We urge the Board of Education support of the Literacy Report AND adoption of the recommendations for implementation of the initiatives and for the budget proposed in the Superintendent’s Preliminary Budget for 2011-12. It is vital for the Board to support the direction of the initiatives for balanced literacy with integrity at all grades levels of the District. It is deplorable that heretofore there has been no systematic plan to address the reading and writing shortcomings of the District that are the most fundamental causative factor contributing to the “achievement gap”. Finally, we have pro-active leadership from Dr. Sue Abplanalp, who has a full grasp of the organizational development and change processes critical and significant to the implementation and sustainability of difference- making strategies. The proposed design of systemic changes to the curriculum, instructional strategies, engagement of teachers, support staff, students and parents/other adults and the realignment of financial and other resources will result in measurable student growth. Board adoption of the $650,000.00 2011-12 budget considerations is an absolute necessity of the very highest priority. We urge you to get on with it. Thank you.
For further information contact: Don Severson, donleader@aol.com 577-0851
Print version: 222K PDF

Questions and Concerns Regarding the “Findings and Recommendations” of the MMSD K-12 Literacy Program Evaluation report

The following questions and concerns are submitted to you for your consideration regarding the “findings and recommendations” of the MMSD K-12 Literacy Program Evaluation report:
1. What findings and recommendations are there for ‘year-around’ literacy experiences to help mitigate ‘losses’ over the summer months in achievement gains during the traditional academic year?
Although “summer loss” was not a particular focus of discussion during the evaluation process, there are several ways in which the recommendations address reducing the impact of summer reading loss. These include:
Recommendation I – curricular consistency will provide for a more seamless connection with content and instruction in summer school, Saturday school (pending funding) and after school supports.
Recommendation II – more explicit instruction focused in early grades will allow students to read for enjoyment at earlier ages.
Recommendation III – a well-developed intervention plan will follow a student through summer school and into the following academic year

2. What are the findings and recommendations regarding parental (significant adults in student’s life) participation, training, evaluation and accountability in the literacy learning process?
Parental participation opportunities to support their children’s enjoyment and achievement in literacy include:
Family Literacy Nights at various elementary schools and in collaboration with Madison School and Community Recreation. Town Hall Meetings that provide opportunities for families to share pros and cons of literacy practices at school and home.
Literacy 24-7: Parent training for Spanish speaking families on how to promote literacy learning. Read Your Heart Out Day: This event builds positive family, community and school relationships with a literacy focus and supports both the family involvement and cultural relevance components of the Madison Metropolitan School District Strategic Plan.
Tera Fortune: Professional development for parents about the Dual Language Immersion Program with a focus on bi-literacy throughout the content areas. MALDEF Curriculum Training: Nine-week training covering a variety of topics to assist parents in sharing the responsibility of student success and how to communicate effectively in schools.
Regular column in Umoja Magazine: Forum to inform families and community members about educational issues through African American educators’ expertise. Several columns have focused on literacy learning at home.
Training is provided for parents on how to choose literature that:
Has positive images that leave lasting impressions
Has accurate, factual information that is enjoyable to read
Contains meaningful stories that reflect a range of cultural values and lifestyles
Has clear and positive perspective for people of color in the 21st century
Contains material that is self affirming Promotes positive literacy learning at home
Evaluations of the Read Your Heart Out and Family Literacy Night were conducted by requesting that participating parents, staff, students and community members complete a survey about the success of the event and the effects on student achievement.

3. What are the consequential and remediation strategies for non-performance in meeting established achievement/teaching/support standards for students, staff and parents? What are the accompanying evaluation/assessment criteria?
A District Framework is nearing completion. This Framework will provide clear and consistent expectations and rubrics for all instructional staff and administrators. Improvement will be addressed through processes that include the School Improvement Plans and staff and administrator evaluations processes.
4. Please clarify the future of the Reading Recovery program.
MMSD proposes to maintain Reading Recovery teachers and teacher leaders as an intervention at grade 1. There are currently two Reading Recovery teacher leaders participating in a two-year professional development required to become Reading Recovery teacher leaders. One of these positions will be certified to support English Language Learners. The modifications proposed include: 1) targeting these highly skilled Reading Recovery teachers to specific students across schools based on district-wide data for 2011-12 and 2) integrating the skills of Reading Recovery staff into a comprehensive intervention plan along with skilled interventionists resulting in all elementary schools benefiting from grade 1 reading intervention.
5. How will the literacy learning process be integrated with the identification and development of Talented and Gifted (TAG) students?
The development of a balanced, comprehensive assessment system will result in teachers having more frequent and accurate student data available to tailor instruction. K-12 alignment uses tools such as Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) and Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS) are being implemented in Spring, 2011.
The Response to Intervention model is based on evidence-based instruction and responds to students who need additional challenge and/or support.

6. What will be the 2010-2011 budgetary priorities and strategies for undertaking the literacy program and resources recommendations outlined in the report?
PreK-12 literacy will be a priority for the 2011-12 budget process. In addition to the prioritization of funding within our budget parameters, MMSD is in the process of writing a major grant (Investing in Innovation – i3) to support the recommendations of the literacy evaluation as a key strategy to close achievement gaps and improve literacy for all students to be ready for college and/or careers.

Madison School District’s “K-12 Literacy Program Evaluation”

Prepared by the Literacy Advisory Committee with support from the Hanover Research Council, 6MB PDF Recommendations and Costs pages 129-140, via a kind reader’s email:

1. Intensify reading instruction in Kindergarten in order to ensure all No additional costs. Professional development provided by central students are proficient in oral reading and comprehension as office and building-based literacy staff must focus on Kindergarten. measured by valid and reliable assessments by 2011-2012. Instruction and assessment will be bench marked to ensure Kindergarten proficiency is at readinQ levels 3-7 {PLAA, 2009).
2. Fully implement Balanced Literacy in 2011-12 using clearly defined, Comprehensive Literacy Model (Linda Dorn), the MMSD Primary Literacy Notebook and the MMSD 3-5 Literacy Notebook.
a. Explore research-based reading curricula using the Board of Education Evaluation of Learning Materials Policy 3611 with particular focus on targeted and explicit instruction, to develop readers in Kindergarten.
b. Pilot the new reading curricula in volunteer schools during 2011-12.
c. Analyze Kindergarten reading proficiency scores from Kindergarten students in fully implemented Balanced Literacy schools and Kindergarten students in the volunteer schools piloting the new reading curricula incorporated into a
Balanced Literacy framework to inform next steps.
d. Continue pilot in volunteer schools in Grade 1 during 2012-13 and Grade 2 durino 2013-14. 2011-12 Budget Addition Request $250,000
3. Incorporate explicit reading instruction and literacy curricula into 6th grade instruction.
…..
3. Review previous Reading Recovery recommendations, with Additional Reading considerations to:

  • Place Reading Recovery Teachers in buildings as needed to (displaced rate when new teacher is hired).reflect the needs of 20% of our District’s lowest performing first graders, regardless of what elementary school they may attend;
  • Analyze the other instructional assignments given to Reading Recovery teachers in order to maximize their expertise as highly skilled reading interventionists
  • Ensure standard case load for each Reading Recovery teacher at National Reading Recovery standards and guidelines (e.g. 8 students/year).
  • Place interventionists in buildings without Reading Recovery. Interventionists would receive professional development to lift the quality of interventions for students who need additional support in literacy.

Additional Reading Recovery and/or Interventionist FTE costs. 1 FTE-$79,915 (average rate when teacher is re-assigned). 1 new FTE-$61,180 (displaced rate when new teacher is hired).

Related:

“Who Is Carmen Fariña?” Mayor De Blasio’s new schools chancellor is a longtime champion of failed progressive pedagogy.

Sol Stern:

