Phonics works best to build comprehension

Joanne Jacobs: Related image Sounding out words is best way to teach reading concludes a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Teaching phonics “has a dramatic impact on the accuracy of reading aloud and comprehension,” reports Science Daily. . . . researchers trained adults to read in a new language, printed in […]

Are You Hooked On Phonics, Pleasant Hill Parents? You Should Be

May Wong: Beginning readers who focus on letter-sound relationships, or phonics, instead of trying to learn whole words, increase activity in the area of their brains best wired for reading, according to new Stanford research investigating how the brain responds to different types of reading instruction. In other words, to develop reading skills, teaching students […]

Did primary school teachers in England game the phonics check?

Richard Adams: The phonics check, a simple test of reading given to five and six year-olds at the end of year one of primary school in England, comprises words and “pseudo-words” that children are expected to pronounce. In 2012 and 2013, the Department for Education announced in advance what the “pass” mark was to be. […]

Reading lessons: why synthetic phonics doesn’t work

Andrew Davis: Current government policy concerning reading favours synthetic phonics (SP), where children learn to recognise letters with their associated sounds – and how to blend those sounds to “read” the “words”. The revised national curriculum, coming into force from September 2014, requires reception and year 1 students to be taught SP. Students aren’t meant […]

Peg Tyre Interview: phonics, grammar, choosing a school, parents and crime

Peg Tyre SIS interviewI recently had an opportunity to talk [42mb mp3 file] with the intriguing Peg Tyre. Tyre recently wrote “The Writing Revolution” for The Atlantic:

For years, nothing seemed capable of turning around New Dorp High School’s dismal performance–not firing bad teachers, not flashy education technology, not after-school programs. So, faced with closure, the school’s principal went all-in on a very specific curriculum reform, placing an overwhelming focus on teaching the basics of analytic writing, every day, in virtually every class. What followed was an extraordinary blossoming of student potential, across nearly every subject–one that has made New Dorp a model for educational reform.

Peg has authored two books: The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids The Education They Deserve, The Trouble with Boys and blogs here.
An excerpt:

Peg: You cover crime for a long time and you realize that it’s very banal. You start to realize that one person killed another person in a horrendous way, but if you look at their lives, it looks like it was two trains on a track heading for each other. The miracle would have been if they didn’t end up killing each other.
Interviewer: [laughing]
Peg: They became a kind of inevitability to the conflicts that I saw. I asked my self, my intellectual journey of why is this happening? Why are theses trains set on a collision course? What I came to was lack of opportunity. You dig deeper into that, and it’s lack of education.
Interviewer: Right.
Peg: I actually come at education… Most journalists come at education because they have kids or they think that kids are cute or they have parents who are teachers and they have warm feelings about school. I have really mixed feelings about school. Yes, kids are cute, but I actually come at this from a social…I don’t know. It’s sort of like a harder nosed perspective.
Interviewer: Yeah.
Peg: Also, I hate education blah blah. I hate people using school words and pretending that their having a dialogue when they’re really just jargoning at each other.
Interviewer: [laughing]
Peg: I hate people telling me they have the answer to poverty, that they have the answer to the achievement gap, when you know and I know every intelligent person who’s listening to this knows that it’s more complicated than that. I’m not exactly misanthropic, but I’m an investigative reporter by trade, so I’m just like a “show me” kind of gal. I’m just like, “Yeah, really? Very interesting froth. Show me.”

Listen to the interview via this 42mb mp3 file , or read the transcript.

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.

Teaching unions urge rethink of phonics checks

Judith Burns:

Leaders of three teaching unions have written to MPs urging a rethink of the phonics checks for six-year olds which are starting in schools.
The unions say the controversial tests are an expensive way to tell schools what they already know and will do nothing to improve children’s reading.
They describe the checks on how well children can read both real and made-up words, as “flawed”.
Schools minister Nick Gibb called the unions’ position disappointing.
Mr Gibb said: “Many of their members have already told us how this quick check will allow them to identify thousands of children who need extra help to become good readers.

Phonics test: NUT says it will make failures of five-year-olds

Angela Harrison:

A teachers’ union is calling for a boycott of a new phonics reading test, saying it risks making failures of five-year-olds.
The government in England wants all children to be taught to read using phonics, where they learn the sounds of letters and groups of letters.
And it says the new “phonics check” for five and six-year-olds will help identify children who need extra help.
But the National Union of Teachers says it will not tell teachers anything new.
And the union fears the results could be used in league tables.

Phonics is necessary but not sufficient

This post came from a listserve on reading: This is in response to the NY Times article about Madison’s reading program. Of course a quick response is often inadequate. But here goes. The simple fact is that correct decoding is necessary but not sufficient to comprehend what one is reading. Necessary but not sufficient appears […]

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

Sammis White, Ph.D (full report here: 250K PDF): study of 23,000 third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students in the Milwaukee Public Schools showed that “among low-income students tracked between third and fourth grades 2002-03 to 2003-04, those with five years of Direct Instruction (DI) increased their math scores by 6.6% whereas non-low-income students increased their scores […]

The Importance of Phonics

Relevant to the sucess of students at Marquette Elementary School, U.W. Psychologist Mark Seidenberg has a new paper in Psychological Review that shows that phonics is critical for skilled reading. Seidenberg’s research “suggests that teaching young children the relationships between spellings and sounds – or phonics – not only makes learning to read easier, but […]

Reading Comprehension Depends on Content Knowledge

Michael Zwaagstra: Walk into an elementary school classroom and you will probably see a lot of books on the shelf. Take a closer look and you will often find a coloured dot, a number, or a letter on each book’s spine. Those dots, numbers, and letters show the reading level of each book. Books are […]

2017 Madison School Board Candidate Forum Video

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Much more on the candidates, here: Seat 6 and Seat 7. Nostalgic visitors might find past school board election links and videos of interest. I’m glad that we’re blessed with choice. I’m also glad that several candidates mentioned our abundance of resources (we spend far more than […]

Common Core’s Surprisingly Deep Roots

Robert Pondiscio: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz reliably wins applause with a call to “repeal every word of Common Core.” It’s a promise he will be hard-pressed to keep should he find himself in the White House next January. Aside from the bizarre impracticality of that comment as phrased (Which words shall we repeal first? “Phonics?” […]

Superkids K-2 Core Reading Program From Rowland Reading Foundation

Zaner-Bloser via a kind reader: Rowland Reading Foundation, of Madison, Wisconsin, today announced the acquisition of its Superkids Reading Program by Zaner-Bloser, an educational publisher providing curricula and digital resources in literacy, language arts, writing instruction and handwriting. The Superkids program is a rigorous phonics-based literacy curriculum that integrates reading with writing, spelling and grammar […]

Wisconsin Reading Coalition Update

Wisconsin Reading Coalition: Reading proficiency in 50 low-income, high-minority Milwaukee schools is less than 8%. See this 12/5/14 PolitiFact article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. ​ Earn a graduate degree from a program that has been accredited by the International Dyslexia Association as meeting the IDA Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading. Coursework […]

Teacher, Tutor Online Reading Course

Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via a kind email: Teachers, tutors, or anyone who is responsible for teaching children to read will be interested in an excellent and free online self-study course from Reading Rockets. It was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, and The […]

The Common Core Commotion

“Decisions about what content is to be taught,’ they insist, ‘are made at the state and local levels.’ At the same time, we read that Common Core’s “educational standards are the learning goals for what students should know.” Is what students should know different from content?” [That is the question. WHF] Andrew Ferguson: The logic […]

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 […]

Madison Schools’ Reading Update

Tap for a larger version.Madison School District PDF: 100% of elementary schools have began implementation of Mondo – 12 schools in year 2 of implementation; and 20 schools in Year 1 of implementation Site visit model of professional learning All elementary schools are implementing the shared reading and oral language components of Mondo, based on […]

“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.

