Direct Instruction: The Rodney Dangerfield of curriculum

Robert Pondisco: Did you hear the one about a curriculum with fifty years of research that actually demonstrates its effectiveness? There’s a new meta-analysis in the peer-reviewed journal the Review of Educational Research that looks at over five hundred articles, dissertations, and research studies and documents a half-century of “strong positive results” for a curriculum […]

In defense of direct instruction: Constant constructivism, group work and arrogant attitude are abusive to children

Laurie Rogers:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. … Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
— C.S. Lewis
Many educators believe children should learn math by struggling and failing, inventing their own methods, drawing pictures and boxes, counting on fingers, play-acting, continually working in groups, and asking several classmates for help before asking the teacher. This process of learning is called constructivism (also known as “discovery” or “student-centered learning”). Developed in the early 1900s, it was foisted on the country about 30 years ago, along with reform math curricula.
Proponents call constructivism “best practices” (as if calling it that can make it so). The supposed value of heavy constructivism is one of the most pernicious lies told today about education. Having listened now to students, parents, teachers and proponents of reform, I’ve come to see heavy constructivism as abusive to children. I don’t choose the word lightly.

Milwaukee Public Schools Direct Instruction Study

Wisconsin Policy Research Institute Study shows that Direct Instruction is successful, particularly with hard to reach students. The study is on-line at http://www.wpri.org/Reports/Volume18/Vol18no4.pdf Summary: Education That Works in the Milwaukee Public Schools: The Benefits from Phonics and Direct Instruction by Sammis White, Ph.D. A phonics-based teaching technique (Direct Instruction) is proving successful in some Milwaukee […]

Direct Instruction Wins More Praise

The cover story in today’s Isthmus (dated April 15) includes new praise for the effectiveness of Direct Instruction for teaching reading. For example, the article says, “Among the beneficiaries . . . are special ed students, who receive an especially intense form of Direct Instruction. One-third of Marquette’s special ed kids were ‘advanced’ readers on […]

Some Direct Instruction Curricula

Direct Instruction frequently enters discussions of reading in Madison’s schools. Strictly speaking, Direct Instruction (with a capital D and a capital I) is a copyrighted program. Direct instruction (little d, little i) refers to a variety of programs that use direct systematic instruction and other principles of Direct Instruction. Additionally, direct instruction works to teach […]

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.

Test-driving Purdue’s Passport gamification platform for library instruction

Nicole Pagowsky:

Gamification in libraries has become a topic of interest in the professional discourse, and one that ACRL TechConnect has covered in Applying Game Dynamics to Library Services and Why Gamify and What to Avoid in Gamification. Much of what has been written about badging systems in libraries pertains to gamifying library services. However, being an Instructional Services Librarian, I have been interested in tying gamification to library instruction.
When library skills are not always part of required learning outcomes or directly associated with particular classes, thinking more creatively about promotion and embeddedness of library tutorials prompted me to become interested in tying a badging system to the University of Arizona Libraries’ online learning objects. For a brief review on badges, they are visual representations of skills and achievements. They can be used with or instead of grades depending on the scenario and include details to support their credibility (criteria, issuer, evidence, currency).

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 Preparatory Academy today announced its inaugural Board of Directors

Laura DeRoche-Perez, via email:

Media Release
Madison Preparatory Academy today announced its inaugural Board of Directors. Board members represent a diverse cross-section of corporate and community leaders from the Greater Madison area who are all passionate about and dedicated to ensuring Madison Prep becomes a reality for young men and women. They are:
Tyler Beck, Undergraduate Student, UW-Madison
Dave Boyer, CEO, MCD, Inc.
David Cagigal, Vice Chair, Urban League of Greater Madison
Elizabeth Donley, CEO, Stemina Corporation
Rosa Frazier, Clinical Professor/Immigration Law, UW-Madison Law School
Dennis Haefer, Vice President of Commercial Banking, Johnson Bank
Donna Hurd, Executive Director, Boardman Law Firm
Torrey Jaeckle, Vice President, Jaeckle Distributors
Rev. Richard Jones, Pastor, Mount Zion Baptist Church
Gloria Ladson-Billings, Chair of Urban Education and Professor of Curriculum & Instruction and Education Policy Studies, UW-Madison
Maddy Niebauer, Managing Director of Strategy & Human Assets, Teach for America
J. Marshall Osborn, Retired Math Professor, UW-Madison
Fran Petonic, President, Meriter Foundation
John Roach, Owner & CEO, John Roach Projects
Mario Garcia Sierra, Director of Programs, Centro Hispano
Derrick Smith, Area Manager, Thermo Fisher Scientific Corporation
Terrence Wall, President, T. Wall Properties
About Madison Preparatory Academy:
Madison Preparatory Academy (Madison Prep) is a tuition-free public charter school that will serve as a catalyst for change and opportunity, particularly for young people of color. Its mission is to prepare students for success at a four year college or university by instilling excellence, pride, leadership, and service. The school will open in the Fall of 2012 to students in the Madison Metropolitan School District, pending approval from the Board of Education in the Fall of 2011.
For more information, contact Laura DeRoche-Perez at 608-729-1230 or Lderoche@ulgm.org
Website: www.madison-prep.org

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter school, here.

