Phonics Is Back; Did It Ever Leave Catholic Schools?

Joan Frawley Desmond: Today, Units of Study is reportedly used in about one-quarter of U.S. elementary schools. But its primary author, Lucy Calkins, an influential Columbia University Teachers College professor, has been accused of failing millions of students who needed evidence-based techniques for building literacy, prompting her to add more phonics to her program. And … Continue reading Phonics Is Back; Did It Ever Leave Catholic Schools?

Former education journalist: How I missed the phonics story

Maureen Downey: Patti Ghezzi covered education for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from 1996 until 2006. In a guest column today, Ghezzi writes about the big story she says she missed while covering Georgia schools — the phonics story. It wasn’t until years after she left the beat that Ghezzi said she realized widespread problems with how … Continue reading Former education journalist: How I missed the phonics story

Phonics, Failure, and the Public Schools

David Boaz: But increasingly parents and teachers are pushing back against “whole language” and “balanced literacy” theories. They cite decades of research on how children actually learn to read and write. In 1997 Congress instructed the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development to work with the Department of Education to establish a National Reading Panel … Continue reading Phonics, Failure, and the Public Schools

From Phonics to Reading

William H. Sadlier, Inc. | Series Overview: The instructional materials reviewed for From Phonics to Reading Kindergarten, Grade 1, and Grade 2 meet the criteria for alignment to standards and research-based practices for foundational skills instruction. The instructional materials use a synthetic approach to phonics. Materials include a scope and sequence that clearly delineates an … Continue reading From Phonics to Reading

The reading wars are over – and phonics has won

Sarah Mitchell: Of all the debates in education, none are quite as absurd as the reading wars. On the one hand there are those who advocate for a phonics-based approach to reading instruction in the early years – making sure children understand sound-letter relationships so they can read words accurately without guessing from the context … Continue reading The reading wars are over – and phonics has won

Phonics. Whole language. Balanced literacy. The problem isn’t that we don’t know how to teach reading — it’s politics

Andrew Rotherham: Policymakers are focusing on the craft of teaching reading. They must also focus on the politics. Last year’s NAEP scores continued a lackluster streak and set off a predictable bout of handwringing. This time, it was reading instruction — or, more precisely, our national pandemic of ineffective reading instruction — catching the flak. … Continue reading Phonics. Whole language. Balanced literacy. The problem isn’t that we don’t know how to teach reading — it’s politics

Phonics Gains Traction As State Education Authority Takes Stand On Reading Instruction

Elizabeth Dohms: Late last month, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction took a stand on a long-debated method of teaching reading to students, ruling that phonics has a place in literacy education after all. An approach that teaches students how written language represents spoken words, phonics got its endorsement from state schools Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor during the 2020 Wisconsin … Continue reading Phonics Gains Traction As State Education Authority Takes Stand On Reading Instruction

Phonics Instruction In Wisconsin Schools

Courtney Everett: The Department of Public Instruction recently announced it will endorse ‘explicit phonics instruction.’ A professor joins us to explain these new state standards and what research says about phonics. Plus, we’ll examine how Wisconsin schools are teaching students to read today. “You know, we talk a lot about how poverty has a huge impact … Continue reading Phonics Instruction In Wisconsin Schools

Meeting the Challenges of Early Literacy Phonics Instruction

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

Explicit Phonics Instruction: It’s Not Just for Students With Dyslexia

Kyle Redford: “When we know better, we do better.” There is something forgiving and medicinal about that teaching mantra. I am regularly realizing that I could have taught something more effectively or that I should have been more culturally responsive in my language or practices. Content becomes outdated or is later revealed to be incomplete … Continue reading Explicit Phonics Instruction: It’s Not Just for Students With Dyslexia

Stanford Professor Bruce McCandliss found that beginning readers who focus on letter-sound relationships, or phonics, increase activity in the area of their brains best wired for reading.

Stanford News: In other words, to develop reading skills, teaching students to sound out “C-A-T” sparks more optimal brain circuitry than instructing them to memorize the word “cat.” And, the study found, these teaching-induced differences show up even on future encounters with the word. The study, co-authored by Stanford Professor Bruce McCandliss of the Graduate … Continue reading Stanford Professor Bruce McCandliss found that beginning readers who focus on letter-sound relationships, or phonics, increase activity in the area of their brains best wired for reading.