Madison Schools’ Read 180/System 44 Mid-Year Gains Report

Lisa Wachtel:

MMSD offers Read 180 and System 44 as a reading intervention to adolescent students who are two or more years behind their grade level in reading in regular education, special education and the English as a Second Language program. Read 180 and System 44 are integrated into the District’s Response to Intervention (RtI) plan to provide students with access to these research-based intervention materials in all district secondary sites, including middle schools, high school and alternative programs.
Read 180 is an intensive reading intervention program that meets the needs of struggling adolescent readers whose reading achievement is below proficient. The program addresses individual needs through differentiated instruction, adaptive and instructional software, high-interest literacy and explicit instruction in reading, writing and vocabulary development.
The Read 180 instructional model provides a way to organize instruction and classroom activity. Each session begins and ends with whole-group teacher-directed instruction. During the class, there is a structure for the use of time including whole group and small student groups. In the small group time, students rotate among three stations, including:
Computer center – students use the READ 180 software independently, providing them with intensive, individualized skill practice;
Small group – students receive diagnostically informed instruction where individual needs can be met;
Independent center – students read from READ 180 paperbacks and audiobooks. Journal writing, reader responses and reading strategies are applied.
System 44 is an intervention program that is designed for struggling adolescents that need basic support in letter sounds, decoding, word recognition, word-level fluency and strategies for unfamiliar words. System 44 helps middle and high school students “crack the code” on the 44 sounds and 26 letters in the English language. It is intended to be a short term intervention, with students only remaining in the program until they have mastered the sounds of the English language. When student master the decoding, skills as determined by the Scholastic Phonics Inventory, they may advance to Read 180 or another intervention if appropriate. System 44 incorporates a screening tool for reading and phonics to assist with the proper identification of students into either System 44 or Read 180. While MMSD has used Read 180 for several years, System 44 was made available district-wide in 2012-13.

Data issues regarding READ 180 and System 44 by Andrew Statz

Because of these discrepancies and uncertainty over which students actually received the READ 180 or System 44 curriculum, any data staff of READ 180 and System 44 updates generated by MMSD would be misleading and could lead to improper estimates of the results these programs produce, which could in turn lead to misinformed decisions about the direction and effectiveness of these programs. As a result, the Research & Program Evaluation Office cannot report on these programs until data discrepancies are resolved in the future.
Next Steps. District staff are working with teachers and school staff to correct the errors in READ 180 and System 44 participant lists for the 2012-13 school year.
This process includes identifying specific students whose records are inconsistent and attempting to standardize their records, as well as meeting with middle and high school schedulers to emphasize the importance of consistent record keeping for these programs and discuss plans to make sure accurate records are maintained in the future. In, addition, district staff will conduct quarterly audits of READ 180 and System 44 participation to compare transcript and SAM records and correct disparities as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, because SAM only stores a current list of READ 180 and System 44 participants, it is not known if there is a way to repair errors in historical MMSD data on these two programs. More exploration with the vendor is needed to determine what history, if any, can be recovered.

Why Johnny Can’t Syndicate

Jon Udell:

In Why Johnny Can’t Read: And What You Can Do About It, published in 1955, Rudolf Flesch argued that our method of teaching kids to read was wrongly denying them the pleasures of “Andersen’s Fairy Tales or The Arabian Nights or Mark Twain … or anything interesting and worthwhile.” Instead, said Flesch, they get “horrible, stupid, emasculated, pointless, tasteless little readers.” It wasn’t just the lack of literary merit that incensed Flesch. He hated the rationale for those dumbed-down books. Vocabulary, it was thought, must only be introduced gradually. Nonsense, said Flesch. If you equip kids with the right conceptual tools they can read anything. But one fundamental concept — phonics, the decoding of words by mapping symbols to sounds — wasn’t being taught.
In Why Johnny Can’t Encrypt: A Usability Evaluation of PGP 5.0, presented at the 1999 USENIX Security Symposium, Alma Whitten and J.D. Tygar explored why people couldn’t figure out how to encrypt their outbound email or authenticate their inbound email. If you’ve ever used PGP you won’t be surprised by their conclusion: its user interface didn’t present the underlying model — which involves public and private keys, encryption and authentication — in a way that made sense. Of course that was true, and remains true, for every implementation of the model. User interfaces are surely part of the problem, but not the whole story. Here’s the question Whitten and Tygar asked:

Is Teacher Union “Collective Bargaining” Good for Students?

The Madison School Board has scheduled [PDF] a 2:00p.m. meeting tomorrow, Sunday 30 September for an “Initial exchange of proposals and supporting rationale for such proposals in regard to collective bargaining negotiations regarding the Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA) for MMSD Madison Teachers, Inc. (MTI) Teachers, Substitute Teachers, Educational Assistants, Supportive Educational Employees (SEE), and School Security Assistants (SSA), held as a public meeting pursuant to Wis. Stat. §111.70(4)(cm)”.
The School Board along with other Madison area governments have moved quickly to negotiate or extend agreements with several public sector unions after a judicial decision overturning parts of Wisconsin’s Act 10. The controversial passage of Act 10 changed the dynamic between public sector organizations and organized labor.
I’ve contemplated these events and thought back to a couple of first hand experiences:
In the first example, two Madison School District teacher positions were being reduced to one. Evidently, under the CBA, both had identical tenure so the choice was a coin toss. The far less qualified teacher “won”, while the other was laid off.
In the second example, a Madison School District teacher and parent lamented to me the poor teacher one of their children experienced (in the same District) and that “there is nothing that can be done about it”.
In the third example, a parent, after several years of their child’s “mediocre” reading and writing experiences asked that they be given the “best teacher”. The response was that they are “all good”. Maybe so.
Conversely, I’ve seen a number of teachers go far out of their way to help students learn, including extra time after school and rogue curricula such as phonics and Singapore Math.
I am unaware of the School Board meeting on a Sunday, on short notice, to address the District’s long time reading problems.
A bit of background:
Exhibit 1, written in 2005 illustrating the tyranny of low expectations” “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”.
Exhibit 2, 60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use.
Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman’s 2009 Madison speech to the Madison Rotary Club is worth reading:

“Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk – the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It’s as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands.” Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI’s vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the “impossibility” of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars (“Similar to GM”; “worry” about the children given this situation).