State looks at home schooling pay plan: Schools chief suggests districts pay bills directly – not reimburse

Jordan Schrader:

It’s not home schooling, but it’s not traditional school either: There is a range of arrangements parents can make to enroll kids in public schools while keeping them at home.
With help from the Internet and oversight by teachers, parents in many of the so-called Alternative Learning Experiences, or ALEs, have wide authority to chart their children’s course. But state officials are taking steps to rein in activities seen as inappropriate for taxpayers to fund.
A rule Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn’s office has developed would stop school districts from reimbursing parents of at-home enrolled students for what they buy. Instead, districts would pay directly for equipment and activities.
Reimbursements, also called stipends or parent accounts, can be used to pay for textbooks and basic supplies or for instruction in areas such as fine arts and physical education. A 2005 state audit found it was common for schools to pay for opportunities most students don’t have: private gym memberships; music or horseback-riding lessons; ski rentals, lessons and lift tickets.
“Stipends can give the impression that ALE programs are essentially publicly financed home schooling,” the superintendent’s office said in a February description of concerns about the present rules.

Houston School District Wants Input on Strategic Direction for the District’s Future

Houston Independent School District:

The Houston Independent School District is in the midst of developing a long-term strategic plan that will provide a road map for the future as the district strives to become the best public school system in the nation. To ensure that all key stakeholders are engaged and involved in this process, HISD is inviting any member of the Houston community to give their input at an open discussion on Monday, May 24, from 6:00-7:30 p.m. at the Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center’s board auditorium (4440 West 18th Street).
To develop a long-term Strategic Direction, HISD is working with the Apollo Consulting Group in a six-month effort that started in February 2010 and will culminate in August with the release of a final plan. The goal is to create a set of core initiatives and key strategies that will allow HISD to build upon the beliefs and visions established by the HISD Board of Education and to provide the children of Houston with the highest quality of primary and secondary education.
Over the past two months, HISD has been gathering input from members of Team HISD, as well as from parents and members of the Houston community, including faith-based groups, non-profit agencies, businesses, and local and state leaders. After analyzing feedback and conducting diagnostic research, a number of core initiatives have emerged. They include placing an effective teacher in every classroom, supporting the principal as the CEO, developing rigorous instructional standards and support, ensuring data driven accountability, and cultivating a culture of trust through action.
“True transformation cannot happen overnight and it cannot happen without the input from everyone at Team HISD and those in our community who hold a stake in the education of Houston’s children,” says Superintendent of Schools Terry B. Grier. “In order for it to be meaningful, we need everyone to lend their voice to the process and help us shape the future direction of HISD.”

Related: Madison School District Strategic Planning Process.

Grade-A ideas From virtual-reality science instruction to meditation for teachers, these approaches aim to reinvigorate education for all ages.

Patti Hartigan:

Art From the Start The current rage in education is STEM, or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. But creative types are working valiantly to turn STEM into STEAM – with the A standing for the arts. At the Boston Arts Academy, for instance, the arts are infused in every subject. While creative pursuits are often the first to go when budgets are cut, this high school continues to innovate as it engages students through the arts. The ninth grade just wrapped up a unit on African civilization with a multimedia celebration called “Africa Lives.” The students got their hands dirty. And they mastered the material.
“High school shouldn’t be a preparation for life,” says co-headmaster Linda Nathan. “It should be life.”
Nathan is not alone in her belief that the arts foster deep learning. Young Audiences of Massachusetts, a nonprofit that brings artists into schools, is inaugurating an arts integration program at the Salemwood Elementary School in Malden this fall. Visiting artists will help teachers incorporate the arts into the literacy and social studies curriculums. If the pilot program takes off, Young Audiences hopes to make it a model for other Extended Learning Time schools like Salemwood. Explains executive director Diane Michalowski Freedland: “We need to think big.”

Writing Instruction in Massachusetts: Commonwealth’s Students Making Gains, Still Need Improvement

BOSTON – Writing Instruction in Massachusetts [1.3MB PDF], published today by Pioneer Institute, underscores the fact that despite 17 years of education reform and first-in-the-nation performance on standardized tests, many Massachusetts middle school students are still not on the trajectory to be prepared for writing in a work or post-secondary education environment.
The study is authored by Alison L. Fraser, president of Practical Policy, with a foreword by Will Fitzhugh of The Concord Review, who, since 1987, has published over 800 history research papers by high school students from around the world.
Writing Instruction finds that Massachusetts’ students have improved, with 45 percent of eighth graders writing at or above the ‘Proficient’ level on the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress test. In comparison, only 31 percent of eighth graders scored at or above ‘Proficient’ in 1998. The paper ascribes Massachusetts’ success in improving writing skills to adherence to MCAS standards and the state’s nation-leading state curriculum frameworks. It also suggests that strengthening the standards will help the state address the 55 percent of eighth graders who still score in the “needs improvement” or below categories.
According to a report on a 2004 survey of 120 major American businesses affiliated with the Business Roundtable, remedying writing deficiencies on the job costs corporations nearly $3.1 billion annually. Writing, according to the National Writing Commission’s report Writing: A Ticket to Work…Or a Ticket Out, is a “threshold skill” in the modern world. Being able to write effectively and coherently is a pathway to both hiring and promotion in today’s job market.
“While we should be pleased that trends show Massachusetts students have improved their writing skills, the data shows that we need renewed focus to complete the task of readying them for this important skill,” says Jim Stergios, executive director of Pioneer Institute. “Before we even think about altering academic standards, whether through state or federal efforts, we need to recommit to such basics.”
The study notes that if the failure to learn to write well is pervasive in Massachusetts, one should look first to the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks and the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) designed to measure mastery of those frameworks. Analysis completed in December 2009 by a member of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education found that nearly all of the skills that the 21st Century Skills Task Force identified as important, such as effective written communication, are already embedded in the state’s academic standards guiding principles.