In his press conference introducing Carmen Fariña as New York City’s next schools chancellor, Mayor Bill de Blasio suggested that he had picked her over several other candidates because she was on the same page with him in opposing Bloomberg-era education reforms. Most of the city’s education reporters took the new mayor’s spin and ran with it, even though Fariña had served loyally as Michael Bloomberg’s second-highest-ranking education official. Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez predicted that Fariña would now bring “revolutionary” changes to the department of education that she left in 2006. A headline in The Hechinger Report claimed that Fariña wanted DRAMATIC–EVEN JOYFUL–DEPARTURE FROM BLOOMBERG ERA. But that depends on what Bloomberg era you’re talking about: during the years that she served in the administration, Fariña was fully on board with its education policies.
In fact, considering Fariña’s pivotal role during the first Bloomberg term in shaping the Department of Education’s radical initiatives, portraying her as a dissident from within seems absurd. Mayor Bloomberg took control of the schools in June 2002, but he knew little about what actually went on in the city’s classrooms. He appointed Joel Klein, a corporate lawyer with no background in instructional issues, as his first schools chancellor. Bloomberg and Klein deferred virtually all decision-making on classroom instruction and curriculum to a cadre of veteran progressive educators led by Diana Lam, Klein’s first deputy chancellor for teaching and learning. Lam and Fariña convinced Klein to introduce the constructivist “balanced-literacy” reading and writing program, developed by Lucy Calkins of Columbia Teachers College, along with a fuzzy constructivist-math program called Everyday Math, into just about every elementary school classroom in the city. (Klein would eventually realize that adopting balanced literacy was a serious mistake.)
In an early 2003 speech presenting his administration’s new education reforms, Mayor Bloomberg declared that the “experience of other urban school districts shows that a standardized approach to reading, writing, and math is the best way to raise student performance across the board in all subjects,” and therefore that “the chancellor’s office will dictate the curriculum.” And so it did. Lam soon became embroiled in a nepotism scandal and had to resign. Fariña then took over as deputy chancellor for instruction. She became the DOE’s enforcer, making sure that all teachers in the elementary schools toed the line and implemented Calkins’s constructivist methods for teaching reading and writing. Teachers received a list of “nonnegotiable” guidelines for arranging their classrooms, including such minute details as the requirement that there must be a rug on the floor for students to sit on in the early grades and that nothing but student work be posted on the walls.
Balanced literacy has no track record of raising the academic performance of poor minority children. No independent research study has ever evaluated its methodology. Nevertheless, it was popular in education schools because it promulgated two of progressive education’s key commandments: that teachers must abandon deadening “drill and kill” methods and that students are capable of “constructing their own knowledge.” Progressives such as Calkins evoked ideal classrooms, where young children naturally find their way to literacy without enduring boring, scripted phonics drills forced on them by automaton teachers. Instead, in a balanced-literacy classroom, students work in small groups and follow what Calkins calls the “workshop model” of cooperative learning. The program takes for granted that children can learn to read and write naturally, with minimal guidance. Calkins rejects E.D. Hirsch’s finding (based on an overwhelming consensus in cognitive-science research) that the key to improving children’s reading comprehension is grounding them in broad knowledge, which she and other progressives dismiss as “mere facts.” Calkins also believes that her model classrooms promote “social justice” for all. In an interview I conducted with her at the time the DOE selected her program, she told me that “It’s a great move to social justice to bring [balanced literacy] to every school in the city.”
That’s what Fariña tried to accomplish in the early years of the Bloomberg administration–including the social-justice part. She was instrumental in creating the most centralized, top-down instructional system in the recent history of American public education. Agents of the deputy chancellor (euphemistically called “coaches”) fanned out to almost all city elementary schools to make sure that every teacher was marching in lockstep with the department of education’s new pedagogical approach. Under the rubric of “professional development,” DOE central headquarters launched an aggressive campaign to force teachers to teach literacy and math only one way–the progressive way. Each of the city’s 80,000 teachers got a six-hour CD-ROM laying out the philosophy behind the new standardized curriculum and pedagogy. The CD portrayed the world of progressive education writ large, with all its romantic assumptions about how children learn. In addition to inculcating Calkins’s balanced literacy, the DOE’s training manual celebrated the theories of an obscure Australian education guru–Brian Cambourne of Wollongong University in New South Wales, a leader of the whole-language movement (a cousin of balanced literacy) then dominating Australian public schools. Cambourne’s ideas gave city teachers not only more balanced literacy (or whole language) theory, but also a warrant for social-justice teaching.
Cambourne claims that as a young teacher, he discovered that many of his poorly performing students were actually quite bright. To his surprise, almost all demonstrated extraordinary competence in performing challenging tasks. The son of the local bookie, for example, “couldn’t learn basic math,” according to Cambourne, “but could calculate the probability the Queen of Spades was in the deck faster than I could.” Cambourne decided that children learn better in natural settings, with a minimum of adult help–a staple of progressive-education thought. Thus the role of the educator should be to create classroom environments that stimulate children but also closely resemble the way adults work and learn. Children should no longer sit in rows facing the teacher; instead, the room should be arranged with work areas where children can construct their own knowledge, much as in Calkins’s workshop model of balanced literacy.
Such constructivist assumptions about how to teach literacy were enforced with draconian discipline in city schools for several years. Progressives like Calkins, Cambourne, and Fariña don’t insist that more learning occurs when children work in groups and in “natural” settings because they’ve followed any evidence. To the contrary, as much as it tells us anything on this issue, science makes clear that, particularly for disadvantaged children, direct, explicit instruction works best. But under Fariña, reeducation sessions for teachers were meant to overcome dissenting opinion and drive home the progressive party line. To quote the directives to teachers included on the CD: “Your students must not be sitting in rows. You must not stand at the head of the class. You must not do ‘chalk and talk’ at the blackboard. You must have a ‘workshop’ in every single reading period. Your students must be ‘active learners,’ and they must work in groups.”
As I reported at the time, some brave teachers objected. At Junior High School 44 in Manhattan, a teacher tried to point out to his supervisor, quite reasonably, that some teachers feel more comfortable with and get better results through direct instruction and other traditional methods. The school’s literacy coach, sent by the DOE, then responded: “This is the way it is. Everyone will do it this way, or you can change schools.”
Calkins was grateful for Carmen Fariña’s efforts in advancing her instructional agenda, her career, and her organization’s bottom line. (Calkins’s Readers and Writers Program at Teachers College received over $10 million in no-bid contracts from the city.) Calkins expressed her appreciation in a forward she penned for Fariña’s book, A School Leader’s Guide to Excellence, coauthored with Laura Koch, Fariña’s closest associate and collaborator at the DOE. “When Carmen and Laura took the helm of New York City’s school system, teachers, staff developers, and principals across the entire city let out a collective cheer of enthusiasm,” Calkins writes. She conjures a glorious history: “Within a week [of Fariña’s promotion to deputy chancellor for instruction] our education system began to change. Educators at every level could feel possibility in the air; the excitement was palpable.” And because of Fariña’s magic, “sound practices in the teaching of reading and writing became the talk of the town–the subject of study groups and hallway conversations in every school . . . The entire city began working together afresh to meet the challenge of improving education for all children.”
In reality, though, the balanced-literacy advocates failed in this task. The city’s eighth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests barely budged over 12 years, despite a doubling of education spending–from $12 billion to $24 billion. There was no narrowing of the racial achievement gap. (In sounding his tale of two cities theme, Mayor de Blasio makes no accounting for the failure of progressive education programs to reduce the academic achievement gap between poor and middle-class children.)
Recognizing balanced literacy’s meager results, Chancellor Klein reverted to a system of more autonomous schools, giving principals far more discretion over instructional matters. Klein apparently came to believe that he had been misled by Fariña and Calkins. The chancellor then became a supporter of Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum, with its focus on direct instruction and the teaching of broad content knowledge. He set up a three-year pilot program, matching ten elementary schools using the Hirsch early-grade literacy curriculum against a demographically similar cohort of ten schools that used balanced literacy. The children in the Core Knowledge schools significantly outperformed those in the schools using the Calkins approach.
Still opposing the direct teaching of factual knowledge, Fariña recently shrugged off the pilot study, saying that not enough schools were involved. But if Fariña is serious about that criticism, she now has an opportunity to run a much larger evaluation of Core Knowledge. As a result of the city’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards and of aligned curricula emphasizing the “rich content knowledge” that the standards require, 71 elementary school principals have chosen to use Hirsch’s Core Knowledge literacy program in their schools.
Let Fariña visit and study those schools over the next year. If she really is committed to changing the tale of two cities, as she and the new mayor claim to be, one way to start would be to cast aside ideology and judge whether those Core Knowledge classrooms, drenched in “mere facts,” are actually the key to narrowing the devastating knowledge gap between middle-class kids and poor children, who begin school with little knowledge of the world and with a stunted vocabulary. She might also find that there is at least as much “joy” in classrooms in which children get taught explicitly about the world around them as there is in classrooms in which children “construct” their own knowledge.

61 Page Madison Schools Achievement Gap Plan -Accountability Plans and Progress Indicators

Madison Superintendent Jane Belmore (2.5mb PDF)

Background on Goals: During the Student Achievement Committee meeting of October 1, several Board members discussed the issue of setting reasonable goals and the time needed to accomplish them. Most of the goals presented today are based on a five-year convergence model. Under this approach, achievement gaps are closed for every student subgroup in five years.
Forr example the baseline four-year graduation rate among white students is 85%. It is 61% among Hispanic students, and 54% among African American students.. With a five-year convergence model, the goal is for all student subgroups to reach a 90% on-time graduation rate. It is a statement that all student subgroups should improve and all gaps should close.
The reason for this approach is twofold. First, as adopted by the Board, the Achievement Gap Plan is a five-year plan. It is important that the student achievement goals reflect the timeline in the plan itself. The timeline for goals could be pushed out to ten years or more, but it would require formal directive from the Board to adopt ten years as the district’s new timeline for the Achievement Gap Plan.
Second, other models can be seen as conveying different expectations for students based on race/ethnicity or other characteristics like poverty, and that is not our intent. Taking ten years or longer to achieve stated goals may be viewed as a more reasonable time frame, but a five-year plan comes with a natural snapshot half way through that will illustrate persistent gaps and potentially convey varying expectations. Again, that is not our intent or our goal.
A note on Chapter 1, Literacy: The Accountability Plans for literacy are an example of two important concepts:
1. The district wide, instructional core in literacy must be strengthened in every school and every grade. Chapter 1, #1 speaks to a part of strengthening that core.
2. Once the core is strong fewer interventions are needed. However, some students will continue to need additional support. Chapter 1, #2 speaks to one example of an intervention that will help to prevent summer reading loss and close gaps.
The Board approval of $1.9 million for the purchase of elementary literacy materials provides a powerful framework for bringing cohesion to the elementary literacy program. The purchase will provide a well-coordinated core literacy program that is aligned with the common core standards and meets the needs of all learners.
The first steps will bring together an Elementary Literacy Leadership team to clarify the purpose and framework for our program. The overall framework for our entire elementary literacy program is Balanced Literacy. Building upon the current MMSD core practices in 4K-12 Literacy and Focus documents, the work being done to align our instruction and assessment with common core standards will increase rigor and take our current Elementary Balanced Literacy Program to what could be seen as an Elementary Balanced Literacy Program version 2.0. The Elementary Literacy Leadership team will bring clarity to the components of the program and what is expected and what is optional.
Chapter 1, #1 and #2 are important supports for our Balanced Literacy Program

Reading is certainly job number one for the Madison School District – and has been for quite some time….
Related: November, 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.
In 1998, the Madison School Board adopted an important academic goal: “that all students complete the 3rd grade able to read at or beyond grade level”. We adopted this goal in response to recommendations from a citizen study group that believed that minority students who are not competent as readers by the end of the third grade fall behind in all academic areas after third grade.
“All students” meant all students. We promised to stop thinking in terms of average student achievement in reading. Instead, we would separately analyze the reading ability of students by subgroups. The subgroups included white, African American, Hispanic, Southeast Asian, and other Asian students.