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

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

“We weren’t teaching phonics consistently in the early grades”

Paul Fanlund: For example? “If you’re looking for the simplest examples, we weren’t consistently teaching students the fundamentals of reading in the earliest grades. We weren’t teaching phonics consistently in the early grades, and then you wonder why students aren’t attaining the skills, the basic skills … the foundational skills of reading. We still have … Continue reading “We weren’t teaching phonics consistently in the early grades”

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

DPI Standard of the Week: Using phonics as building blocks for reading

Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via a kind email: The Department of Public Instruction chooses an English Language Arts standard each week and posts resources and ideas for practicing in the classroom and at home. The standard for the week of January 5 is phonics. Follow this link to the site http://dpi.wi.gov/my-wi-standards/ela/1-6-15 As is usually the case … Continue reading DPI Standard of the Week: Using phonics as building blocks for reading

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. … Continue reading Did primary school teachers in England game the phonics check?

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 … Continue reading Reading lessons: why synthetic phonics doesn’t work

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.

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

Britain Goes Back to the Future with Phonics

The Telegraph: David Blunkett, the Education Secretary who introduced the Literacy Strategy, promised to resign in 2002 unless 80 per cent met the expected standard of English on leaving primary school. The target has never been met, but Mr Blunkett long ago moved on to higher things. Instead, it is the nation’s children who have … Continue reading Britain Goes Back to the Future with Phonics

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 … Continue reading The Importance of Phonics

Fifty-eight educators say ‘Sold a Story’ podcast series sells incomplete story about reading instruction

Posted at the Hechinger Report: Re “A company has made millions selling books on reading instruction rooted in bad science” (Nov. 10, 2022) We are educators who have devoted our lives to the cause of helping children read and write with power. We’re dismayed that at this moment in our history, when all of us … Continue reading Fifty-eight educators say ‘Sold a Story’ podcast series sells incomplete story about reading instruction

How the media — including NPR — overlooked the significance of a landmark study on reading education

Will Callan More than 20 years ago, the federal government released a review of decades of reading research whose findings should have charted a path toward better instruction and higher reading levels. Based on an extensive research review, the National Reading Panel (NRP) report was an inflection point in the history of reading research and … Continue reading How the media — including NPR — overlooked the significance of a landmark study on reading education

How to End the Epidemic of Failure in America’s Schools

Jeb Bush: The U.S. has a choice: Give up on a generation or confront this challenge head-on. Some adults find it easier to give up. They won’t say it out loud; they’ll simply lower expectations. Or they’ll explain away the drop in scores, blaming the pandemic when scores had already begun to decline before Covid … Continue reading How to End the Epidemic of Failure in America’s Schools

“What we know for certain is that schools have been lousy at teaching kids how to read”

Dale Chu: In the 1840s, Horace Mann, known as the “father of American education,” argued that children should be taught to read whole words instead of individual letters, which he described as “skeleton-shaped, bloodless, ghostly apparitions” that make children feel “death-like, when compelled to face them.” This malformed opinion morphed into the broader whole-language theory, … Continue reading “What we know for certain is that schools have been lousy at teaching kids how to read”

Inside the Massive Effort to Change the Way Kids Are Taught to Read

Belinda Luscombe: As a teacher in Oakland, Calif., Kareem Weaver helped struggling fourth- and fifth-grade kids learn to read by using a very structured, phonics-based reading curriculum called Open Court. It worked for the students, but not so much for the teachers. “For seven years in a row, Oakland was the fastest-gaining urban district in … Continue reading Inside the Massive Effort to Change the Way Kids Are Taught to Read

Mayor Adams Unveils Program to Address Dyslexia in N.Y.C. Schools

Lola Fadulu: Mayor Eric Adams announced Thursday the details of a plan to turn around a literacy crisis in New York City and, in particular, to serve thousands of children in public schools who may have dyslexia, an issue deeply personal to the mayor, who has said his own undiagnosed dyslexia hurt his academic career. … Continue reading Mayor Adams Unveils Program to Address Dyslexia in N.Y.C. Schools

“Expert” idiocy on teaching kids to read

Robert Pondiscio: Calkins’s work mostly disregards this fundamental insight, focusing students’ attention in the mirror instead of out the window. For low-income kids who are less likely to grow up in language-rich homes and don’t have the same opportunities for enrichment as affluent kids, the opportunity costs of Calkins’s “philosophy” are incalculable. Endless hours of class time … Continue reading “Expert” idiocy on teaching kids to read

“The fact that she was disconnected from that research is evidence of the problem.” Madison….