William Rowe has commented here frequently on the challenges of teacher evaluation schemes.
This being said, I do find it informative to observe the Board’s priorities in light of the District’s very serious reading problems.
This article is worth reading in light of local property taxes and spending priorities: The American Dream of upward mobility has been losing ground as the economy shifts. Without a college diploma, working hard is no longer enough.

Unlike his parents, John Sherry enrolled in college after graduating from high school in Grand Junction, a boom-bust, agriculture-and-energy outpost of 100,000 inhabitants on Colorado’s western edge. John lasted two years at Metropolitan State University in Denver before he dropped out, first to bag groceries at Safeway, later to teach preschool children, a job he still holds. He knew it was time to quit college when he failed statistics two semesters in a row. Years passed before John realized just how much the economic statistics were stacked against him, in a way they never were against his father.
Greg Sherry, who works for a railroad, is 58 and is chugging toward retirement with an $80,000-a-year salary, a full pension, and a promise of health coverage for life. John scrapes by on $11 an hour, with few health benefits. “I feel like I’m working really hard,” he says, “but I’m not getting ahead.”
This isn’t the lifestyle that John’s parents wished upon their younger child. But it reflects the state of upward–or downward–mobility in the American economy today.

Related: Wisconsin State Tax Based K-12 Spending Growth Far Exceeds University Funding.
TJ Mertz comments on collective bargaining, here and here.
Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes: Didn’t See That One Coming: How the Madison School Board Ended Up Back in Collective Bargaining.
The Capital Times: Should local governments negotiate with employees while the constitutionality of the collective bargaining law is being appealed?

A Review of Sunday is for the Sun; Monday is for the Moon

Sandra Priest Rose and Glen Nelson
New York: Reading Reform Foundation, 2012
There seems to be a growing frustration and concern, among Upper Education professors, and many teachers in Lower Education as well, with the poor reading and writing abilities of our students. If they cannot read, they cannot understand the material being assigned, and their academic writing has discouraged many educators from even trying to assign term papers.
This book, by Sandra Priest Rose and Glen Nelson, explains the thirty-year effort of the Reading Reform Foundation to ensure that at least some students in New York learn to read well early, and so to enjoy the knowledge and understanding they can get from reading with ease. It should be widely read and its programs sought out by educators all over the country who want to do more to introduce their students as soon as possible to such success.
I did not learn to read in the first grade. When I brought home an “F” in reading, it is not too much to say that my mother (Wellesley BA, Radcliffe MA, in English Literature) was not happy. That summer she taught me (unrelentingly) to read phonetically. When my first report card came back from second grade (the school had let me advance) it showed a “D”in reading. My mother went to the school and said “What is this? He is an excellent reader!” The problem, as it turned out was that I “would not stay with the rest of the class”–that is, when the class started a story, I finished it by myself–thus my grade of “D.”
That was probably in 1942, so I am not sure whether I was being offered the “look-say” method in my first school year or not, but my mother’s phonics instruction was very helpful to me in my reading at Harvard and later at Cambridge University, again in English Literature.
This new book about the reading program of the Reading Reform Foundation is not just about the essential value of phonics. It also takes the now unorthodox view that there are obvious connections between reading and knowledge, between knowledge and understanding, and between understanding and writing.
Over the last thirty years, for about 2,000 students a year in New York, the Reading Reform Foundation has offered 160 hours of teacher training, 60 visits a year by a mentor for each participating teacher, and an engaging curriculum to immerse young students in the excitement of sounding out words, and discovering not only their meaning, but very soon the meaning of the reading material in which they appear.
More than 14,000 teachers have attended the annual conferences of the Reading Reform Foundation over the years, and the Program is now at work in 75 New York classrooms each year.
This book includes the results of a study conducted by the City University of New York into the work of the Reading Reform Foundation. They may mean more to those who got a better grade in Statistics in graduate school than I did, but they look very encouraging to anyone concerned over the slow progress in reading of too many of our current youngsters who don’t have explicit phonics instruction on their side.
One of the authors, Sandra Priest Rose, has been a supporter of The Concord Review for years, and is assuredly one of the small group of dedicated people who have enabled the Reading Reform Foundation to serve students and teachers for thirty years with only 20% of their expenses coming from the schools which participate.
For those with an English major Wellesley graduate at home, learning to read phonetically (after school) may not be a problem. For all other elementary students, and especially for their teachers, I recommend the Reading Reform Foundation’s program. Jeanne Chall’s idea that after third grade students will be “reading to learn,” will not come true for too many students if they don’t have the benefit of a vigorous and engaging reading and writing program like the one offered by the Reading Reform Foundation in New York.

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.

Test scores not enough to measure success at Wings

Alan Borsuk:

The 10-year flight of Wings Academy will end Tuesday. The closing of the small school on the south side where the vast majority of students qualify for special education leaves me thinking that nationwide we haven’t worked hard enough on figuring out what to aim for with special ed kids and how to figure out if we’re achieving it.
To what degree should we set the same goals for at least a large portion of special ed kids as for other kids, largely measured by test scores? Is success on less measurable fronts – personal development and preparation for adulthood – good enough? Better? Settling for too little?
Wings was an independent charter school, authorized to operate by the Milwaukee School Board. It had the atmosphere of a friendly, energetic, but, as one staff member put it, squirrelly family. Its program included phonics-oriented reading instruction, individualized and project-based work in many classes, tae kwon as its physical education focus, and a lot of relationship building among staff, students and families.
Test scores at Wings were, as Nicola Ciurro, co-founder and head of the school, put it, terrible. “We always knew that,” she said. Among 10th-graders in last fall’s testing, 34% were proficient in reading, 6% in math.
About 80% of the 150 students, who ranged from first- to 12th-graders, had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disorders, autism, Asperger’s syndrome, dyslexia or other special circumstances. Many of the other 20% were “gray area” kids when it came to special needs, Ciurro said.

Basic Skills Versus Conceptual Understanding: A Bogus Dichotomy in Mathematics Education

H. Wu:

EDUCATION SEEMS to be plagued by false dichotomies. Until recently, when research and common sense gained the upper hand, the debate over how to teach beginning reading was character- ized by many as “phonics vs. meaning.” It turns out that, rather than a dichotomy, there is an inseparable connection between decoding–what one might call the skills part of reading–and comprehension. Fluent decoding, which for most children is best ensured by the direct and systematic teaching of phonics and lots of practice reading, is an indispensable condition of comprehension.
“Facts vs. higher order thinking” is another example of a false choice that we often encounter these days, as if thinking of any sort–high or low–could exist out- side of content knowledge. In mathematics education, this debate takes the form of “basic skills or concep- tual understanding.” This bogus dichotomy would seem to arise from a common misconception of math- ematics held by a segment of the public and the educa- tion community: that the demand for precision and fluency in the execution of basic skills in school math- ematics runs counter to the acquisition of conceptual understanding. The truth is that in mathematics, skills and understanding are completely intertwined. In most cases, the precision and fluency in the execution of the skills are the requisite vehicles to convey the conceptual understanding. There is not “conceptual understanding” and “problem-solving skill” on the one hand and “basic skills” on the other. Nor can one ac-quire the former without the latter.
It has been said that had Einstein been born at the time of the Stone Age, his genius might have enabled him to invent basic arithmetic but probably not much else. However, because he was born at the end of the 19th century–with all the techniques of advanced physics at his disposal–he created the theory of rela- tivity. And so it is with mathematics. Conceptual ad- vances are invariably built on the bedrock of tech- nique. Without the quadratic formula, for example, the theoretical development of polynomial equations and hence of algebra as a whole would have been very dif- ferent. The ability to sum a geometric series, some- thing routinely taught in Algebra II, is ultimately re- sponsible for the theory of power series, which lurks inside every calculator. And so on.