Nonfiction Curriculum Enhanced Reading Skills, Study Finds

Anna Phillips:

Children in New York City who learned to read using an experimental curriculum that emphasized nonfiction texts outperformed those at other schools that used methods that have been encouraged since the Bloomberg administration’s early days, according to a new study to be released Monday.
For three years, a pilot program tracked the reading ability of approximately 1,000 students at 20 New York City schools, following them from kindergarten through second grade. Half of the schools adopted a curriculum designed by the education theorist E. D. Hirsch Jr.’s Core Knowledge Foundation. The other 10 used a variety of methods, but most fell under the definition of “balanced literacy,” an approach that was spread citywide by former Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, beginning in 2003.
The study found that second graders who were taught to read using the Core Knowledge program scored significantly higher on reading comprehension tests than did those in the comparison schools.
It also tested children on their social studies and science knowledge, and again found that the Core Knowledge pupils came out ahead. Citywide, budget cuts and the drive to increase scores on the state reading and math exams have led many elementary and middle schools to whittle down their social studies and science instruction.

9.27.2011 Wisconsin Read to Lead Task Force Notes

Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via a kind Chan Stroman-Roll email:

Guest Speaker Mark Seidenberg (Donald O. Hebb and Hilldale Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience, UW-Madison): Professor Seidenberg gave an excellent presentation on the science of reading and why it is important to incorporate the findings of that science in teaching. Right now there is a huge disconnect between the vast, converged body of science worldwide and instructional practice. Prospective teachers are not learning about reading science in IHE’s, and relying on intuition about how to teach reading is biased and can mislead. Teaching older students to read is expensive and difficult. Up-front prevention of reading failure is important, and research shows us it is possible, even for dyslexic students. This will save money, and make the road easier for students to learn and teachers to teach. Seidenberg endorses using the Massachusetts model exam for teachers of reading (MTEL 90), which was developed with input from reading scientists. He also supports universal assessment to identify students who are at risk, and he mentioned the Minnesota Reading Corps as a model of reading tutoring that would be good to bring to Wisconsin.
Lander: Can Seidenberg provide a few examples of things on which the Task Force could reach consensus?
Seidenberg: There is a window for teaching basic reading skills that then will allow the child to move on to comprehension. The balanced literacy concept is in conflict with best practices. Classrooms in Wisconsin are too laissez-faire, and the spiraling approach to learning does not align with science.
Michael Brickman: Brickman, the Governor’s aide, cut off the discussion with Professor Seidenberg, and said he would be in touch with him later.

Much more on the Read to Lead Task Force, here.

An Open Letter to the Wisconsin Read To Lead Task Force on Implementing Common Core Academic Standards; DPI: “Leading Us Backwards”

Dan Gustafson, PhD 133K PDF, via a kind email from the Wisconsin Reading Coalition:

WRC recommends reading the following open letter from Madison neuropsychologist Dan Gustafson to the Governor’s Read to Lead task force. It reflects many of our concerns about the state of reading instruction in Wisconsin and the lack of an effective response from the Department of Public Instruction.
An Open Letter to the Read-To-Lead Task Force
From Dan Gustafson, PhD
State Superintendent Evers, you appointed me to the Common Core Leadership Group. You charged that the Leadership Group would guide Wisconsin’s implementation of new reading instruction standards developed by the National Governors’ Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).
It is my understanding that I was asked to join the group with the express purpose of bringing different voices to the table. If anything, my experience with the group illustrates how very far we need to go in achieving a transparent and reasoned discussion about the reading crisis in Wisconsin.
DPI Secretly Endorses Plan Created by Poor Performing CESA-7
I have grave concerns about DPI’s recent announcement that Wisconsin will follow CESA-7’s approach to implementing the Common Core reading standards. DPI is proposing this will be the state’s new model reading curriculum.
I can attest that there was absolutely no consensus reached in the Common Core group in support of CESA-7’s approach. In point of fact, at the 27th of June Common Core meeting, CESA-7 representative Claire Wick refused to respond to even general questions about her program.
I pointed out that our group, the Common Core Leadership Group, had a right to know about how CESA-7 intended to implement the Common Core Standards. She denied this was the case, citing a “non-disclosure agreement.”
The moderator of the discussion, DPI’s Emilie Amundson, concurred that Claire didn’t need to discuss the program further on the grounds that it was only a CESA-7 program. Our Common Core meeting occurred on the 27th of June. Only two weeks later, on July 14th, DPI released the following statement:
State Superintendent Evers formally adopted the Common Core State Standards in June 2010, making Wisconsin the first state in the country to adopt these rigorous, internationally benchmarked set of expectations for what students should know and are expected to do in English Language Arts and Mathematics. These standards guide both curriculum and assessment development at the state level. Significant work is now underway to determine how training will be advanced for these new standards, and DPI is currently working with CESA 7 to develop a model curriculum aligned to the new standards.
In glaring contrast to the deliberative process that went into creating the Common Core goals, Wisconsin is rushing to implement the goals without being willing to even show their program to their own panel of experts.
What Do We Know About Wisconsin/CESA-7’s Model Curriculum?
As an outsider to DPI, I was only able to locate one piece of data regarding CESA-7’s elementary school reading performance:
4TH GRADE READING SCORES, 2007-08 WKCE-CRT,
CESA-7 IS AMONG THE WORST PERFORMING DISTRICTS.
CESA-7 RANKED 10TH OF THE 12 WISCONSIN CESA’S.
What Claire did say about her philosophy and the CESA-7 program, before she decided to refuse further comment, was that she did not think significant changes were needed in reading instruction in Wisconsin, as “only three-percent” of children were struggling to read in the state. This is a strikingly low number, one that reflects an arbitrary cutoff for special education. Her view does not reflect the painful experience of the 67% of Wisconsin 4th graders who scored below proficient on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress.
As people in attendance at the meeting can attest, Claire also said that her approach was “not curriculum neutral” and she was taking a “strong stand” on how to teach reading. Again, when I pressed her on what these statements meant, she would only reference oblique whole language jargon, such as a belief in the principal of release from instruction. When I later asked her about finding a balance that included more phonics instruction, she said “too much emphasis” had been given to balanced literacy. After making her brief statements to the Common Core group, she said she had already disclosed too much, and refused to provide more details about the CESA-7 program.
Disregarding Research and Enormous Gains Made by other States, Wisconsin Continues to Stridently Support Whole Language
During the remainder of the day-long meeting on the 27th, I pressed the group to decide about a mechanism to achieve an expert consensus grounded in research. I suggested ways we could move beyond the clear differences that existed among us regarding how to assess and teach reading.
The end product of the meeting, however, was just a list of aspirational goals. We were told this would likely be the last meeting of the group. There was no substantive discussion about implementation of the goals–even though this had been Superintendent Evers’ primary mandate for the group.
I can better understand now why Emilie kept steering the discussion back to aspirational goals. The backroom deal had already been made with Claire and other leaders of the Wisconsin State Reading Association (WSRA). It would have been inconvenient to tell me the truth.
WSRA continues to unapologetically champion a remarkably strident version of whole-language reading instruction. Please take a look at the advocacy section of their website. Their model of reading instruction has been abandoned through most the United States due to lack of research support. It is still alive and well in CESA-7, however.
Our State Motto is “Forward”
After years of failing to identify and recommend model curriculum by passing it off as an issue of local control, the DPI now purports to lead. Unfortunately, Superintendent Evers, you are now leading us backward.
Making CESA-7 your model curriculum is going to cause real harm. DPI is not only rashly and secretly endorsing what appears to be a radical version of whole language, but now school districts who have adopted research validated procedures, such as the Monroe School District, will feel themselves under pressure to fall in line with your recommended curriculum.
By all appearances, CESA-7’s program is absolutely out of keeping with new Federal laws addressing Response to Intervention and Wisconsin’s own Specific Learning Disability Rule. CESA-7’s program will not earn us Race to the Top funding. Most significantly, CESA-7’s approach is going to harm children.
In medicine we would call this malpractice. There is clear and compelling data supporting one set of interventions (Monroe), and another set of intervention that are counter-indicated (CESA-7). This is not a matter of opinion, or people taking sides. This is an empirical question. If you don’t have them already, I hope you will find trusted advisors who will rise above the WSRA obfuscation and just look at the data. It is my impression that you are moving fast and receiving poor advice.
I am mystified as to why, after years of making little headway on topics related to reading, DPI is now making major decisions at a breakneck pace. Is this an effort to circumvent the Read-To-Lead Task Force by instituting new policies before the group has finished its scheduled meetings? Superintendent Evers, why haven’t you shared anything about the CESA-7 curriculum with them? Have you already made your decision, or are you prepared to show the Read-To-Lead that there is a deliberative process underway to find a true model curriculum?
There are senior leaders at DPI who recognize that the reading-related input DPI has received has been substantially unbalanced. For example, there were about five senior WSRA members present at the Common Core meetings, meaning that I was substantially outnumbered. While ultimately unsuccessful due to logistics, an 11th hour effort was made to add researchers and leadership members from the Wisconsin Reading Coalition to the Common Core group.
The Leadership Group could achieve what you asked of it, which is to thoughtfully guide implementation of the Common Core. I am still willing to work with you on this goal.
State Superintendent Evers, I assume that you asked me to be a member of the Leadership Group in good faith, and will be disappointed to learn of what actually transpired with the group. You may have the false impression that CESA-7’s approach was vetted at your Common Core Leadership Group. Lastly, and most importantly, I trust you have every desire to see beyond destructive politics and find a way to protect the welfare of the children of Wisconsin.
Sincerely,
Dan Gustafson, PhD, EdM
Neuropsychologist, Dean Clinic

View a 133K PDF or Google Docs version.
Related:
How does Wisconsin Compare: 2 Big Goals.
Wisconsin Academic Standards

Wisconsin Teacher Content Knowledge Requirement Comparison

Wisconsin Governor Walker’s Read to Lead task force met on May 31st at the State Capitol. Following are observations from WRC.

Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via email:

Governor Walker’s Read to Lead task force met on May 31st at the State Capitol. Following are observations from WRC.
Note: Peggy Stern, an Oscar-winning filmmaker currently working on a project about dyslexia, had a crew filming the meeting. If we are able to acquire footage, we will make it available. If you would like Wisconsin Eye to record future meetings, please contact them at comments@wiseye.org.
Format: Unlike the first task force meeting, this meeting was guided by two facilitators from AIR, the American Institutes for Research. This was a suggestion of Senator Luther Olsen, and the facilitators were procured by State Superintendent Tony Evers. Evers and Governor Walker expressed appreciation at not having to be concerned with running the meeting, but there were some problems with the round-robin format chosen by the facilitators. Rather than a give-and-take discussion, as happened at the first meeting, this was primarily a series of statements from people at the table. There was very little opportunity to seek clarification or challenge statements. Time was spent encouraging everyone to comment on every question, regardless of whether they had anything of substance to contribute, and the time allotted to individual task force members varied. Some were cut off before finishing, while others were allowed to go on at length. As a direct result of this format, the conversation was considerably less robust than at the first meeting.
Topics: The range of topics proved to be too ambitious for the time allowed. Teacher preparation and professional development took up the bulk of the time, followed by a rather cursory discussion of assessment tools. The discussion of reading interventions was held over for the next meeting.
Guests:
Dawnene Hassett, Asst. Prof. of Curriculum and Instruction and new elementary literacy chair, UW-Madison
Tania Mertzman Habeck, Assoc. Prof. of Curriculum and Instruction, UW-Milwaukee
Mary Jo Ziegler, Reading Consultant, Wis. Department of Public Instruction
Troy Couillard, Special Education Team, Wis. Department of Public Instruction
Next Meetings: The Governor’s office will work to set up a schedule of meetings for the next several months. Some of the meetings may be in other parts of the state.
Action: WRC suggests contacting the offices of the Governor, Luther Olsen, Steve Kestell, and Jason Fields and your own legislators to ask for several things:
Arrange for filming the next meeting through Wisconsin Eye
Bring in national experts such as Louisa Moats, Joe Torgesen, and Peggy McCardle to provide Wisconsin with the road map for effective reading instruction, teacher preparation, and professional development . . . top university, DPI, and professional organization leaders at the May 31st meeting asked for a road map and admitted they have not been able to develop one
Arrange the format of the next meeting to allow for more authentic and robust discussion of issues
Summary
Teacher Training and Professional Development
The professors felt that the five components of reading (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension) are generally taught in preparation programs, but that instruction varies widely from one institution to another. Reading course work requirements can vary from 12 credits to just one course. They also felt, as did the teachers on the panel, that there needs to be more practical hand-on experience in the undergraduate program. There was a feeling that teachers “forget” their instruction in reading foundations by the time they graduate and get into the classroom. They have better luck teaching masters level students who already have classroom experience. The linguistic knowledge means very little without a practicum, and we may need to resort to professional development to impart that information. Teachers need to be experts in teaching reading, but many currently don’t feel that way. It is important, especially with RTI coming, to be able to meet the needs of individual students.Both professors and teachers, as well as others on the panel, felt a “road map” of critical information for teacher preparation programs and literacy instruction in schools would be a good idea. This was a point of agreement. Hassett felt that pieces of a plan currently exist, but not a complete road map. The professors and some of the teachers felt that teacher prep programs are doing a better job at teaching decoding than comprehension strategies. They were open to more uniformity in syllabi and some top-down mandates.
Marcia Henry mentioned studies by Joshi, et al. that found that 53% of pre-service teachers and 60% of in-service teachers are unable to correctly answer questions about the structure of the English language. Tony Pedriana cited another Joshi study that showed college professors of reading were equally uninformed about the language, and the majority cannot distinguish between phonemic awareness and phonics. He also said it was very difficult to find out what colleges were teaching; one college recently refused his request to see a syllabus for a reading course. Steve Dykstra read from the former Wisconsin Model Academic Standards and the current Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards, which contained incorrect definitions and examples of phonemic awareness. He questioned whether teachers were being adequately prepared in decoding skills. Rep. Steve Kestell was concerned with the assessment that most teachers do not feel like experts in teaching reading, and he wondered if updated techniques for training teachers would make a difference.
Sarah Archibald (aide to Luther Olsen) proposed looking at a more rigorous foundations of reading test, as found in other states, as a requirement for teacher licensure. This would be one way to move toward more uniform instruction in teacher prep programs. Steve Dykstra pointed out that a test alone will not necessarily drive changes in teacher preparation, but publishing the passage results linked to individual colleges or professors would help. Evers indicated that DPI has been looking for several months into teacher testing and licensure.
Gov. Walker asked if the ed schools were looking at the latest trends in teacher preparation to become better. The professors indicated that the ed schools confer with local districts in an effort to improve.
Supt. Evers said it was probably not a good idea that teacher prep programs across Wisconsin vary so much.
Hassett indicated that some flexibility needs to be retained so that urban and rural areas can teach differently. There was some disagreement as to whether teachers of upper grades need to be trained in reading, or at least trained the same way.
Linda Pils pointed out that the amount and quality of professional development for Wisconsin teachers is very spotty. Most panel members felt that a coaching model with ongoing training for both teachers and principals was essential to professional development, but the coaches must be adequately trained. There was some discussion of Professional Development Plans, which are required for relicensure, and whether the areas of development should be totally up the individual teacher as they are now. Steve Dykstra felt that much existing professional development is very poor, and that money and time needs to be spent better. Some things should not count for professional development. Michele Erikson felt that it would be good to require that Professional development be linked to the needs of the students as demonstrated by performance data. Mary Read pointed out that coaching should extend to summer programs.
The main consensus here was that we need a road map for good reading instruction and good teacher training and coaching. What is missing is the substance of that road map, and the experts we will listen to in developing it.
Assessment
Mary Jo Ziegler presented a list of formal and informal assessment tools used around Wisconsin. Evers pointed out that assessment is a local district decision. Many former Reading First schools use DIBELS or some formal screener that assesses individual skills. Balanced literacy districts generally use something different. Madison, for example, has its own PLA (Primary Language Assessment), which includes running records, an observational survey, word identification, etc. MAP assessments are widely used, but Evers indicated that have not been shown to be reliable/valid below third grade. Dykstra questioned the reliability of MAP on the individual student level for all ages. PALS was discussed, as was the new wireless handheld DIBELS technology that some states are using statewide. Many members mentioned the importance of having multiple methods of assessment. Kathy Champeau delivered an impassioned plea for running records and Clay’s Observational Survey, which she said have been cornerstones of her teaching. Kestell was surprised that so many different tools are being used, and that the goal should be to make use of the data that is gathered. Dykstra, Henry, and Pedriana mentioned that assessment must guide instruction, and Archibald said that the purpose of an assessment must be considered. Couillard said that the Wis. RTI center is producing a questionnaire by which districts can evaluate assessment tools they hear about, and that they will do trainings on multiple and balanced assessments. Dykstra questioned the three-cue reading philosophy that often underlies miscue analysis and running records. no consensus was reached on what types of assessment should be used, or whether they should be more consistent across the state. Hassett questioned the timed component of DIBELS,and Dykstra explained its purpose. Some serious disagreements remain about the appropriateness of certain assessment tools, and their use by untrained teachers who do not know what warning signs to look for.
Intervention
Evers began the topic of intervention by saying that DPI was still collecting data on districts that score well, and then will look at what intervention techniques they use. Henry suggested deferring discussion of this important topic to the next meeting, as there were only 8 minutes left.

Reading Recovery Discussed at the 12/7/2009 Madison School Board Meeting and Administration Followup


Click for a Reading Recovery Data Summary from Madison’s Elementary Schools. December 2009

Madison School Board 24MB mp3 audio file. Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad’s December 10, 2009 memorandum [311K PDF] to the board in response to the 12/7/2009 meeting:

Attached to this memo are several items related to further explanation of the reason why full implementation is more effective for Reading Recovery and what will happen to the schools who would no longer receive Reading Recovery as part of the administrative recommendation. There are three options for your review:

  • Option I: Continue serving the 23 schools with modifications.
  • Option II: Reading Recovery Full Implementation at Title I schools and Non-Title I Schools.
  • Option III: Serving some students in all or a majority of schools, not just the 23 schools who are currently served.