Milwaukee Public Schools targeted in complaint over instruction of English as second language

Georgia Pabst:

Milwaukee Public Schools is not complying with civil rights law in effectively teaching English to Spanish-speaking students, according to a federal complaint filed by the League of United Latin American Citizens of Wisconsin.
The complaint, filed at the Office of Civil Rights in the U. S. Department of Education office in Chicago, claims MPS and the Milwaukee School Board are not complying with the Civil Rights Act.
The district receives federal funds for teaching English to students who speak another language, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that school districts must help such students overcome language barriers so they can succeed in all of their classes, said Darryl Morin, state director of LULAC.
“LULAC of Wisconsin has serious concerns regarding the education theory, programming and resources allocated to these efforts at MPS,” he said.
Morin said MPS has used uncertified and unqualified teachers in the program.
The U.S. Department of Education confirmed that its Office of Civil Rights has received the complaint. Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman for the department in Washington, D.C., said the office is evaluating the complaint to determine whether an investigation is appropriate. The evaluation process should take about a month, he said.
MPS spokeswoman Roseann St. Aubin said district officials can’t comment because they just received the complaint Tuesday and have not reviewed it.

Milwaukee Schools Change Teaching, Reading & Writing Strategies; Search for New Teaching & Learning Director

Alan Borsuk:

Major changes in how Milwaukee Public Schools teaches reading and writing are coming soon, according to school Superintendent William Andrekopoulos.
He said a team of outside experts has been evaluating MPS literacy efforts and he expects to get its report in December. He said he has been given indications of what the experts will recommend.
“I think you will see this report turning things upside down, changing some past practices, and making some bold changes that we hope will improve the performance of our kids,” he said earlier this week.
He said the state Department of Public Instruction had put together the expert team and was paying for the study as part of plans aimed at bringing MPS into compliance with goals set by the federal No Child Left Behind law.
“We’re going to take it to heart, what’s in that report,” he said. “The status quo is unacceptable. . . . We realize if we just continue to do the same thing, we’re going to get the same results.”
He did not provide details of what is expected to be in the report.

Madison Schools & Madison Teachers Union Settle Online Class Administration & Athletic Director Conflict

Wisconsin State Journal:

At a joint news conference at MTI headquarters, Madison schools Superintendent Daniel Nerad and MTI Executive Director John Matthews said the settlement resolves issues that have festered for up to eight years.
Among other things, the agreement reinstates Boyce Hodge, the longtime West High School athletic director, to that position and as coach of the boys basketball team for the current school year. The district’s other three major high schools also will have full-time athletic directors.
The district and the union also have quarreled over the role of MTI members in online learning for seven years. Under the new agreement, any instruction of district students will be supervised by Madison teachers. The deal doesn’t change existing practice but confirms that that practice will continue.

Tamira Madsen:

Matthews said he was pleased with the negotiations and agreements, and added that he’s enjoyed working with Nerad.
“I think probably the over-reaching issue that this resolution provides is an improved problem-solving relationship between the union and the school district that’s possible now with the coming of Dan Nerad as the superintendent in Madison,” Matthews said.

Fascinating and an interesting look at new Superintendent Dan Nerad’s approach.
Related: Madison Teachers June, 2008 Athletic Director Issue Press Release 12K PDF and Arbitrators award 222KB PDF.

Iowa State University journalism director challenges cyber trend

Lisa Rossi:

When Iowa State University journalism school Director Michael Bugeja asked a group of Simpson College students what inspires awe in them, he was greeted with deafening silence.
After a second attempt to get a reaction generated only a feeble response, Bugeja pondered his own question and concluded: Technology creates simulated lives for too many of today’s college students. In some cases, he said, they get so wrapped up in their online lives that they lose touch with reality.
Bugeja blames technology. He warns anyone who will listen about the blind embrace of avatars, cyber lives and Web surfing during class.
“What we’re seeing is these consumer technologies are blurring the line between entertainment and learning,” he said.
His views have landed him at the center of a debate among education leaders over how to simultaneously capture the attention of tech-savvy students and still maintain the depth of instruction they will need to survive in the modern wired world.
Not everyone agrees with Bugeja. That’s why there’s a spam e-mail named for him. And it’s why the editor of the campus newspaper characterized his comments as “iPhobic” in 2006. Some, however, give Bugeja credit for putting the issue on the front burner.
“He makes us stop and think about the impact of that technology and why do we think that it works, how could we improve on it,” said Jim Davis, ISU’s chief information officer.