Mathematics Education: Being Outwitted by Stupidity

Barry Garelick:

In a well-publicized paper that addressed why some students were not learning to read, Reid Lyon (2001) concluded that children from disadvantaged backgrounds where early childhood education was not available failed to read because they did not receive effective instruction in the early grades. Many of these children then required special education services to make up for this early failure in reading instruction, which were by and large instruction in phonics as the means of decoding. Some of these students had no specific learning disability other than lack of access to effective instruction. These findings are significant because a similar dynamic is at play in math education: the effective treatment for many students who would otherwise be labeled learning disabled is also the effective preventative measure.
In 2010 approximately 2.4 million students were identified with learning disabilities — about three times as many as were identified in 1976-1977. (See and This increase raises the question of whether the shift in instructional emphasis over the past several decades has increased the number of low achieving children because of poor or ineffective instruction who would have swum with the rest of the pack when traditional math teaching prevailed. I believe that what is offered as treatment for math learning disabilities is what we could have done–and need to be doing–in the first place. While there has been a good amount of research and effort into early interventions in reading and decoding instruction, extremely little research of equivalent quality on the learning of mathematics exists. Given the education establishment’s resistance to the idea that traditional math teaching methods are effective, this research is very much needed to draw such a definitive conclusion about the effect of instruction on the diagnosis of learning disabilities.1

Wisconsin Read to Lead Report Released

Wisconsin Read to Lead Final Report (PDF), via several readers.  Mary Newton kindly provided this summary:

Summary of the Wisconsin Read to Lead Task Force Recommendations, January, 2012

    Teacher Preparation and Professional Development
    All teachers and administrators should receive more instruction in reading pedagogy that focuses on evidence-based practices and the five components of reading as defined by the National Reading Panel (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension).

  1. There must be more accountability at the state level and a commitment by institutions of higher education to improving teacher preparation.
    Licensure requirements should be strengthened to include the Massachusetts Foundations of Reading exam by 2013.
    Teacher preparation programs should expand partnerships with local school districts and early childhood programs.
    Information on the performance of graduates of teacher preparation programs should be available to the public.
    A professional development conference should be convened for reading specialists and elementary school principals.
    DPI should make high quality, science-based, online professional development in reading available to all teachers.
    Professional development plans for all initial educators should include a component on instructional strategies for reading and writing.
    Professional development in reading instruction should be required for all teachers whose students continually show low levels of achievement and/or growth in reading.

  2. Screening, Assessment, and Intervention
    Wisconsin should use a universal statewide screening tool in pre-kindergarten through second grade to ensure that struggling readers are identified as early as possible.
    Proper accommodations should be given to English language learners and special education students.
    Formal assessments should not replace informal assessments, and schools should assess for formative and summative purposes.
    Educators should be given the knowledge to interpret assessments in a way that guides instruction.
    Student data should be shared among early childhood programs, K-12 schools, teachers, parents, reading specialists, and administrators.
    Wisconsin should explore the creation of a program similar to the Minnesota Reading Corps in 2013.

  3. Early Childhood
    DPI and the Department of Children and Families should work together to share data, allowing for evaluation of early childhood practices.
    All 4K programs should have an adequate literacy component.
    DPI will update the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards to ensure accuracy and alignment with the Common Core State Standards, and place more emphasis on fidelity of implementation of the WMELS.
    The YoungStar rating system for early childhood programs should include more specific early literacy criteria.

  4. Accountability
    The Educator Effectiveness Design Team should consider reading outcomes in its evaluation systems.
    The Wisconsin School Accountability Design Team should emphasize early reading proficiency as a key measure for schools and districts. Struggling schools and districts should be given ongoing quality professional development and required to implement scientific research-based screening, assessment, curriculum, and intervention.
    Educators and administrators should receive training on best practices in order to provide effective instruction for struggling readers.
    The state should enforce the federal definition for scientific research-based practices, encourage the use of What Works Clearinghouse, and facilitate communication about effective strategies.
    In addition to effective intervention throughout the school year, Wisconsin should consider mandatory evidence-based summer school programs for struggling readers, especially in the lower grades, and hold the programs accountable for results.

  5. Family Involvement
    Support should be given to programs such as Reach Out and Read that reach low-income families in settings that are well-attended by parents, provide books to low-income children, and encourage adults to read to children.
    The state should support programs that show families and caregivers how to foster oral language and reading skill development in children.
    Adult literacy agencies and K-12 schools should collaborate at the community level so that parents can improve their own literacy skills.

Related:  Erin Richards’ summary (and Google News aggregation) and many SIS links

July 29 Wisconsin Read to Lead task force meeting

Julie Gocey, via email:

The fourth meeting of the Governor’s Read to Lead task force took place in Milwaukee on Friday, July 29. The meeting was filmed by Wisconsin Eye, but we have not seen it offered yet through their website. We will send out a notice when that occurs. As always, we encourage you to watch and draw your own conclusions.
Following is a synopsis of the meeting, which centered on reading improvement success in Florida and previously-discussed task force topics (teacher preparation, licensing, professional development, screening/intervention, early childhood). In addition, Superintendent Evers gave an update on activity within DPI. The discussion of the impact of societal factors on reading achievement was held over to the next meeting, as was further revisiting of early childhood issues.