The first attachment is a one-page overview summary ofthe MMSD Comprehensive Literacy Model. It explains the Balanced Literacy Model used in all MMSD elementary schools. It also provides an explanation of the wrap around services to support each school through the use of an Instructional Resource Teacher as well as Tier II and Tier III interventions common in all schools.
The second attachment shows the detailed K-5 Title I Reading Curriculum Description in which MMSD uses four programs in Title I schools: Rock and Read, Reading Recovery, Apprenticeship, and Soar to Success. As part of our recommendation, professional development will be provided in all elementary schools to enable all teachers to use these programs. Beginning in Kindergarten, the four instructional interventions support and develop students’ reading and writing skills in order to meet grade level proficiency with a focus on the most intensive and individualized wrap around support in Kindergarten and I” Grade with follow up support through fifth grade.
Currently these interventions are almost solely used in Title I schools.
The third attachment contains three sheets – the frrst for Reading Recovery Full Implementation at Title I schools, the second for No Reading Recovery – at Title I Schools, and the third for No Reading Recovery and No Title I eligibility. In this model we would intensify Reading Recovery in a limited number of schools (14 schools) and provide professional development to support teachers in providing small group interventions to struggling students.
The fourth attachment is a chart of all schools, students at risk and students with the highest probability of success in Reading Recovery for the 2009-10 school year. This chart may be used if Reading Recovery would be distributed based on student eligibility (districtwide lowest 20% of students in f rst grade) and school eligibility (based on the highest number of students in need per school).
Option I: Leave Reading Recovery as it currently is, in the 23 schools, but target students more strategically and make sure readiness is in place before the Reading Recovery intervention.

Related: 60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use.
Props to the Madison School Board for asking excellent, pointed questions on the most important matter: making sure students can read.

60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use

via a kind reader’s email: Sue Abplanalp, Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education, Lisa Wachtel, Executive Director, Teaching & Learning, Mary Jo Ziegler, Language Arts/Reading Coordinator, Teaching & Learning, Jennie Allen, Title I, Ellie Schneider, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader [2.6MB PDF]:

Background The Board of Education requested a thorough and neutral review of the Madison Metropolitan School District’s (MMSD) Reading Recovery program, In response to the Board request, this packet contains a review of Reading Recovery and related research, Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Reading Recovery student data analysis, and a matrix summarizing three options for improving early literacy intervention. Below please find a summary of the comprehensive research contained in the Board of Education packet. It is our intent to provide the Board of Education with the research and data analysis in order to facilitate discussion and action toward improved effectiveness of early literacy instruction in MMSD.
Reading Recovery Program Description The Reading Recovery Program is an intensive literacy intervention program based on the work of Dr. Marie Clay in New Zealand in the 1970’s, Reading Recovery is a short-term, intensive literacy intervention for the lowest performing first grade students. Reading Recovery serves two purposes, First, it accelerates the literacy learning of our most at-risk first graders, thus narrowing the achievement gap. Second, it identifies children who may need a long-term intervention, offering systematic observation and analysis to support recommendations for further action.
The Reading Recovery program consists of an approximately 20-week intervention period of one-to-one support from a highly trained Reading Recovery teacher. This Reading Recovery instruction is in addition to classroom literacy instruction delivered by the classroom teacher during the 90-minute literacy block. The program goal is to provide the lowest performing first grade students with effective reading and writing strategies allowing the child to perform within the average range of a typical first grade classroom after a successful intervention period. A successful intervention period allows the child to be “discontinued” from the Reading Recovery program and to function proficiently in regular classroom literacy instruction.
Reading Recovery Program Improvement Efforts The national Reading Recovery data reports the discontinued rate for first grade students at 60%. In 2008-09, the discontinued rate for MMSD students was 42% of the students who received Reading Recovery. The Madison Metropolitan School District has conducted extensive reviews of Reading Recovery every three to four years. In an effort to increase the discontinued rate of Reading Recovery students, MMSD worked to improve the program’s success through three phases.

Reading recovery will be discussed at Monday evening’s Madison School Board meeting.
Related:

  • University of Wisconsin-Madison Psychology Professor Mark Seidenberg: Madison schools distort reading data:

    In her column, Belmore also emphasized the 80 percent of the children who are doing well, but she provided additional statistics indicating that test scores are improving at the five target schools. Thus she argued that the best thing is to stick with the current program rather than use the Reading First money.
    Belmore has provided a lesson in the selective use of statistics. It’s true that third grade reading scores improved at the schools between 1998 and 2004. However, at Hawthorne, scores have been flat (not improving) since 2000; at Glendale, flat since 2001; at Midvale/ Lincoln, flat since 2002; and at Orchard Ridge they have improved since 2002 – bringing them back to slightly higher than where they were in 2001.
    In short, these schools are not making steady upward progress, at least as measured by this test.
    Belmore’s attitude is that the current program is working at these schools and that the percentage of advanced/proficient readers will eventually reach the districtwide success level. But what happens to the children who have reading problems now? The school district seems to be writing them off.
    So why did the school district give the money back? Belmore provided a clue when she said that continuing to take part in the program would mean incrementally ceding control over how reading is taught in Madison’s schools (Capital Times, Oct 16). In other words, Reading First is a push down the slippery slope toward federal control over public education.

    also, Seidenberg on the Reading First controversy.

  • Jeff Henriques references a Seidenberg paper on the importance of phonics, published in Psychology Review.
  • Ruth Robarts letter to Isthmus on the Madison School District’s reading progress:

    Thanks to Jason Shepard for highlighting comments of UW Psychology Professor Mark Seidenberg at the Dec. 13 Madison School Board meeting in his article, Not all good news on reading. Dr. Seidenberg asked important questions following the administrations presentation on the reading program. One question was whether the district should measure the effectiveness of its reading program by the percentages of third-graders scoring at proficient or advanced on the Wisconsin Reading Comprehension Test (WRCT). He suggested that the scores may be improving because the tests arent that rigorous.
    I have reflected on his comment and decided that he is correct.
    Using success on the WRCT as our measurement of student achievement likely overstates the reading skills of our students. The WRCT—like the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) given in major subject areas in fourth, eighth and tenth grades— measures student performance against standards developed in Wisconsin. The more teaching in Wisconsin schools aims at success on the WRCT or WKCE, the more likely it is that student scores will improve. If the tests provide an accurate, objective assessment of reading skills, then rising percentages of students who score at the proficient and advanced levels would mean that more children are reaching desirable reading competence.

  • Madison teacher Barb Williams letter to Isthmus on Madison School District reading scores:

    I’m glad Jason Shepard questions MMSD’s public display of self-congratulation over third grade reading test scores. It isn’t that MMSD ought not be proud of progress made as measured by fewer African American students testing at the basic and minimal levels. But there is still a sigificant gap between white students and students of color–a fact easily lost in the headlines. Balanced Literacy, the district’s preferred approach to reading instruction, works well for most kids. Yet there are kids who would do a lot better in a program that emphasizes explicit phonics instruction, like the one offered at Lapham and in some special education classrooms. Kids (arguably too many) are referred to special education because they have not learned to read with balanced literacy and are not lucky enough to land in the extraordinarily expensive Reading Recovery program that serves a very small number of students in one-on-on instruction. (I have witnessed Reading Recovery teachers reject children from their program because they would not receive the necessary support from home.)
    Though the scripted lessons typical of most direct instruction programs are offensive to many teachers (and is one reason given that the district rejected the Reading First grant) the irony is that an elementary science program (Foss) that the district is now pushing is also scripted as is Reading Recovery and Everyday Math, all elementary curricula blessed by the district.
    I wonder if we might close the achievement gap further if teachers in the district were encouraged to use an approach to reading that emphasizes explicit and systematic phonics instruction for those kids who need it. Maybe we’d have fewer kids in special education and more children of color scoring in the proficient and advanced levels of the third grade reading test.

Direct Reading Instruction

One of the only bright spots appeared to be the Lewis Lemon elementary school. With a student body that was 80 percent nonwhite and 85 percent poor, the school recorded some of highest scores in Rockford on statewide tests. On a reading test, Lemon’s third graders trailed only those from a school for the gifted.
Lemon’s principal, Tiffany Parker, had accomplished all this by embracing a method of teaching reading known as “direct instruction.” Intended to address the needs of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, direct instruction provides teachers with scripted lessons, heavy on drilling and repetition, that emphasize phonics – that is, learning words by sounding them out…
In the last several months, however, Ms. Parker and Lewis Lemon have collided with Dr. Thompson and his agenda for reform. Instead of serving as beacons for what is possible, the school and its principal have been portrayed as impediments to progress. The superintendent recently transferred Ms. Parker to a middle school, and has begun phasing out direct instruction in favor of an approach known as balanced literacy.
In that respect, the battle in Rockford is a microcosm of the debate nationally over how to teach reading, particularly to at-risk and minority children. Advocates of balanced literacy – including school officials in New York City who installed it several years ago – insist that it splits the difference between the highly traditional style of direct instruction and the progressive “whole language” method that eschews phonics and spelling. The handful of pupils who actually need intensive drilling in phonics can receive it as an “intervention.”
In the academy and the pages of education journals, the dispute can proceed at the level of competing theories and studies. Telescoped down into a school of 400 children in a city of 150,000, the argument cannot help but be personal and emotional.

Can science knock down barriers to reading proficiency and rescue Read to Achieve?