English Language Instruction Classes

Miriam Jordan: Yet, already, providers can’t keep up with demand because of a dearth of publicly funded classes. Across the U.S., “the problem is not the unwillingness of immigrants to learn English,” says Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New Immigration Coalition, an advocacy group. “The problem is we don’t provide enough classes.” The cost […]

Law lacks direction for gifted students

Amy Hetzner: What the law doesn’t mandate is how students such as Adam will be educated – even though state legislators have identified programming for students with gifts and talents as one of 20 essential components of public education. The result? A mixed bag of approaches for how Wisconsin students identified as gifted are educated. […]

A Direct Challenge

Direct Instruction is just curriculum that uses direct, systematic, and explicit instruction. Any one of the direct instruction curricula would improve academic performance if it were used in the MMSD. This comes from an Education Week article in 1999: When an independent research group evaluated the research backing up 24 popular school reform models this […]

Reading Instruction Workshop

2004 DIRECT INSTRUCTION TRAINING AND CONFERENCE August 9-10, 2004 Edgewood College Campus Madison, Wisconsin Direct Instruction Training for both Beginning and Advanced Sessions Specially Designed for Deaf/Hard of Hearing Teachers College Credit Available Great New Location KEYNOTE SPEAKER Sara Tarver, Ph.D., Professor, University of Wisconsin, Madison Issues and Debates about Direct Instruction FEATURED PRESENTER Terry […]

“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.

Can Your Kid Hack It in Kindergarten?

Melinda Wenner Moyer:

Last week, two of my neighbors sent their 5-year-olds on the school bus for the first time. The families were excited but also mildly terrified. I look back fondly on kindergarten–I remember soaring around the playground as an eagle with my friend Kathleen–but kindergarten today is a vastly different beast than it was 30 years ago. Many schools have ditched play-based exploratory programs in favor of direct instruction and regular testing, in part thanks to the pressure to improve grade-school test scores. As many experts I spoke to for this column told me, kindergarten is the new first grade.
Perhaps it’s unsurprising, then, that an estimated 9 percent of parents don’t send their 5-year-olds to kindergarten anymore. They wait a year so that their savvy 6-year-olds can better handle the curriculum. This so-called “academic redshirting,” a nod to the practice of keeping young athletes on the bench until they are bigger and more skilled, is highly controversial. The National Association of Early Childhood Specialists and the National Association for the Education of Young Children fiercely oppose it, saying that redshirting “labels children as failures at the outset of their school experience.” Studies that have evaluated how well redshirted kids fare compared to their schooled-on-time peers conclude that redshirting provides no long-term academic or social advantages and can even put kids at a disadvantage.

Lessons in How Not to Teach Math The course I took in math education methods was worse than useless.

Barry Garelick, via a kind email:

I am a mathematics teacher. I majored in math and, prior to going into teaching, used it throughout my career.
My facility with math is due to good teaching and good textbooks. I fully expected the same for my daughter, but after seeing what passed for mathematics in her elementary school, I became increasingly distressed over how math is currently taught in many schools.
Optimistically believing that I could make a difference in at least a few students’ lives, I decided that after I retired, I would teach high school math. To obtain the necessary credential, I enrolled in George Mason University Graduate School for Education in the fall of 2005.
The ed school experience did have some redeeming features. Most of my teachers had taught in K-12, and had valuable advice about classroom management problems and some good common-sense approaches to teaching that didn’t rely on nausea-inducing theories.
Those theories are inescapable, unfortunately.
Specifically, many education theorists hold that when students discover material for themselves, they learn it more deeply than when it is taught directly. In this vein, the prevailing belief in the education establishment is that although direct instruction is effective in helping students learn and use algorithms and mathematical procedures, it is ineffective in helping students develop mathematical thinking.

Common Core leading districts to adopt unproved math programs and failed approaches

Laurie Rogers, via a kind email:

Many of America’s public schools have incorporated “student-centered learning” models into their math programs. An adoption committee in Spokane appears poised to recommend the adoption of yet another version of a “student-centered” program for Grades 3-8 mathematics.
It’s critically important that American citizens know what that term means. Aspects of the Common Core State Standards initiatives are leading many districts to adopt new curricular materials that have “student-centered learning” as a centerpiece.
In Spokane Public Schools, student-centered learning (also known as “inquiry-based” learning or “discovery-based” learning or “standards-based” learning) has been the driver of curriculum adoptions for nearly 20 years. This approach has not produced graduates with strong skills in mathematics. Spokane now suffers from a dearth of math skills in most of its younger citizens.
Nor is Spokane alone with this problem. Student-centered learning has largely replaced direct instruction in the public-school classroom. It was pushed on the country beginning in the 1980s by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the federal government, colleges of education, and various corporations and foundations. Despite its abject failure to produce well-educated students, student-centered learning is coming back around, again pushed by the NCTM, colleges of education, the federal government and various corporations and foundations.