Dana Goldstein: How Professor Calkins ended up influencing tens of millions of children is, in one sense, the story of education in America. Unlike many developed countries, the United States lacks a national curriculum or teacher-training standards. Local policies change constantly, as governors, school boards, mayors and superintendents flow in and out of jobs. Amid … Continue reading “The fact that she was disconnected from that research is evidence of the problem.” Madison….

California’s dyslexic governor needs to step up to solve our childhood reading crisis

Anna Nordberg, via a kind reader: California’s reading scores are dismal, with 68% of fourth-graders reading below grade level. This is the result of the disastrous decision in the 1980s for the state to embrace whole language, the idea that children should learn to recognize words and phrases through context, guessing and memorization. But evidence … Continue reading California’s dyslexic governor needs to step up to solve our childhood reading crisis

How well are schools teaching disadvantaged students to read? In California, it depends where you live.

Todd Collins: How do we know if a school district is doing one of its most basic jobs—teaching students to read? That’s one of the main questions the California Reading Coalition, which I helped organize earlier this year, set out to answer with the California Reading Report Card, released in September. Early reading achievement has … Continue reading How well are schools teaching disadvantaged students to read? In California, it depends where you live.

A Research-Based Explanation of How Children Learn to Read Words

Stephen Parker: Sight Words Ehri distinguishes 4 ways to read words:“The first three ways help us read unfamiliar words. The fourth way explains how we read words we have read before. One way is by decoding, also called phonological recoding. We can either sound out and blend graphemes into phonemes, or we can work with … Continue reading A Research-Based Explanation of How Children Learn to Read Words

A Kindergarten Teacher’s comments on Reading

Kate Winn: Today, what’s called “structured literacy” is instead being promoted by experts in fields like linguistics and neuroscience as an effective way to teach all students, beginning in kindergarten, and as a must for struggling readers. In structured literacy, phonemic awareness (that is, working with the sounds of spoken words) is developed as a … Continue reading A Kindergarten Teacher’s comments on Reading

Muldrow’s policies continue to drive (Madison) schools’ decline

Peter Anderson: The Capital Times editorializes, “Madison has a great public schools system” and Board President “Ali Muldrow, is a dynamic leader “who will move Madison schools in the right direction” — sentiments reminiscent of the acclaim it offered former Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham, whose policies Muldrow seems poised to continue. But is it really great? … Continue reading Muldrow’s policies continue to drive (Madison) schools’ decline

Direct Instruction may not be rocket science but it is effective

Kevin Donnelly: Teachers should be teachers, not facilitators, when it comes to educating schoolchildren. NOEL Pearson may not be an educationalist by training but when it comes to his advocacy of Direct Instruction and knowledge about what best works in the classroom, he outshines most academics in teacher training institutes and universities. Since the late … Continue reading Direct Instruction may not be rocket science but it is effective

Madison Schools Announce Plans to Embrace the Science of Reading

Joseph Da Costa: Madison school officials plan significant changes in reading and literacy instruction. District administrators presented the proposed changes to school board members at a recent Board of Education meeting and signaled a shift toward phonics and the science of reading. MMSD’s Chief of Elementary Schools, Carletta Stanford, acknowledged, “We know that what we’ve … Continue reading Madison Schools Announce Plans to Embrace the Science of Reading

How Families are Pushing Schools to Teach Reading Skills More Effectively

Vanessa Rancano: For as long as Connie LuVenia Williams can remember, letters have been giving her trouble. Sure, she learned the ABCs, but making sense of how these symbols we call letters combine to form the sounds that make up the English language – that part stumped her. And from what she remembers nobody taught … Continue reading How Families are Pushing Schools to Teach Reading Skills More Effectively

Social Studies Instruction and Reading Comprehension: Evidence from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study

Adam Tyner, Ph.D. Sarah Kabourek; Foreword by: Amber M. Northern, Ph.D. Michael J. Petrilli: Even as phonics battles rage in the realm of primary reading and with two-thirds of American fourth and eighth graders failing to read proficiently, another tussle has been with us for ages regarding how best to develop the vital elements of reading … Continue reading Social Studies Instruction and Reading Comprehension: Evidence from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study

On the education front, one way to move from anger to action would be to make sure all youngsters are proficient in reading

Alan Borsuk: First, success in reaching proficiency in reading is shockingly low among students from low-income homes and those who are black or Hispanic. The Wisconsin gap between white kids and black kids has often been measured as the worst in the United States.  Only 13% of black fourth through eighth graders in Wisconsin were rated as proficient or … Continue reading On the education front, one way to move from anger to action would be to make sure all youngsters are proficient in reading