Ripen Fofaria: The balanced literacy approach combines a little language instruction with whole-group, small-group and independent reading exploration. While there isn’t one balanced literacy method, a common example involves demonstrating three ways of cueing readers to guess words through meaning, syntactical and visual information. Calkins’ curriculum is widely used throughout the nation, and, as of last … Continue reading Can science knock down barriers to reading proficiency and rescue Read to Achieve?

Why are Madison’s Students Struggling to Read?

Jenny Peek: Mark Seidenberg, a UW-Madison professor and cognitive neuroscientist, has spent decades researching the way humans acquire language. He is blunt about Wisconsin’s schools’ ability to teach children to read: “If you want your kid to learn to read you can’t assume that the school’s going to take care of it. You have to … Continue reading Why are Madison’s Students Struggling to Read?

Hard Words: Why aren’t kids being taught to read? “The study found that teacher candidates in Mississippi were getting an average of 20 minutes of instruction in phonics over their entire two-year teacher preparation program”

Emily Hanford: Balanced literacy was a way to defuse the wars over reading,” said Mark Seidenberg, a cognitive neuroscientist and author of the book “Language at the Speed of Sight.” “It succeeded in keeping the science at bay, and it allowed things to continue as before.” He says the reading wars are over, and science … Continue reading Hard Words: Why aren’t kids being taught to read? “The study found that teacher candidates in Mississippi were getting an average of 20 minutes of instruction in phonics over their entire two-year teacher preparation program”

On Wisconsin’s (and Madison’s) Long Term, Disastrous Reading Results

Alan Borsuk: But consider a couple other things that happened in Massachusetts: Despite opposition, state officials stuck to the requirement. Teacher training programs adjusted curriculum and the percentage of students passing the test rose. A test for teachers In short, in Wisconsin, regulators and leaders of higher education teacher-prep programs are not so enthused about … Continue reading On Wisconsin’s (and Madison’s) Long Term, Disastrous Reading Results

How to Teach Reading and Writing

Letters to the New York Times Editor on The Fallacy of ‘Balanced Literacy, via a kind reader: To the Editor: Kudos to Alexander Nazaryan for his eloquent defense of “conventionally rigorous” teaching techniques. The decision by the New York City schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, to reinstate balanced literacy despite the unfavorable results of studies done … Continue reading How to Teach Reading and Writing

Mark Seidenberg on the Reading First controversy

Via a reader email; Language Log: Last Friday, the New York Times ran a story about how school administrators in Madison, Wisconsin, turned down $2M in federal Reading First funds rather than change their approach to the teaching of reading (Diana Jean Schemo, “In War Over Teaching Reading, a U.S.-Local Clash”). Considering the importance of … Continue reading Mark Seidenberg on the Reading First controversy

Madison’s Reading Battle Makes the NYT: In War Over Teaching Reading, a U.S.-Local Clash

Diana Jean Schemo has been at this article for awhile: The program, which gives $1 billion a year in grants to states, was supposed to end the so-called reading wars — the battle over the best method of teaching reading — but has instead opened a new and bitter front in the fight. According to … Continue reading Madison’s Reading Battle Makes the NYT: In War Over Teaching Reading, a U.S.-Local Clash

Two Educators Discuss “My Life & Times with the Madison Public Schools”

Audrey Soglin & Char Gearing respond to Marc Eisen’s recent words: I think we have learned and the research supports that kids need a balanced literacy approach. The “whole language vs. phonics” wars should really be put to rest. It is an old fight. Kids don’t learn the same way so a variety of instructional … Continue reading Two Educators Discuss “My Life & Times with the Madison Public Schools”

Whole-language Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

Louisa Moats 324K PDF: How to Tell When “Scientifically-Based Reading Instruction” Isn’t. In this practitioners’ guide, renowned reading expert Louisa Moats (author of the American Federation of Teachers’ Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science and an earlier Thomas B. Fordham Foundation report, Whole Language Lives On: The Illusion of “Balanced” Reading Instruction) explains how educators, parents, … Continue reading Whole-language Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

Whole Language in Sheep’s clothing

Joanne Jacobs: In a Fordham report, Whole-Language High Jinks, reading expert Louisa Moats warns that ineffective whole-language reading programs with names like “balanced literacy” are trying to grab funding intended for programs that have been proven far more effective. New York City, Denver and Salt Lake City have been misled by programs that are whole … Continue reading Whole Language in Sheep’s clothing

Comment on Early Repairs in Foundation for Reading

The post by Ruth Robarts includes the following: The panel also will recommend some shifts in teaching techniques, said a panel member, Dr. Susan Landry of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. These include having at-risk children spend more time in small groups that address their specific weaknesses; emphasizing skills like blending sounds … Continue reading Comment on Early Repairs in Foundation for Reading

Constructivist Theory of Education

As we know, curriculae like Everyday Math, Core Math, Reading Recovery, Balanced Literacy and the Literacy Collaborative are based on the constructivist theory of education. Indeed, the Literacy Collaborative (a trademarked name for Balanced Literacy) states that its framework is based on the theories of Vygotsky, Bruner and Clay. For an interesting exercise, do a … Continue reading Constructivist Theory of Education

Reader Reed Schneider on Curriculum and School Boards

Reed Schneider emails on recent posts regarding a School Board’s role in curriculum policy: I agree that the school board should be responsible for the district’s curriculum. In fact, it is the most important thing they are charged with. 10 or more years ago, before widespread internet availability, the non-edu-estab person on a board would … Continue reading Reader Reed Schneider on Curriculum and School Boards

A Few Notes on the Superintendent’s Evaluation & Curriculum

Several writers have mentioned the positive news that the Madison Board of Education has reviewed Superintendent Art Rainwater for the first time since 2002. I agree that it is a step in the right direction. In my view, the first responsibility of the Board and Administration, including the Superintendent is curriculum: Is the Madison School … Continue reading A Few Notes on the Superintendent’s Evaluation & Curriculum

Carol Carstensen on Isthmus’ Recent Madison Schools Coverage

This article, by Madison School Board President Carol Carstensen, appeared in Isthmus‘ May 12, 2005 edition: Over the last two years, Isthmus’ articles on the Madison school district, especially its approach to teaching reading, have reminded me of a favorite quote from Adlai Stevenson: “These are the conclusions upon which I base my facts.” The … Continue reading Carol Carstensen on Isthmus’ Recent Madison Schools Coverage

No Child Left Behind takes credit for Madison Schools reading success (No Joke)

A message to Madison School Board members from Superintendent Art Rainwater: Attached is a press release from the Federal Department of Education in which they use our closing the gap in third grade reading as the example for Wisconsin of what NCLB and the Reading First grants have accomplished. The other interesting thing is the … Continue reading No Child Left Behind takes credit for Madison Schools reading success (No Joke)

Board Scares Parents-Threatens All District Can Teach Kids for $13,000+ is Reading and Math: Yet MMSD Board Has No Budget, Keeps $2 Million for Extracurr. Sports, Increases Admin. Budget $1.5 Million in Two Years, Turned Away $10+ Million Fed. Rdg. Grant

This is not the headline of an article in The Onion. Rather, as the Astronauts on the Apollo Mission said, “Houston, we have a problem.” After 10 years of continually reducing services to our children and community . . . long past the time that we can solve our revenue cap problems by being more … Continue reading Board Scares Parents-Threatens All District Can Teach Kids for $13,000+ is Reading and Math: Yet MMSD Board Has No Budget, Keeps $2 Million for Extracurr. Sports, Increases Admin. Budget $1.5 Million in Two Years, Turned Away $10+ Million Fed. Rdg. Grant

Barb Williams: Letter to the Isthmus Editor on 3rd Grade Reading Scores

Barb Williams wrote: I’m glad Jason Shepard questions MMSD’s public display of self-congratulation over third grade reading test scores. It isn’t that MMSD ought not be proud of progress made as measured by fewer African American students testing at the basic and minimal levels. But there is still a sigificant gap between white students and … Continue reading Barb Williams: Letter to the Isthmus Editor on 3rd Grade Reading Scores

Mary Watson Peterson Presents MMSD’s Elementary Reading Curriculum

Mary Watson Peterson, MMSD Reading Coordinator, presented the theory behind the design and development of MMSD’s Balanced Literacy Program. Her professional presentation noted the significant progress in reading that the District has been reporting publicly during the past month. Ms. Peterson mentioned that several teachers are trained in Direct Instruction and that some teachers use … Continue reading Mary Watson Peterson Presents MMSD’s Elementary Reading Curriculum

A Parent’s Thoughts on Learning to Read – Next Step Considerations

MMSD District Administration will be making a presenation on the MMSD Literacy Program Research tomorrow during the Performance and Achievement Committee meeting. I hope significant time is spent discussing a) results and next steps for MMSD’s Balanced Literacy approach to learning to read and write b) an analysis of alternative reading interventions and c) analysis … Continue reading A Parent’s Thoughts on Learning to Read – Next Step Considerations

MMSD Theory of Action for Change and Continuous Improvement

Superintendent Rainwater told MMSD board members Monday December 6, 2004 that some of the District’s goals are directed to educate teachers to do the right thing…support and train teachers…provide various levels of interventions for students that are not successful with the core curriculum. In the case of reading, Balanced Literacy is the core curriculum and … Continue reading MMSD Theory of Action for Change and Continuous Improvement

Art Rainwater’s Email regarding Reading First

Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater sent me an email today regarding this paper. Here’s his email: Dear Jim I received a copy of your email to Diane Mayerfeld regarding reading in the Madison Schools. I would like to set straight the misinformation that is contained in the document that you included with your email. First … Continue reading Art Rainwater’s Email regarding Reading First

Madison Superintendent Declines $2M in Federal Funds Without Consulting the Board