Nothing Can Replace a Good Teacher

Jay Matthews

Those who hope 21st-century technological wonders will save our schools should read a recent lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. It tells the story of Melvin Marshall, a seventh-grader at Barber Focus School in Highland Park.
During the just-completed school year, the lawsuit says, “Melvin was enrolled in a class called ‘Virtual Learning English Language Arts,’ in which he answered questions on the computer. While he worked on the computer, his teacher graded papers or did other work on her own computer. His teacher did not lecture or use the blackboard for instruction. Melvin did not receive direct instruction from his teacher and was frustrated that, although the computer program would indicate whether he answered a question correctly, it never explained why a particular answer was correct.”

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.

Rapid Improvments in K-12 Math Education Are Possible

Cliff Mass:

One of the most frustrating aspects of working on the improvement of math education is dealing with an educational establishment that makes decisions based on fads and opinions rather than empirical facts.
Now, let us accept that there are different approaches to teaching mathematics, with a major divide between the “reform, discovery approaches” and the more “traditional, direct instruction” approaches. Reform/discovery approaches became the rage among the educational community in the 1990s and I believe it is a major, but not sole, reason that math performance has lagged.
As a scientist, it would seem to me that the next step is clear: test a variety of curriculum approaches in the classroom, insuring the class demographics are similar, and find out what works best. In short, do a carefully controlled experiment with proper statistics and find the truth in an empirical way. But what frustrates me is that such experimentation is virtually never done by the educational bureaucracy. They seem to go from fad to fad and student progress suffers. Reform math, Integrated Math, Teach for America, Whole Language, and many more.

Seattle Public Schools Administration Response to the Discovery Math Public Lawsuit Loss

602K PDF.

Respondents focus their brief on arguing that no reasonable school board would adopt “inquiry-based” high school mathematics textbooks instead of “direct instruction” textbooks. There are “dueling experts” and other conflicting evidence regarding the best available material for teaching high school math, and the Seattle School Board (“the Board”) gave due consideration to both sides of the debate before reaching its quasi legislative decision to adopt the Discovering series and other textbooks on a 4-3 vote.
The trial court erred by substituting its judgment for the Board’s in determining how much weight to place on the conflicting evidence. Several of the “facts” alleged in the Brief of Respondents (“BR”) are inaccurate, misleading, or lack any citation to the record in violation of RAP l0.3(a)(4). The Court should have an accurate view of the facts in the record to decide the important legal issues in this case. The Board is, therefore, compelled to correct any misimpressions that could arise from an unwary reading of respondents’ characterization of the facts.

Much more on the successful citizen lawsuit overturning the Seattle School District’s use of Discovery Math, here. http://seattlemathgroup.blogspot.com/. Clusty Search: Discovery Math.
Local links: Math Task Force, Math Forum Audio/Video and West High School Math Teachers letter to Isthmus.

Redesigning Education: Rethinking the School Corridor

Trung Le:

“I am entirely certain that twenty years from now we will look back at education as it is practiced in most schools today and wonder how we could have tolerated anything so primitive.”

– John W. Gardner, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, “No Easy Victories” (1968)
Education reform is in the air and taking root in thousands of classrooms across the country. From overhauling No Child Left Behind to closing poorly performing schools and raising student expectations, the push for change is powerful. Yet, the space where most learning takes place–the school and classroom–has changed little over the last 200 years.
Even before students set foot in a classroom, most schools still are built like factories: long hallways, lined with metal lockers, transport students to identical, self-contained classrooms. School designers call these hallways “double-loaded corridors.” The factory model of control and direct instruction still pervades most new schools. If we are to have thorough-going school reform, we must change the design model, too, starting with the place students first enter the school.

Pre-K Can Work: Needy kids could benefit, but only if we use proven pedagogy and hold programs accountable.

Shephard Barbash:

The one approach that Follow Through found had worked, Direct Instruction, was created by Siegfried Engelmann, who has written more than 100 curricula for reading, spelling, math, science, and other subjects. Engelmann dates DI’s inception to an experiment he performed at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in the summer of 1964. He took two groups of three- to five-year-olds–one white and affluent, one black and poor–and tried to teach them “sophisticated patterns of reasoning. . . . things that Piaget said couldn’t be taught before the age of formal operations–around 11 or 12.” These things included concepts like relative direction (A is north of B but south of C) and the behavior of light entering and leaving a mirror. Both groups learned what Piaget said they couldn’t at their age. But to Engelmann’s consternation, the affluent kids learned faster. He traced the difference to a severe language deficit in the African-American group (the deficit that Hart and Risley later quantified) and resolved to figure out how to overcome it.
Engelmann and two colleagues, Carl Bereiter and Jean Osborn, went on to open a half-day preschool for poor children in Champaign-Urbana that dramatically accelerated learning even in the most verbally deprived four-year-olds. Children who entered the preschool not knowing the meaning of “under,” “over,” or “Stand up!” went into kindergarten reading and doing math at a second-grade level. Engelmann found (and others later confirmed) that the mean IQ for the group jumped from 96 to 121. In effect, the Bereiter-Engelmann preschool proved that efforts to close the achievement gap could begin years earlier than most educators had thought possible. The effects lasted, at a minimum, until second grade–and likely longer, though studies on the longer-term effects weren’t performed.