In addition to this summary, you can access Chan Stroman’s Eduphilia tweets at!/eduphilia
Opening: Governor Walker welcomed everyone and stressed the importance of this conversation on reading. Using WKCE data, which has been criticized nationally and locally for years as being derived from low standards, the Governor stated that 80% of Wisconsin students are proficient or advanced in reading, and he is seeking to serve the other 20%. The NAEP data, which figured prominently in the presentation of the guest speakers, tell a very different story. Superintendent Evers thanked the task force members and indicated that this is all about “connecting the dots” and putting all of the “puzzle pieces” together. The work of this task force will impact the work going on in other education-focused committees.
The Florida Story: Guest speakers were Patricia Levesque, the Executive Director of the Foundation for Excellence in Education and the Foundation for Florida’s Future, and Mary Laura Bragg, the director of Florida’s statewide reading initiative, Just Read, Florida! from 2001 to 2006.
In a series of slides, Levesque compared Wisconsin, Florida, and national performance on the NAEP reading test over the past decade. Despite challenges in terms of English language learners, a huge percentage of students on free/reduced lunch, and a minority-majority demographic, Florida has moved from the scraping the bottom on the NAEP to the top group of states. Over the same time period, Wisconsin has plummeted in national ranking, and our students now score below the national average in all subgroups for which NAEP data is disaggregated. 10 points on the NAEP scale is roughly equivalent to one grade level in performance, and Florida has moved from two grade levels below Wisconsin to 1/2 grade level above. For a full discussion of Wisconsin’s NAEP performance, see our website,
Levesque and Bragg also described the components of the reading initiative in Florida, which included grading all schools from A to F, an objective test-based promotion policy from third to fourth grade, required state-approved reading plans in each district, trained reading coaches in schools, research assistance from the Florida Center for Reading Research, required individual student intervention plans for struggling students, universal K-2 screening for reading problems, improved licensure testing for teachers and principals, the creation of a reading endorsement for teaching licenses, and on-line professional development available to all teachers. As noted above, achievement has gone up dramatically, the gap between demographic groups has narrowed, early intervention is much more common, and third grade retention percentages continue to fall. The middle school performance is now rising as those children who received early intervention in elementary school reach that level. Those students have not yet reached high school, and there is still work to be done there. To accomplish all this, Florida leveraged federal funds for Title 1 and 2 and IDEA, requiring that they be spent for state-approved reading purposes. The Governor also worked actively with business to create private/public partnerships supporting reading. Just Read, Florida! was able to engineer a statewide conference for principals that was funded from vendor fees. While Florida is a strong local control state, reading is controlled from the state level, eliminating the need for local curriculum directors to research and design reading plans without the resources or manpower to do so. Florida also cut off funding to university professors who refused to go along with science-based reading instruction and assessment.
Florida is now sharing its story with other states, and offering assistance in reading plan development, as well as their screening program (FAIR assessment system) and their online professional development, which cost millions to develop. Levesque invited Wisconsin to join Indiana and other states at a conference in Florida this fall.
Questions for, or challenges to, the presenters came from three task force members.

  • Rachel Lander asked about the reading coaches, and Bragg responded that they were extensively trained by the state office, beginning with Reading First money. They are in the classroom modeling for teachers and also work with principals on understanding data and becoming building reading leaders. The coaches now have an association that has acquired a presence in the state.
  • Linda Pils stated her belief that Wisconsin outperforms Florida at the middle school level, and that we have higher graduation rates than Florida. She cited opinions that third grade retention has some immediate effect, but the results are the same or better for non-retained students later, and that most retained students will not graduate from high school. She also pointed out Florida’s class size reduction requirement, and suggested that the NAEP gains came from that. Levesque explained that the retention studies to which Pils was referring were from other states, where retention decisions were made subjectively by teachers, and there was no requirement for science-based individual intervention plans. The gains for retained students in Florida are greater than for matched students who are not retained, and the gains persist over time. Further, retention did not adversely affect graduation rates. In fact, graduation rates have increased, and dropout rates have declined. The University of Arkansas is planning to do a study of Florida retention. The class size reduction policy did not take effect in Florida until last year, and a Harvard study concluded that it had no effect on student reading achievement. Task force member Steve Dykstra pointed out that you cannot compare the NAEP scores from two states without considering the difference in student demographics. Wisconsin’s middle school scores benefit from the fact that we have a relative abundance of white students who are not on free/reduced lunch. Our overall average student score in middle school may be higher than Florida, but when we compare similar cohorts from both states, Florida is far ahead.
  • Tony Pedriana asked what kinds of incentives have been put in place for higher education, principals, etc. to move to a science-based system of instruction. The guests noted that when schools are graded, reading performance receives double weight in the formula. They also withheld funding for university programs that were not science-based.

DPI Update: Superintendent Evers indicated that DPI is looking at action in fours areas: teacher licensure, the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards, the use of a screener to detect reading problems, and implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

  • The committee looking at licensing is trying to decide whether they should recommend an existing, off-the-shelf competency exam, or revise the exam they are currently requiring (Praxis 2). He did not indicate who is on the committee or what existing tests they were looking at. In the past, several members of the task force have recommended that Wisconsin use the Foundations of Reading test given in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
  • DPI is revising the WMELS to correct definitions and descriptions of phonological and phonemic awareness and phonics. The changes will align the WMELS with both the Report of the National Reading Panel and the Common Core State Standards. Per the suggestion of Eboni Howard, a guest speaker at the last meeting, they will get an outside opinion on the WMELS when they are finished. Evers did not indicate who is doing this work.
  • DPI is looking at the possibility of using PALS screening or some other tool recommended by the National RTI Center to screen students in grades K-2 or K-3. Evers previously mentioned that this committee had been meeting for 6-7 months, but he did not indicate who is on it.
  • Evers made reference to communication that was circulated this week (by Dr. Dan Gustafson and John Humphries) that expressed concern over the method in which DPI is implementing the Common Core. He stated that districts have been asking DPI for help in implementing the CC, and they want to provide districts with a number of resources. One of those is the model curriculum being developed by CESA 7. DPI is looking at it to see how it could help the state move forward, but no final decision has yet been made.