Madison School Board offers feedback on K-5 literacy plan

Scott Girard: Staff began working on the new curriculum adoption last year, following a 2018 needs assessment that showed a “need for materials K-5 that have a structured phonics component, are standards aligned and are more culturally and linguistically responsive, historically accurate and inclusive,” according to Monday’s presentation. The steps since have included forming focus … Continue reading Madison School Board offers feedback on K-5 literacy plan

Candidate Q&A: Milton School Board

Emily Hamer: What is the best way to improve student literacy? Crull-Hanke: Early childhood includes getting the parents involved in reading and giving them strategies to use with their children. Having a balanced literacy program which includes oral, guided, and independent reading, writing, and repetitive use of phonics and site words. Middle school age would … Continue reading Candidate Q&A: Milton School Board

US students lag other countries in math. The reason probably lies in how schools teach it

Erin Richards: American students struggle in math.  The latest results of an international exam given to teenagers ranked the USA ninth in reading and 31st in math literacy out of 79 countries and economies. America has a smaller-than-average share of top-performing math students, and scores have essentially been flat for two decades. One likely reason: U.S. high schools teach math differently than … Continue reading US students lag other countries in math. The reason probably lies in how schools teach it

Commentary on Wisconsin’s Disastrous Reading Climate

Wisconsin Reading Coalition, Via a kind email: New Wisconsin Group Issues a Call to Action for Reading Excellence On February 12th, a new group called WI-CARE – Wisconsin Call to Action for Reading Excellence – issued a Call to Action for DPI, detailing five areas of concern. You can watch their press conference on Wisconsin Eye and read commentary … Continue reading Commentary on Wisconsin’s Disastrous Reading Climate

“I don’t think that actually stating they’re supporting these policies actually means that anything will change” (DPI Teacher Mulligans continue)

Logan Wroge: “I don’t think that actually stating they’re supporting these policies actually means that anything will change,” said Mark Seidenberg, a UW-Madison psychology professor. “I don’t take their statement as anything more than an attempt to defuse some of the controversy and some of the criticism that’s being directed their way.” While there’s broad … Continue reading “I don’t think that actually stating they’re supporting these policies actually means that anything will change” (DPI Teacher Mulligans continue)

“We definitely see science-based reading instruction as urgent in our – Madison – schools” (!)

Scott Girard: The 2018-19 state Forward Exam, given to students in grades 3 through 8, showed 35% of students scored proficient or advanced on the English Language Arts portion. For black students, it was 10.1% and for Hispanic students, 16%. Those scores come amid a nationwide, and more recently statewide, push for using the Science of Reading to educate … Continue reading “We definitely see science-based reading instruction as urgent in our – Madison – schools” (!)

Most Colorado teacher prep programs don’t teach reading well, report says. University leaders don’t buy it.

Ann Schimke: About two-thirds of Colorado’s teacher preparation programs, including the state’s two largest, earned low grades for how they cover early reading instruction, according to a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality. The report, which is controversial for its reliance on documents such as course syllabi and textbooks, claims to assess … Continue reading Most Colorado teacher prep programs don’t teach reading well, report says. University leaders don’t buy it.

10 heroes of Wisconsin education from 2019

Alan Borsuk: The Wisconsin Reading Coalition: A controversial choice, some might say. Dismal reading scores overall for Wisconsin students raise a lot of alarms. Yet little is done to change how schools statewide teach reading. The coalition is a small group of dedicated, even adamant, supporters of increased use of practices such as structured phonics. They’re … Continue reading 10 heroes of Wisconsin education from 2019

To ‘Get Reading Right,’ We Need To Talk About What Teachers Actually Do

Natalie Wexler: In recent months, thanks largely to journalist Emily Hanford, it’s become clear that the prevailing approach to teaching kids how to decipher words isn’t backed by evidence. An abundance of research shows that many children—perhaps most—won’t learn to “decode” written text unless they get systematic instruction in phonics. As Hanford has shown, teachers … Continue reading To ‘Get Reading Right,’ We Need To Talk About What Teachers Actually Do

Mission vs. Organization: Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results

This meeting was held at Lakeview public library. Asking attendees to leave would have been a violation of the Madison Public Library’s rules of use, which require that “meetings be free and open to the general public at all times.” pic.twitter.com/BRgxOnbSmk — Chan Stroman (@eduphilia) December 13, 2019 It was nonetheless made quite apparent that … Continue reading Mission vs. Organization: Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results

Commentary on Madison (and WiscoNsin’s) long term, disastrous reading Results

Alan Borsuk: Research has shown “that phonics instruction is helpful for all students, harmful for none, and crucial for some,” the paper says. It says there are other essentials to good reading instruction. But research on the value of phonics is consistent and goes back decades, it says.  “Teaching students the basic letter-sound combinations gives … Continue reading Commentary on Madison (and WiscoNsin’s) long term, disastrous reading Results

How I Taught My Kid to Read: Children can learn quickly by sounding out words, letter by letter—but somehow, the method is still controversial.