An Interview with Montgomery (Alabama) School District Superintendent (an former Madison Lapham Elementary Principal) Barbara Thompson

David Zaslawsky, via a kind reader’s email:

MBJ: As superintendent, you are the CEO of a $311 million budget, 32,000 students and 4,500 employees. What are your priorities?
Thompson: Basically, moving the school district forward so we are considered one of the No. 1 school districts in the state. Making sure that our students are successful and that they have skills that will allow them to compete in what I consider a global society. My priority is to make sure first and foremost that we have kids in the classroom – so we have to tackle that dropout rate.
MBJ: Any other initiatives?
Thompson: The Career Academies is another way we’re looking at deterring our dropout rate. We hope that this gives our kids some idea of the light at the end of the tunnel; some skill set they can see and some jobs they can do. Potentially, we see (Career Academies) being a linkage for those kids for reasons why to stay in school because this can give you jobs – these are classes you can take while you’re in high school so when you graduate, you actually have a job. And the last component of that – that three-tier component that I consider — is prevention. We increased seven pre-K programs because the other part of dropout prevention is that part. We added seven pre-K programs this year for a total of 21. The reason that is so critical is because one of the reasons kids drop out is because they don’t have the skills that they need. We’re trying to increase giving the kids skills as 4-year-olds so when they come into kindergarten, they are caught up. That’s part of that three-pronged approach.
MBJ: What are some of the things that you learned about MPS since you took over in August, and what has surprised you?
Thompson: I learned a lot about the commitment that this community has towards education, particularly the business (community), work force development and the chamber. They are very committed to making sure that the public schools in Montgomery are successful. I guess I was surprised at the Career Academies. They are cutting-edge in terms of what you want to be doing in the school district and the involvement that we have in the chamber in the (Career Academies) is exciting and unusual.

Montgomery, AL school district website & Thompson’s blog.
Lapham Elementary’s success with Direct Instruction (phonics) was discussed during a Reading Recovery conversation at the December 7, 2009 Madison School Board meeting.

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.

Discovery learning in math: Exercises versus problems Part I

Barry Garelick, via email:

By way of introduction, I am neither mathematician nor mathematics teacher, but I majored in math and have used it throughout my career, especially in the last 17 years as an analyst for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. My love of and facility with math is due to good teaching and good textbooks. The teachers I had in primary and secondary school provided explicit instruction and answered students’ questions; they also posed challenging problems that required us to apply what we had learned. The textbooks I used also contained explanations of the material with examples that showed every step of the problem solving process.
I fully expected the same for my daughter, but after seeing what passed for mathematics in her elementary school, I became increasingly distressed over how math is currently taught in many schools.
Optimistically believing that I could make a difference in at least a few students’ lives, I decided to teach math when I retire. I enrolled in education school about two years ago, and have only a 15-week student teaching requirement to go. Although I had a fairly good idea of what I was in for with respect to educational theories, I was still dismayed at what I found in my mathematics education courses.
In class after class, I have heard that when students discover material for themselves, they supposedly learn it more deeply than when it is taught directly. Similarly, I have heard that although direct instruction is effective in helping students learn and use algorithms, it is allegedly ineffective in helping students develop mathematical thinking. Throughout these courses, a general belief has prevailed that answering students’ questions and providing explicit instruction are “handing it to the student” and preventing them from “constructing their own knowledge”–to use the appropriate terminology. Overall, however, I have found that there is general confusion about what “discovery learning” actually means. I hope to make clear in this article what it means, and to identify effective and ineffective methods to foster learning through discovery.

Garelick’s part ii on Discovery learning can be found here.
Related: The Madison School District purchases Singapore Math workbooks with no textbooks or teacher guides. Much more on math here.

What is Discovery Learning?

Barry Garelick, via email:

By way of introduction, I am neither mathematician nor mathematics teacher, but I majored in math and have used it throughout my career, especially in the last 17 years as an analyst for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. My love of and facility with math is due to good teaching and good textbooks. The teachers I had in primary and secondary school provided explicit instruction and answered students’ questions; they also posed challenging problems that required us to apply what we had learned. The textbooks I used also contained explanations of the material with examples that showed every step of the problem solving process.
I fully expected the same for my daughter, but after seeing what passed for mathematics in her elementary school, I became increasingly distressed over how math is currently taught in many schools.
Optimistically believing that I could make a difference in at least a few students’ lives, I decided to teach math when I retire. I enrolled in education school about two years ago, and have one class and a 15-week student teaching requirement to go. Although I had a fairly good idea of what I was in for with respect to educational theories, I was still dismayed at what I found in my mathematics education courses.
In class after class, I have heard that when students discover material for themselves, they supposedly learn it more deeply than when it is taught directly. Similarly, I have heard that although direct instruction is effective in helping students learn and use algorithms, it is allegedly ineffective in helping students develop mathematical thinking. Throughout these courses, a general belief has prevailed that answering students’ questions and providing explicit instruction are “handing it to the student” and preventing them from “constructing their own knowledge”–to use the appropriate terminology. Overall, however, I have found that there is general confusion about what “discovery learning” actually means. I hope to make clear in this article what it means, and to identify effective and ineffective methods to foster learning through discovery.