Task force member Pam Heyde, substituting for Marcia Henry, suggested that it would be better to look at what Florida is doing rather than start from ground zero looking at guidelines. Patricia Levesque confirmed that Florida was willing to assist other states, and invited Wisconsin to join a meeting of state reading commissioners in October.
Teacher Preparation: The discussion centered around what needs to change in teacher preparation programs, and how to fit this into a four-year degree.
Steve Dykstra said that Texas has looked at this issue extensively. Most schools need three courses to cover reading adequately, but it is also important to look at the texts that are used in the courses. He referenced a study by Joshi that showed most of the college texts to be inadequate.
Dawnene Hassett, UW-Madison literacy professor in charge of elementary teacher reading preparation, was invited to participate in this part of the discussion. She indicated we should talk in terms of content knowledge, not number of credits. In a couple of years, teachers will have to pass a Teacher Performance Assessment in order to graduate. This was described as a metacognitive exercise using student data. In 2012-13, UW-Madison will change its coursework, combining courses in some of the arts, and dropping some of the pedagogical, psychological offerings.
Tony Pedriana said he felt schools of education had fallen down on teaching content derived from empirical studies.
Hassett said schools teach all five “pillars” of reading, but they may not be doing it well enough. She said you cannot replicate classroom research, so you need research “plus.”
Pils was impressed with the assistance the FCRR gives to classroom teachers regarding interventions that work. She also said spending levels were important.
Dykstra asked Mary Laura Bragg if she had worked with professors who thought they were in alignment with the research, but really weren’t.
Bragg responded that “there’s research, and then there’s research.” They had to educate people on the difference between “research” from vendors and empirical research, which involves issues of fidelity and validation with different groups of students.
Levesque stated that Florida increased reading requirements for elementary candidates from 3 to 6 credits, and added a 3 credit requirement for secondary candidates. Colleges were required to fit this in by eliminating non-content area pedagogy courses.
Kathy Champeau repeated a concern from earlier meetings that teacher candidates need the opportunity to practice their new knowledge in a classroom setting, or they will forget it.
Hassett hoped the Teacher Performance Assessment would help this. The TPA would probably require certain things to be included in the teacher candidate’s portfolio.
Governor Walker said that the key to the effectiveness of Florida’s retention policy was the intervention provided to the students. He asked what they did to make sure intervention was successful.
Levesque replied that one key was reading coaches in the classroom. Also, district reading plans, individual intervention plans, student academies, etc. all need to be approved by the state.
There was consensus that there should be a difference in reading requirements for elementary vs. secondary teachers. There was no discussion of preparation for reading teachers, reading specialists, or special education teachers.
Licensing: The discussion centered around what teacher standards need to be tested.
Dykstra suggested that the Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading, written by Louisa Moats, et al, and published by the International Dyslexia Association in 2010, would be good teacher standards, and the basis for a teacher competency exam. There was no need for DPI to spend the next year discussing and inventing new teacher standards.
Champeau said that the International Reading Association also has standards.
Pedriana asked if those standards are based on research.
Dykstra suggested that the task force look at the two sets of standards side-by-side and compare them.
Professional Development: The facilitators looked for input on how professional development for practicing teachers should be targeted. Should the state target struggling teachers, schools, or districts for professional development?
Rep. Jason Fields felt all three needed to be targeted.
Heyde asked Levesque for more details on how Wisconsin could do professional development, when we often hear there is no money.
Levesque provided more detail on the state making reading a priority, building public/private partnerships, and being more creative with federal grant money (e.g., the 20% of each grant that is normally carved out by the state for administration). There should be a clear reading plan (Florida started with just two people running their initiative, and after a decade only has eight people), and all the spending should align with the plan to be effective. You cannot keep sending money down the hole. Additional manpower was provided by the provision that all state employees would get one paid hour per week to volunteer on approved reading projects in schools, and also by community service requirements for high school students.
Bragg suggested using the online Florida training modules, and perhaps combining them with modules from Louisiana.
Dykstra also suggested taking advantage of existing training, including LETRS, which was made widely available in Massachusetts. He also stressed the importance of professional development for principals, coaches, and specialists.
Bragg pointed out that many online training modules are free, or provided for a nominal charge that does not come close to what it would cost Wisconsin to develop its own professional development.
Lander said there were many Wisconsin teachers who don’t need the training, and it should not be punitive.
Champeau suggested that Florida spends way more money on education that Wisconsin, based on information provided by the NAEP.
Levesque clarified that Florida actually is below the national average in cost per student. The only reason they spend more than Wisconsin is that they have more students.
Rep. Steve Kestell stated that teachers around the entire state have a need for professional development, and it is dangerous to give it only to the districts that are performing the worst.
Sarah Archibald (sitting in for Sen. Luther Olsen) said it would be good to look at the value added in districts across the state when trying to identify the greatest needs for professional development. The new statewide information system should provide us with some of this value added information, but not at a classroom teacher level.
Evers commented that the state could require new teacher Professional Development Plans to include or be focused on reading.
Pils commented that districts can have low and high performing schools, so it is not enough to look at district data.
Champeau said that administrators also need this professional development. They cannot evaluate teachers if they do not have the knowledge themselves.
Dykstra mentioned a Florida guidebook for principals with a checklist to help them. He is concerned about teachers who develop PDP’s with no guidance, and spend a lot of time and money on poor training and learning. There is a need for a clearinghouse for professional development programs.
Screening/Intervention: One of the main questions here was whether the screening should be universal using the same tools across the state.
Champeau repeated a belief that there are districts who are doing well with the screening they are doing, and they should not be required to change or add something new.
Dykstra responded that we need comparable data from every school to use value added analysis, so a universal tool makes sense. He also said there was going to be a lot of opposition to this, given the statements against screening that were issued when Rep. Keith Ripp introduced legislation on this topic in the last biennium. He felt the task force has not seen any screener in enough detail to recommend a particular one at this time.
Heyde said we need a screener that screens for the right things.
Pils agreed with Dykstra and Heyde. She mentioned that DIBELS is free and doesn’t take much time.
Michele Erickson asked if a task force recommendation would turn into a mandate. She asked if Florida used a universal screener.
Levesque replied that Florida initially used DIBELS statewide, and then the FCRR developed the FAIR assessments for them. The legislature in Florida mandated the policy of universal kindergarten screening that also traces students back to their pre-K programs to see which ones are doing a better job. Wisconsin could purchase the FAIR assessments from Florida.
Archilbald suggested phasing in screening if we could not afford to do it all at once.
Evers supports local control, but said there are reasons to have a universal screener for data systems, to inform college programs, and to implement professional development.
Lander asked what screening information we could get from the WKCE.
Evers responded that the WKCE doesn’t start unitl third grade.
Dykstra said we need a rubric about screening, and who needs what type and how often.
Pedriana said student mobility is another reason for a universal screener.
There was consensus that early screening is important. Certainly by 4K or 5K, but even at age three if a system could be established. Possibilities mentioned were district-run screenings or pediatrician screenings.
Walker reminded the task force that it only makes sense to screen if you have the ability to intervene with something.
Mara Brown wasn’t sure that a universal screener would tell her anything more about her students than she already knows.
Levesque said she could provide a screening roadmap rubric for the task force.
No one on the task force had suggestions for specific interventions. The feeling was that it is more important to have a well-trained teacher. Both Florida and Oregon started evaluating and rating interventions, but stopped because they got bogged down. Wisconsin must also be careful about evaluations by What Works Clearinghouse, which has some problems.
Pedriana asked if the task force is prepared to endorse a model of instruction based on science, where failure is not an option.
The facilitator said this discussion would have to wait for later.
Early Childhood: The task force agreed that YoungStar should include more specific literacy targets.
Rep. Kestell felt that some district are opening 4K programs primarily for added revenue, and that there is wide variability in quality. There is a need to spend more time on this and decide what 4K should look like.
Evers said we should use the Common Core and work backward to determine what needs to be done in 4K.
Wrap-Up: Further discussion of early childhood will be put over to the next meeting, as will the societal issues and accountability. A meeting site has not yet been set, but Governor Walker indicted he liked moving around the state. The Governor’s aides will follow up as to locations and specific agenda. The next meeting will be Thursday, August 25. All meetings are open to the public.

Related: An Open Letter to the Wisconsin Read To Lead Task Force on Implementing Common Core Academic Standards; DPI: “Leading Us Backwards” and how does Wisconsin Compare?
Much more on Wisconsin’s 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:
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.
Dan Gustafson, PhD, EdM
Neuropsychologist, Dean Clinic

View a 133K PDF or Google Docs version.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.

Perky reading textbooks! An MPS culture shift may be afoot

Alan Borsuk:

Attention, children in Milwaukee Public Schools: Your Reading Adventure Awaits!
It has lots of stories! It wants you to write out answers to lots of questions about what goes on in the stories!
It has lists of spelling words! It will teach you the difference between common nouns and proper nouns! How to use proofreading marks! What to learn from the sequence of vowels and consonants in words!
It has a fair amount of phonics-related skill building, but it’s not as strong on that as some phonics-oriented people would like!
It will require you to do a lot of work, if you’re going to succeed! It’s not easy! I stumbled during an exercise in a fifth-grade reading book on matching English words to their foreign language roots, and I thought I was smarter than a fifth-grader!