On Friday, October 15, Madison School Board members received an e-mail from Superintendent Art Rainwater announcing that the district will withdraw from a federal program known as Reading First. In subsequent interviews with local newspapers, Rainwater estimated that the decision means forgoing approximately $2M in funds for materials to help students in the primary grades … Continue reading Madison Superintendent Declines $2M in Federal Funds Without Consulting the Board

Commentary on madison high school “resource officers”

Negassi Tesfamichael: Under a newly proposed contract between the city and the Madison Metropolitan School District, MMSD has the ability to move away from having an officer in each of the city’s four high schools starting in the 2020-21 school year. Under the new language in the contract, MMSD would have until Sept. 15 to … Continue reading Commentary on madison high school “resource officers”

Reading and Curricular Suggestions & Links as the school year begins

Wisconsin Reading Coalition via a kind email: With the beginning of a new school year, here is some timely information and inspiration. You can make a difference: At WRC, we are often focused on top-down systemic change that can improve reading outcomes for students across our state. However, bottom-up, individual efforts are equally important. A … Continue reading Reading and Curricular Suggestions & Links as the school year begins

Abolish Social Studies

Michael Knox Beran, via Will Fitzhugh:

Emerging as a force in American education a century ago, social studies was intended to remake the high school. But its greatest effect has been in the elementary grades, where it has replaced an older way of learning that initiated children into their culture [and their History?] with one that seeks instead to integrate them into the social group. The result was a revolution in the way America educates its young. The old learning used the resources of culture to develop the child’s individual potential; social studies, by contrast, seeks to adjust him to the mediocrity of the social pack.
Why promote the socialization of children at the expense of their individual development? A product of the Progressive era, social studies ripened in the faith that regimes guided by collectivist social policies could dispense with the competitive striving of individuals and create, as educator George S. Counts wrote, “the most majestic civilization ever fashioned by any people.” Social studies was to mold the properly socialized citizens of this grand future. The dream of a world regenerated through social planning faded long ago, but social studies persists, depriving children of a cultural rite of passage that awakened what Coleridge called “the principle and method of self-development” in the young.
The poverty of social studies would matter less if children could make up its cultural deficits in English [and History?] class. But language instruction in the elementary schools has itself been brought into the business of socializing children and has ceased to use the treasure-house of culture to stimulate their minds. As a result, too many students today complete elementary school with only the slenderest knowledge of a culture that has not only shaped their civilization but also done much to foster individual excellence.
In 1912, the National Education Association, today the largest labor union in the United States, formed a Committee on the Social Studies. In its 1916 report, The Social Studies in Secondary Education, the committee opined that if social studies (defined as studies that relate to “man as a member of a social group”) took a place in American high schools, students would acquire “the social spirit,” and “the youth of the land” would be “steadied by an unwavering faith in humanity.” This was an allusion to the “religion of humanity” preached by the French social thinker Auguste Comte, who believed that a scientifically trained ruling class could build a better world by curtailing individual freedom in the name of the group. In Comtian fashion, the committee rejected the idea that education’s primary object was the cultivation of the individual intellect. “Individual interests and needs,” education scholar Ronald W. Evans writes in his book The Social Studies Wars, were for the committee “secondary to the needs of society as a whole.”
The Young Turks of the social studies movement, known as “Reconstructionists” because of their desire to remake the social order, went further. In the 1920s, Reconstructionists like Counts and Harold Ordway Rugg argued that high schools should be incubators of the social regimes of the future. Teachers would instruct students to “discard dispositions and maxims” derived from America’s “individualistic” ethos, wrote Counts. A professor in Columbia’s Teachers College and president of the American Federation of Teachers, Counts was for a time enamored of Joseph Stalin. After visiting the Soviet Union in 1929, he published A Ford Crosses Soviet Russia, a panegyric on the Bolsheviks’ “new society.” Counts believed that in the future, “all important forms of capital” would “have to be collectively owned,” and in his 1932 essay “Dare the Schools Build a New Social Order?,” he argued that teachers should enlist students in the work of “social regeneration.”
Like Counts, Rugg, a Teachers College professor and cofounder of the National Council for the Social Studies, believed that the American economy was flawed because it was “utterly undesigned and uncontrolled.” In his 1933 book The Great Technology, he called for the “social reconstruction” and “scientific design” of the economy, arguing that it was “now axiomatic that the production and distribution of goods can no longer be left to the vagaries of chance–specifically to the unbridled competitions of self-aggrandizing human nature.” There “must be central control and supervision of the entire [economic] plant” by “trained and experienced technical personnel.” At the same time, he argued, the new social order must “socialize the vast proportion” of wealth and outlaw the activities of “middlemen” who didn’t contribute to the “production of true value.”
Rugg proposed “new materials of instruction” that “shall illustrate fearlessly and dramatically the inevitable consequence of the lack of planning and of central control over the production and distribution of physical things. . . . We shall disseminate a new conception of government–one that will embrace all of the collective activities of men; one that will postulate the need for scientific control and operation of economic activities in the interest of all people; and one that will successfully adjust the psychological problems among men.”
Rugg himself set to work composing the “new materials of instruction.” In An Introduction to Problems of American Culture, his 1931 social studies textbook for junior high school students, Rugg deplored the “lack of planning in American life”:
“Repeatedly throughout this book we have noted the unplanned character of our civilization. In every branch of agriculture, industry, and business this lack of planning reveals itself. For instance, manufacturers in the United States produce billions’ of dollars worth of goods without scientific planning. Each one produces as much as he thinks he can sell, and then each one tries to sell more than his competitors. . . . As a result, hundreds of thousands of owners of land, mines, railroads, and other means of transportation and communication, stores, and businesses of one kind or another, compete with one another without any regard for the total needs of all the people. . . . This lack of national planning has indeed brought about an enormous waste in every outstanding branch of industry. . . . Hence the whole must be planned.
Rugg pointed to Soviet Russia as an example of the comprehensive control that America needed, and he praised Stalin’s first Five-Year Plan, which resulted in millions of deaths from famine and forced labor. The “amount of coal to be mined each year in the various regions of Russia,”
Rugg told the junior high schoolers reading his textbook,
“is to be planned. So is the amount of oil to be drilled, the amount of wheat, corn, oats, and other farm products to be raised. The number and size of new factories, power stations, railroads, telegraph and telephone lines, and radio stations to be constructed are planned. So are the number and kind of schools, colleges, social centers, and public buildings to be erected. In fact, every aspect of the economic, social, and political life of a country of 140,000,000 people is being carefully planned! . . . The basis of a secure and comfortable living for the American people lies in a carefully planned economic life.”
During the 1930s, tens of thousands of American students used Rugg’s social studies textbooks.
Toward the end of the decade, school districts began to drop Rugg’s textbooks because of their socialist bias. In 1942, Columbia historian Allan Nevins further undermined social studies’ premises when he argued in The New York Times Magazine that American high schools were failing to give students a “thorough, accurate, and intelligent knowledge of our national past–in so many ways the brightest national record in all world history.” Nevins’s was the first of many critiques that would counteract the collectivist bias of social studies in American high schools, where “old-fashioned” history classes have long been the cornerstone of the social studies curriculum.
Yet possibly because school boards, so vigilant in their superintendence of the high school, were not sure what should be done with younger children, social studies gained a foothold in the primary school such as it never obtained in the secondary school. The chief architect of elementary school social studies was Paul Hanna, who entered Teachers College in 1924 and fell under the spell of Counts and Rugg. “We cannot expect economic security so long as the [economic] machine is conceived as an instrument for the production of profits for private capital rather than as a tool functioning to release mankind from the drudgery of work,” Hanna wrote in 1933.
Hanna was no less determined than Rugg to reform the country through education. “Pupils must be indoctrinated with a determination to make the machine work for society,” he wrote. His methods, however, were subtler than Rugg’s. Unlike Rugg’s textbooks, Hanna’s did not explicitly endorse collectivist ideals. The Hanna books contain no paeans to central planning or a command economy. On the contrary, the illustrations have the naive innocence of the watercolors in Scott Foresman’s Dick and Jane readers. The books depict an idyllic but familiar America, rich in material goods and comfortably middle-class; the fathers and grandfathers wear suits and ties and white handkerchiefs in their breast pockets.
Not only the pictures but the lessons in the books are deceptively innocuous. It is in the back of the books, in the notes and “interpretive outlines,” that Hanna smuggles in his social agenda by instructing teachers how each lesson is to be interpreted so that children learn “desirable patterns of acting and reacting in democratic group living.” A lesson in the second-grade text Susan’s Neighbors at Work, for example, which describes the work of police officers, firefighters, and other public servants, is intended to teach “concerted action” and “cooperation in obeying commands and well-thought-out plans which are for the general welfare.” A lesson in Tom and Susan, a first-grade text, about a ride in grandfather’s red car is meant to teach children to move “from absorption in self toward consideration of what is best in a group situation.” Lessons in Peter’s Family, another first-grade text, seek to inculcate the idea of “socially desirable” work and “cooperative labor.”
Hanna’s efforts to promote “behavior traits” conducive to “group living” would be less objectionable if he balanced them with lessons that acknowledge the importance of ideals and qualities of character that don’t flow from the group–individual exertion, liberty of action, the necessity at times of resisting the will of others. It is precisely Coleridge’s principle of individual “self-development” that is lost in Hanna’s preoccupation with social development. In the Hanna books, the individual is perpetually sunk in the impersonality of the tribe; he is a being defined solely by his group obligations. The result is distorting; the Hanna books fail to show that the prosperous America they depict, if it owes something to the impulse to serve the community, owes as much, or more, to the free striving of individuals pursuing their own ends.
Hanna’s spirit is alive and well in the American elementary school. Not only Scott Foresman but other big scholastic publishers–among them Macmillan/McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt–publish textbooks that dwell continually on the communal group and on the activities that people undertake for its greater good. Lessons from Scott Foresman’s second-grade textbook Social Studies: People and Places (2003) include “Living in a Neighborhood,” “We Belong to Groups,” “A Walk Through a Community,” “How a Community Changes,” “Comparing Communities,” “Services in Our Community,” “Our Country Is Part of Our World,” and “Working Together.” The book’s scarcely distinguishable twin, Macmillan/McGraw-Hill’s We Live Together (2003), is suffused with the same group spirit. Macmillan/McGraw-Hill’s textbook for third-graders, Our Communities (2003), is no less faithful to the Hanna model. The third-grade textbooks of Scott Foresman and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (both titled Communities) are organized on similar lines, while the fourth-grade textbooks concentrate on regional communities. Only in the fifth grade is the mold shattered, as students begin the sequential study of American history; they are by this time in sight of high school, where history has long been paramount.