Milwaukee’s Educational Options

Becky Murray:

Our urban and suburban school districts are under tremendous pressure to be all things for all students. Special learning needs and unique learning styles complicate the process of providing each student with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
I have served in conventional schools and public charter schools in the Milwaukee area. I’ve found that every school has its strengths as well as its needs to improve.
I am currently a speech therapist in two Milwaukee public charter schools, the Downtown Montessori Academy and Inland Seas High School. Yes, charter schools are actually public schools. Yes, many public charter schools provide special education services for frequently occurring disabilities.
Teaching at a charter school allows me to think outside the box as I serve my students. Public charter schools can offer teachers greater autonomy to be innovative in the classroom. For example, if a school’s reading program is not serving the needs of a classroom, charter schools have the autonomy to make changes as needs are identified. I think the ability to initiate necessary changes is where the “can-do” attitude of fellow teachers in charter schools comes from.
Many of Milwaukee’s charter schools are based on cutting-edge curriculums that serve a variety of learning styles. One option is referred to as “project based,” where students design and carry out a learning project of their particular interest. Another option is the student-led, teacher-guided Montessori environment. Direct instruction is a teacher-led style of learning that uses the repetition of very small, specifically targeted learning goals.

The Spending Side of the Higher Education Equation

Scott Jaschik:

Across sectors of higher education, only a minority of spending by colleges supports direct instructional costs, according to a report being released today as part of an effort to reframe the debate over college costs.
“The Growing Imbalance: Recent Trends in U.S. Postsecondary Education Finance,” is the result of an unusual attempt to change the way colleges and policy makers analyze higher education. The report — issued for the first time today and now to be an annual project — examines not only revenues, but how colleges actually spend their money.
After years in which people have read about tuition going up, and about state support covering smaller shares of public higher education budgets, the idea is to focus on what results from these and other trends. Some of the findings challenge conventional wisdom — such as the widely quoted belief that the top expense for higher education is the personnel costs associated with professors and other employees.
The report was produced by the Delta Cost Project, part of the Lumina Foundation for Education’s Making Opportunity Affordable program. The overarching thesis of the work is that higher education will do a better job of serving students if everyone is aware of where the money goes — not just how much college costs. By examining the different spending patterns at different types of institutions, the report notes growing gaps among sectors and among items receiving financial support. For example, spending per student at private research universities is almost twice that of public research universities.

Columbia (Missouri) Parents for Real Math

Math Excellence in Columbia Missouri Public Schools:

To: Columbia Public Schools Board of Education and Superintendent Phyllis Chase
An increasing number of parents and community leaders have expressed concern about the various math curricula currently used in the Columbia Public Schools (CPS). These experimental math programs go by the names of Investigations (TERC), Connected Math (CMP) and Integrated Math (Core Plus) and they emphasize “self-discovery” over mathematical competency. We are concerned because these curricula have been discredited and abandoned in other regions of the country after they failed to deliver demonstrable results. The failed curricula are currently the only method of instruction in the elementary grades and middle schools. At higher grade levels, CPS has actively discouraged students from enrolling in math courses that place more emphasis on widely accepted standard methods. And, while implementing and evaluating these programs, the Columbia School District did not provide open access to meetings or adequately consider the concerns of professional mathematicians, parents and community leaders.
Therefore, we, the undersigned, would like to express our deep concern with the following issues and to propose that the Columbia School District adopt the following goals:
1. Protect the right of students to become computationally fluent in mathematics. We expect students to receive direct instruction in standard algorithms of all mathematical operations and laws of arithmetic so that they can master the skills that allow fast, accurate calculation of basic problems. This goal cannot be met with the current Investigations/TERC math curriculum for lower grade levels.
2. Ensure that math instruction is flexible enough to allow for various learning styles and is age and grade-level appropriate. The elementary level should focus on math standards that will build a solid base of mathematical skills for ALL students. Middle school curricula should build a bridge between the fundamental arithmetic learned in elementary school and the more abstract concepts taught in high school. At both the elementary and middle school levels the curricula should allow teachers the flexibility to meet the needs of all types of learners. This goal cannot be met with the Connected Math program currently used in middle and junior high schools.

Related: Columbia Parents’ blog site, which offers a number of useful posts. [RSS]
Math Forum Audio / Video.
Via a reader.

History is taught as texts without context

Joanne Jacobs: Who’s that man? Why is the crowd gathered? Teachers aren’t supposed to say. Studying texts, without context, is no way to learn history, writes Will Fitzhugh on Diane Ravitch’s blog. But it’s the Common Core way. A notorious lesson called for teaching the Gettysburg Address without discussing the Civil War. Teachers were told: […]

The Story Behind Project Follow Through

Bonnie Grossen: Project Follow Through (FT) remains today the world’s largest educational experiment. It began in 1967 as part of President Johnson’s ambitious War on Poverty and continued until the summer of 1995, having cost about a billion dollars. Over the first 10 years more than 22 sponsors worked with over 180 sites at a […]

The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids

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Education Schools Pedagogical Puzzle

Sharon Otterman: There will be no courses at the Relay Graduate School of Education, the first standalone college of teacher preparation to open in New York State for nearly 100 years. Instead, there will be some 60 modules, each focused on a different teaching technique. There will be no campus, because it is old-think to […]