No magic bullet for education America keeps looking for one simple solution for its education shortcomings. There isn’t one.

Los Angeles Times:

The “unschooling” movement of the 1970s featured open classrooms, in which children studied what they were most interested in, when they felt ready. That was followed by today’s back-to-basics, early-start model, in which students complete math worksheets in kindergarten and are supposed to take algebra by eighth grade at the latest. Under the “whole language” philosophy of the 1980s, children were expected to learn to read by having books read to them. By the late 1990s, reading lessons were dominated by phonics, with little time spent on the joys of what reading is all about — unlocking the world of stories and information.
A little more than a decade ago, educators bore no responsibility for their students’ failure; it was considered the fault of the students, their parents and unequal social circumstances. Now schools are held liable for whether students learn, regardless of the students’ lack of effort or previous preparation, and are held solely accountable for reaching unrealistic goals of achievement.
No wonder schools have a chronic case of educational whiplash. If there’s a single aspect of schooling that ought to end, it’s the decades of abrupt and destructive swings from one extreme to another. There is no magic in the magic-bullet approach to learning. Charters are neither evil nor saviors; they can be a useful complement to public schools, but they have not blazed a sure-fire path to student achievement. Decreeing that all students will be proficient in math and reading by 2014 hasn’t moved us dramatically closer to the mark.

Diffused governance, is, in my view, the best way forward. This means that communities should offer a combination of public, private, virtual, charter and voucher options. A diversity of K-12 approaches insures that a one size fits all race to the bottom does not prevail. I was very disappointed to recently learn that Wisconsin’s Democrat Senator Russ Feingold voted to kill the Washington, DC voucher program. No K-12 approach is perfect, but eliminating that option for the poorest members of our society is simply unpalatable.
Somewhat related Lee Bergquist and Erin Richards: Wisconsin Governor Candidate Mark Neumann taps public funds for private schools

Republican businessman Mark Neumann started his first taxpayer-funded school with 49 students, and in eight years enrollment has mushroomed to nearly 1,000 students in four schools.
Neumann, a candidate for governor who preaches smaller government and fiscal conservatism, has used his entrepreneurial skills to tap private and public funds – including federal stimulus dollars – to start schools in poor neighborhoods.
The former member of the U.S. House operates three religious-based schools in Milwaukee, a fourth nonreligious school in Phoenix and has plans to build clusters of schools across the country.
The Nashotah businessman is part of a growing national movement from the private sector that is providing poor neighborhoods an alternative to traditional public schools.
There are signs the schools are achieving one of their primary goals of getting students into post-secondary schools.

Time for a Wisconsin Reading War….

Alan Borsuk:

Start the war.
What about Wisconsin? Wisconsin kids overall came in at the U.S. average on the NAEP scores. But Wisconsin’s position has been slipping. Many other states have higher overall scores and improving scores, while Wisconsin scores have stayed flat.
Steven Dykstra of the Wisconsin Reading Coalition, an organization that advocates for phonics programs, points out something that should give us pause: If you break down the new fourth-grade reading data by race and ethnic grouping, as well as by economic standing (kids who get free or reduced price meals and kids who don’t), Wisconsin kids trail the nation in every category. The differences are not significant in some, but even white students from Wisconsin score below the national average for white children.
(So how does Wisconsin overall still tie the national average? To be candid, the answer is because Wisconsin has a higher percentage of white students, the group that scores the highest, than many other states.)
Start the war.

Related: Reading Recovery, Madison School Board member suggests cuts to Reading Recovery spending, UW-Madison Professor Mark Seidenberg on the Madison School District’s distortion of reading data & phonics and Norm and Dolores Mishelow Presentation on Milwaukee’s Successful Reading Program.

Building a Better Teacher

Elizabeth Green:

ON A WINTER DAY five years ago, Doug Lemov realized he had a problem. After a successful career as a teacher, a principal and a charter-school founder, he was working as a consultant, hired by troubled schools eager — desperate, in some cases — for Lemov to tell them what to do to get better. There was no shortage of prescriptions at the time for how to cure the poor performance that plagued so many American schools. Proponents of No Child Left Behind saw standardized testing as a solution. President Bush also championed a billion-dollar program to encourage schools to adopt reading curriculums with an emphasis on phonics. Others argued for smaller classes or more parental involvement or more state financing.
Lemov himself pushed for data-driven programs that would diagnose individual students’ strengths and weaknesses. But as he went from school to school that winter, he was getting the sinking feeling that there was something deeper he wasn’t reaching. On that particular day, he made a depressing visit to a school in Syracuse, N.Y., that was like so many he’d seen before: “a dispiriting exercise in good people failing,” as he described it to me recently. Sometimes Lemov could diagnose problems as soon as he walked in the door. But not here. Student test scores had dipped so low that administrators worried the state might close down the school. But the teachers seemed to care about their students. They sat down with them on the floor to read and picked activities that should have engaged them. The classes were small. The school had rigorous academic standards and state-of-the-art curriculums and used a software program to analyze test results for each student, pinpointing which skills she still needed to work on.
But when it came to actual teaching, the daily task of getting students to learn, the school floundered. Students disobeyed teachers’ instructions, and class discussions veered away from the lesson plans. In one class Lemov observed, the teacher spent several minutes debating a student about why he didn’t have a pencil. Another divided her students into two groups to practice multiplication together, only to watch them turn to the more interesting work of chatting. A single quiet student soldiered on with the problems. As Lemov drove from Syracuse back to his home in Albany, he tried to figure out what he could do to help. He knew how to advise schools to adopt a better curriculum or raise standards or develop better communication channels between teachers and principals. But he realized that he had no clue how to advise schools about their main event: how to teach.

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.

  • 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.

Wisconsin’s Pet Goat: School Finance Reform

Annette Talis:

Most of us have seen the 2001 footage showing the commander in chief crouched on a small elementary school chair to while the nation was under attack. That day many soccer moms who cast their top-of-the-ticket ballots for better schools were transformed into security moms.
Matt Miller’s article advocating a nationalized education system, “A Modest Proposal to Fix the Schools: First, Kill All the School Boards,” published in The Atlantic early last year, gave fits to a few people at the National School Boards Association but largely went unnoticed among its target audience in Washington, D.C. Public education was no longer at the top of the national agenda.
Public policy discussion about student achievement, performance accountability and class size now seem sepia-tone images of a more innocent era when Americans had the luxury of thinking about public education.
“Why educate your kid in math and science if he’s going to be up to his rear end in seawater?” University of Wisconsin-Madison professor John Sharpless ironically asked last year, astutely predicting a bipartisan election-year decampment to newer, fresher national crises.
The economy, job losses, national security, energy and health care have shifted public priorities, all but drubbing public education off the national editorial page.
I felt melancholy recently listening to the quavering voice of a U.S. Department of Education official trying to tap passion, anger or any emotion about the federal Reading First program, the darling of phonics advocates and the demon of the whole-language crowd. The vitriolic Reading Wars now seem a bucolic luxury given the present state of world affairs.