Today’s social studies textbooks will not turn children into little Maoists. The group happy-speak in which they are composed is more fatuous than polemical; Hanna’s Reconstructionist ideals have been so watered down as to be little more than banalities. The “ultimate goal of the social studies,” according to Michael Berson, a coauthor of the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt series, is to “instigate a response that spreads compassion, understanding, and hope throughout our nation and the global community.” Berson’s textbooks, like those of the other publishers, are generally faithful to this flabby, attenuated Comtism.
Yet feeble though the books are, they are not harmless. Not only do they do too little to acquaint children with their culture’s ideals of individual liberty and initiative; they promote the socialization of the child at the expense of the development of his own individual powers. The contrast between the old and new approaches is nowhere more evident than in the use that each makes of language. The old learning used language both to initiate the child into his culture and to develop his mind. Language and culture are so intimately related that the Greeks, who invented Western primary education, used the same word to designate both: paideia signifies both culture and letters (literature). The child exposed to a particular language gains insight into the culture that the language evolved to describe–for far from being an artifact of speech only, language is the master light of a people’s thought, character, and manners. At the same time, language–particularly the classic and canonical utterances of a people, its primal poetry–[and its History?] has a unique ability to awaken a child’s powers, in part because such utterances, Plato says, sink “furthest into the depths of the soul.”
Social studies, because it is designed not to waken but to suppress individuality, shuns all but the most rudimentary and uninspiring language. Social studies textbooks descend constantly to the vacuity of passages like this one, from People and Places:
“Children all around the world are busy doing the same things. They love to play games and enjoy going to school. They wish for peace. They think that adults should take good care of the Earth. How else do you think these children are like each other? How else do you think they are like you?”
The language of social studies is always at the same dead level of inanity. There is no shadow or mystery, no variation in intensity or alteration of pitch–no romance, no refinement, no awe or wonder. A social studies textbook is a desert of linguistic sterility supporting a meager scrub growth of commonplaces about “community,” “neighborhood,” “change,” and “getting involved.” Take the arid prose in Our Communities:
“San Antonio, Texas, is a large community. It is home to more than one million people, and it is still growing. People in San Antonio care about their community and want to make it better. To make room for new roads and houses, many old trees must be cut down. People in different neighborhoods get together to fix this by planting.”
It might be argued that a richer and more subtle language would be beyond third-graders. Yet in his Third Eclectic Reader, William Holmes McGuffey, a nineteenth-century educator, had eight-year-olds reading Wordsworth and Whittier. His nine-year-olds read the prose of Addison, Dr. Johnson, and Hawthorne and the poetry of Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, Southey, and Bryant. His ten-year-olds studied the prose of Sir Walter Scott, Dickens, Sterne, Hazlitt, and Macaulay [History] and the poetry of Pope, Longfellow, Shakespeare, and Milton.
McGuffey adapted to American conditions some of the educational techniques that were first developed by the Greeks. In fifth-century BC Athens, the language of Homer and a handful of other poets formed the core of primary education. With the emergence of Rome, Latin became the principal language of Western culture and for centuries lay at the heart of primary- and grammar-school education. McGuffey had himself received a classical education, but conscious that nineteenth-century America was a post-Latin culture, he revised the content of the old learning even as he preserved its underlying technique of using language as an instrument of cultural initiation and individual self-development. He incorporated, in his Readers, not canonical Latin texts but classic specimens of English prose and poetry [and History].
Because the words of the Readers bit deep–deeper than the words in today’s social studies textbooks do–they awakened individual potential. The writer Hamlin Garland acknowledged his “deep obligation” to McGuffey “for the dignity and literary grace of his selections. From the pages of his readers I learned to know and love the poems of Scott, Byron, Southey, and Words- worth and a long line of the English masters. I got my first taste of Shakespeare from the selected scenes which I read in these books.” Not all, but some children will come away from a course in the old learning stirred to the depths by the language of Blake or Emerson. But no student can feel, after making his way through the groupthink wastelands of a social studies textbook, that he has traveled with Keats in the realms of gold.
It might be objected that primers like the McGuffey Readers were primarily intended to instruct children in reading and writing, something that social studies doesn’t pretend to do. In fact, the Readers, like other primers of the time, were only incidentally language manuals. Their foremost function was cultural: they used language both to introduce children to their cultural heritage [including their History] and to stimulate their individual self-culture. The acultural, group biases of social studies might be pardonable if cultural learning continued to have a place in primary-school English instruction. But primary-school English–or “language arts,” as it has come to be called–no longer introduces children, as it once did, to the canonical language of their culture; it is not uncommon for public school students today to reach the fifth grade without having encountered a single line of classic English prose or poetry. Language arts has become yet another vehicle for the socialization of children. A recent article by educators Karen Wood and Linda Bell Soares in The Reading Teacher distills the essence of contemporary language-arts instruction, arguing that teachers should cultivate not literacy in the classic sense but “critical literacy,” a “pedagogic approach to reading that focuses on the political, sociocultural, and economic forces that shape young students’ lives.”
For educators devoted to the social studies model, the old learning is anathema precisely because it liberates individual potential. It releases the “powers of a young soul,” the classicist educator Werner Jaeger wrote, “breaking down the restraints which hampered it, and leading into a glad activity.” The social educators have revised the classic ideal of education expressed by Pindar: “Become what you are” has given way to “Become what the group would have you be.” Social studies’ verbal drabness is the means by which its contrivers starve the self of the sustenance that nourishes individual growth. A stunted soul can more easily be reduced to an acquiescent dullness than a vital, growing one can; there is no readier way to reduce a people to servile imbecility than to cut them off from the traditions of their language [and their History], as the Party does in George Orwell’s 1984.
Indeed, today’s social studies theorists draw on the same social philosophy that Orwell feared would lead to Newspeak. The Social Studies Curriculum: Purposes, Problems, and Possibilities, a 2006 collection of articles by leading social studies educators, is a socialist smorgasbord of essays on topics like “Marxism and Critical Multicultural Social Studies” and “Decolonizing the Mind for World-Centered Global Education.” The book, too, reveals the pervasive influence of Marxist thinkers like Peter McLaren, a professor of urban schooling at UCLA who advocates “a genuine socialist democracy without market relations,” venerates Che Guevara as a “secular saint,” and regards the individual “self” as a delusion, an artifact of the material “relations which produced it”–“capitalist production, masculinist economies of power and privilege, Eurocentric signifiers of self/other identifications,” all the paraphernalia of bourgeois imposture. For such apostles of the social pack, Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” Milton’s and Tennyson’s “soul within,” Spenser’s “my self, my inward self I mean,” and Wordsworth’s aspiration to be “worthy of myself” are expressions of naive faith in a thing that dialectical materialism has revealed to be an accident of matter, a random accumulation of dust and clay.
The test of an educational practice is its power to enable a human being to realize his own promise in a constructive way. Social studies fails this test. Purge it of the social idealism that created and still inspires it, and what remains is an insipid approach to the cultivation of the mind, one that famishes the soul even as it contributes to what Pope called the “progress of dulness.” It should be abolished.

Comments on Wisconsin’s New State Assessments

Wisconsin DPI, via email:

Work progresses toward new state assessments, through the multi-state Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium [Blekko / Clusty], in which Wisconsin has played an active role.
Smarter Balanced recently unveiled a new website which includes several features for keeping tabs on the assessment project and accessing resources related to assessment development and Common Core State Standards [Blekko / Clusty] implementation.
An interactive timeline shows when specific steps were, or will be, completed. (Some recent developments were the completion of content specifications in mathematics and English language arts/literacy, and IT architecture specifications to guide the eventual system.)
Other pages targeted toward teachers, administrators, higher education, parents, and other stakeholders also provide useful updates.
For example, the consortium intends to work with groups of teachers from each participating state to develop test items, pilot the new assessments, and ensure a successful transition to the tests, beginning in 2012-13 and continuing through 2013-14.
The website also includes ways to stay up to date on the group’s work through email or social media.

Standards, Accountability, and School Reform

This is very long, and the link may require a password so I’ve posted the entire article on the continued page. TJM http://www.tcrecord.org/PrintContent.asp?ContentID=11566 Standards, Accountability, and School Reform by Linda Darling-Hammond — 2004 The standards-based reform movement has led to increased emphasis on tests, coupled with rewards and sanctions, as the basis for “accountability” systems. … Continue reading Standards, Accountability, and School Reform