Critical Thinking

The Pioneer Institute [April 2006]
A Review of E.D. Hirsch’s The Knowledge Deficit (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)
by Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review
E.D. Hirsch, Jr., who published Cultural Literacy in 1987, arguing that there was knowledge which every student ought to have, has now published another book, The Knowledge Deficit, (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) suggesting that the bankruptcy of the “transfer of thinking skills” position has lead to preventing most U.S. schoolchildren, and especially the disadvantaged ones who really depend on the schools to teach them, from acquiring the ability to read well.
Not too long after the beginning of the twentieth century, the U.S. mental measurement community convinced itself, and many others, that the cognitive skills acquired in the study of Latin in school did not “transfer” to other important tasks, one of which at the time was teaching students “worthy home membership.”
As a result, not only was the study of the Latin language abandoned for many students, but at the same time the “baby”–of Caesar, Cicero, Horace, Tacitus, Virgil and others–was thrown out with the “bathwater.” In losing the language, we also lost Roman history, law, poetry, and prose.
In place of this classical knowledge which had been thought essential for two thousand years, the mental measurement community offered “thinking skills,” which they claimed could be applied to any content.

Professor Hirsch reaches back beyond the mental measurement folks to Thomas Jefferson, for someone who shares his view of the value of the knowledge in books:
“In our pre-romantic days, books were seen as key to education. In a 1786 letter to his nephew, aged fifteen, Jefferson recommended that he read books (in the original languages and in this order) by the following authors: [history] Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Anabasis, Arian, Quintus Curtius, Diodorus Siculus, and Justin. On morality, Jefferson recommended books by Epictetus, Plato, Cicero, Antoninus, Seneca, and Xenophon’s Memorabilia, and in poetry Virgil, Terence, Horace, Anacreon, Theocritus, Homer, Euripides, Sophocles, Milton, Shakespeare, Ossian, Pope and Swift. Jefferson’s plan of book learning was modest compared to the Puritan education of the seventeenth century as advocated by John Milton.” (p. 9)

All kids need all skills to read

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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 […]

Science Standards Mediocre, Study Finds

Fordham Foundation criticizes focus on ‘discovery learning.’ More than two-thirds of states have science standards that earn a C grade or worse for their quality, in part because they overemphasize “discovery learning,” the idea that students should be encouraged to acquire knowledge through their own investigation and experimentation, a study issued last week concludes. Too […]

The Next Retirement Time Bomb

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Proving Success using Different School Models

American Institutes for Research: Of the 22 reform models examined, Direct Instruction (Full Immersion Model), based in Eugene, Ore., and Success for All, located in Baltimore, Md., received a “moderately strong” rating in “Category 1: Evidence of Positive Effects on Student Achievement.” Five models met the standards for the “moderate” rating in Category 1: Accelerated […]

WPRI: Milwaukee Public Schools Find Success with Phonics-Based Teaching Technique

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Board & Administration Don’t Respond to Request

I’ve twice sent the e-mail below, and I have received no acknowldegement or response. From: Ed Blume To: rprice@madison.k12.wi.us Cc: jwinstonjr@madison.k12.wi.us ; arainwater@madison.k12.wi.us ; ccarstensen@madison.k12.wi.us Sent: Thursday, June 23, 2005 9:26 PM Subject: Program spending Roger, Can you please tell me the amount the MMSD budgeted and spent in the 2004-2005 fiscal year on the […]

A Better Way to Teach

HOW LAPHAM ELEMENTARY ACHIEVED SUCCESS BY BUCKING THE DISTRICT’S FAVORED APPROACH By Katherine Esposito “At Marquette Elementary, Lapham’s 3rd through 5th grade sister school, skillful use of Direct Instruction has resulted in reading scores for Marquette third-graders that are virtually unsurpassed district-wide. Scores for black students particularly stand out. In 1998, just 9% of Marquette […]

Madison Schools Health Care Cost/Benefit Analysis

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Evidence-Based Reform Report

Robert Slavin of John Hopkins reports on current educational models that are supported by scientific evidence, and makes recommendations. Despite some recent improvements, the academic achievement of American students remains below that of those in most industrialized nations, and the gap between African American and Hispanic students and White students remains substantial. For many years, […]

The Lesson: Minority Achievement in Two Milwaukee Schools

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Preventing Early Reading Failure

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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

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Reading program not worth cost; Rainwater pledges that it will continue

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3rd Grade Reading Scores Released

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Budget Hearing – Elementary Strings Update

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Wisconsin Legislative Study Committee on Dyslexia Approved

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History Teachers Wanted

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Facebook’s war on free will

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Louisiana Threads the Needle on Ed Reform

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Civics: Public Sector Unions and Elections

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Madison School District’s advanced learner program is still a work in progress

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Some alarming recommendations from the Wisconsin Leadership Group on School Staffing Challenges

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Relaxing Wisconsin’s Weak K-12 Teacher Licensing Requirements; MTEL?

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Deja Vu: Madison School District Agreement with the US ED Office of Civil Rights

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School improvement flop: $7 billion = 0

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In face of shortage schools work to grow their own teachers

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