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)

Study: Reading First Fails to Boost Reading Skills

Maria Glod:

Children who participate in the $1-billion-a-year reading initiative at the heart of the No Child Left Behind law have not become better readers than their peers, according to a study released today by the Education Department’s research arm.
The report from the Institute of Education Sciences found that students in schools that use Reading First, which provides grants to improve grade-school reading instruction, scored no better on reading comprehension tests than peers in schools that don’t participate. The conclusion is likely to reignite the longstanding “reading wars,” because critics argue the program places too much emphasis on explicit phonics instruction and doesn’t do enough to foster understanding.
Reading First, aimed at improving reading skills among students from low-income families, has been plagued by allegations of mismanagement and financial conflicts of interest. But the Bush administration has strenuously backed the effort, saying it helps disadvantaged children learn to read. About 1.5 million children in about 5,200 schools nationwide, including more than 140 schools in Maryland, Virginia and the District, participate in Reading First.
The congressionally mandated study, completed by an independent contractor, focused on tens of thousands of first-, second- and third-grade students in 248 schools in 13 states. The children were tested, and researchers observed teachers in 1,400 classrooms.

Many links, notes and a bit of (local) history on Reading First here.
The complete report can be found here:

Created under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001, the Reading First program provides assistance to states and districts in using research-based reading programs and instructional materials for students in kindergarten through third grade and in introducing related professional development and assessments. The program’s purpose is to ensure that increased proportions of students read at or above grade level, have mastery of the essential components of early reading, and that all students can read at or above grade level by the end of grade 3. The law requires that an independent, rigorous evaluation of the program be conducted to determine if the program influences teaching practices, mastery of early reading components, and student reading comprehension. This interim report presents the impacts of Reading First on classroom reading instruction and student reading comprehension during the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years.
The evaluation found that Reading First did have positive, statistically significant impacts on the total class time spent on the five essential components of reading instruction promoted by the program. The study also found that, on average across the 18 study sites, Reading First did not have statistically significant impacts on student reading comprehension test scores in grades 1-3. A final report on the impacts from 2004-2007 (three school years with Reading First funding) and on the relationships between changes in instructional practice and student reading comprehension is expected in late 2008.

We’re Failing Our Kids

Garrison Keillor:

Reading is the key to everything. Teaching children to read is a fundamental moral obligation of the society. That 27 percent are at serious risk of crippling illiteracy is an outrageous scandal.
This is a bleak picture for an old Democrat. Face it, the schools are not run by Republican oligarchs in top hats and spats but by perfectly nice, caring, sharing people, with a smattering of yoga/raga/tofu/mojo/mantra folks like my old confreres. Nice people are failing these kids, but when they are called on it, they get very huffy. When the grand poobah Ph.D.s of education stand up and blow, they speak with great confidence about theories of teaching, and considering the test results, the bums ought to be thrown out.
There is much evidence that teaching phonics really works, especially with kids with learning disabilities, a growing constituency. But because phonics is associated with behaviorism and with conservatives, and because the Current Occupant has spoken on the subject, my fellow liberals are opposed.

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 […]

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 […]

This Bush Education Reform Really Works

A story by Sol Stern posted on City Journal highlights the success of Reading First and includes striking parallels to our superintendent’s response to the program: Reading First, though much maligned, succeeds in teaching kids to read. . . . A comprehensive study by an outside evaluator will appear in 2007, measuring Reading First’s influence […]

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 […]

A different view of Reading First controversy

From Nancy Salvato, a Head Start teacher in Illinois: In the Summer of 2001 Dame Marie Clay, creator of the New Zealand based Reading Recovery program, and her entourage came to the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC, to speak with House Education Committee Staffer Bob Sweet. Her purpose was to ascertain whether Reading […]

The Education Issue

Michael Grunwald: To some extent, the controversy over Reading First reflects an older controversy over reading, pitting “phonics” advocates such as Doherty against “whole language” practitioners such as Johnson. The administration believes in phonics, which emphasizes repetitive drills that teach children to sound out words. Johnson and other phonics skeptics try to teach the meaning […]

In Kindergarten Playtime, a New Meaning for ‘Play’

Clara Hemphill: THE word “kindergarten” means “children’s garden,” and for years has conjured up an image of children playing with blocks, splashing at water tables, dressing up in costumes or playing house. Now, with an increased emphasis on academic achievement even in the earliest grades, playtime in kindergarten is giving way to worksheets, math drills […]

The Rose Report: Independent Review of the Teaching of Early Reading

BBC: The national curriculum in England is to be revised so children are taught to read primarily using the method known as synthetic phonics [Full Report 432K PDF] In the most famous experiment, in Clackmannanshire, children taught using synthetic phonics were years ahead of their contemporaries by the time they moved on to secondary school. […]

Greatest classroom catastrophe in 50 years

The Daily Telegraph reports on the collapse of the most accepted and widely used reading methodology in England and the United States: The abandonment by teachers of the traditional method of teaching reading, known as phonics, precipitated the greatest educational catastrophe of the past 50 years. Their steadfast refusal to re-introduce the method, in the […]

Raising Expectations in Watts

Lance Izumi: One place where such heroic work is taking place is the Watts Learning Center (WLC) charter school, one of the most improved charter schools in California. From 2000 to 2005, the WLC rose from a low test-score ranking to a level near the state’s proficiency target score of 800. The K-5 charter school […]

Charlotte’s Top’s NAEP Urban School Tests

Robert Tomsho: A reform effort launched by Charlotte-Mecklenburg in the late 1990s focused on shifting more district funds to low-performing schools from schools that were doing better — a move that has lately created some backlash. The district also reduced class sizes in those schools and offered to pay graduate-school tuition for teachers who agreed […]

Primary Reading Set for Overhaul

BBC: The government has accepted a review which backs the greater use of a method called synthetic phonics. Children are taught the sounds of letters and combinations of letters before they move onto books rather than reading simple books from the start. Critics say the approach could stop pupils from getting a love of reading. […]

2005 NAEP Results

2005 National and State Mathematics and Reading Assessments for grades 4 and 8 are now available. Robert Tomsho takes a look at the reading results: Observers say boosting reading scores isn’t likely to get any easier, given the rapidly changing demographics in the nation’s schools where, for many students, English is a second language. Indeed, […]

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 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 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.

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

This week’s Isthmus includes a damning internal assessment of Reading Recovery, “a remedial first-grade reading program considered a cornerstone of Madison’s school iteracy efforts.” “The district would be ‘well-served to investigate other methods’ to reach struggling reaaders, says the report.” One of those other methods will be presented Sunday, at 1:00 p.m., at the Madison […]

3rd Grade Reading Scores Released

Wisconsin DPI just released statewide third grade reading test results: DPI Superintendant Elizabeth Burmaster’s comments: (6 page pdf) Sarah Carr: Still, at the state level, educators need to work on closing a persistent achievement gap between students of different races and socioeconomic classes, said Joe Donovan, state Department of Public Instruction spokesman. This year, 64% […]