John McWhorter: Now that it’s summer, I have a suggestion for how parents can grant their wee kiddies the magic of reading by Labor Day: Pick up Siegfried Engelmann’s Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. My wife and I used it a while ago with our then-4-year-old daughter, and after a mere … Continue reading How I Taught My Kid to Read: Children can learn quickly by sounding out words, letter by letter—but somehow, the method is still controversial.

Why is reading Recovery So Limited in its Usefulness?

James Chapman, via a kind reader: Children are encouraged to use pictures or other cues to guess unknown words. This approach is supported by the use of predictable books rather than decodable books. Predictable books have sentences that are repetitive and have words that many beginner readers cannot read by themselves. Learning to read is … Continue reading Why is reading Recovery So Limited in its Usefulness?

Why are Madison’s Students Struggling to Read?

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

Unraveling the Myths Around Reading and Dyslexia

Holly Korbey: Yet often, elementary school teachers skip or minimize the crucial first step in learning how to read—a thorough understanding of phonics—and emphasize other aspects of reading, like “learning to love reading” instead, assuming that, eventually, children will just pick up reading naturally. That doesn’t work: The wait-and-see approach is really a wait-to-fail model, … Continue reading Unraveling the Myths Around Reading and Dyslexia

“What have we done for generations to kids that we didn’t really teach to read?”

PNS Newshour: Lisa Stark: This type of reading instruction is the most beneficial for early readers. That was the conclusion of the federally appointed National Reading Panel nearly two decades ago. Stacy Smith: So, there is actual scientific evidence about how students learn to read. And it’s largely been ignored. Lisa Stark: Ignored largely because … Continue reading “What have we done for generations to kids that we didn’t really teach to read?”

We asked, they answered: Teachers weigh in on how they learned to teach reading

Ann Schimke: When we invited teachers to respond to a survey on reading instruction, we received nearly 70 responses. We heard from teachers in Colorado and several other states who said their educator preparation program didn’t provide the skills they needed to teach reading. We also learned that most respondents agreed with recent critiques that … Continue reading We asked, they answered: Teachers weigh in on how they learned to teach reading

Why aren’t kids being taught to read?

Emily Hanford, via a kind reader: But this research hasn’t made its way into many elementary school classrooms. The prevailing approaches to reading instruction in American schools are inconsistent with basic things scientists have discovered about how children learn to read. Many educators don’t know the science, and in some cases actively resist it. The … Continue reading Why aren’t kids being taught to read?

Why Are We Still Teaching Reading the Wrong Way? Madison’s long term disastrous reading results

Emily Hanford: Our children aren’t being taught to read in ways that line up with what scientists have discovered about how people actually learn. It’s a problem that has been hiding in plain sight for decades. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, more than six in 10 fourth graders aren’t proficient readers. It … Continue reading Why Are We Still Teaching Reading the Wrong Way? Madison’s long term disastrous reading results

“We know best”, Disastrous Reading Results and a bit of history with Jared Diamond

Jared Diamond: these stories of isolated societies illustrate two general principles about relations between human group size and innovation or creativity. First, in any society except a totally isolated society, most innovations come in from the outside, rather than being conceived within that society. And secondly, any society undergoes local fads. By fads I mean … Continue reading “We know best”, Disastrous Reading Results and a bit of history with Jared Diamond

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

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

The Gap Between The Science On Kids And Reading, And How It Is Taught (Madison’s Long Term, Disastrous Reading Results)

Claudio Sanchez: Mark Seidenberg is not the first researcher to reach the stunning conclusion that only a third of the nation’s school children read at grade level. The reasons are numerous, but one that Seidenberg cites over and over again is this: The way kids are taught to read in school is disconnected from the … Continue reading The Gap Between The Science On Kids And Reading, And How It Is Taught (Madison’s Long Term, Disastrous Reading Results)

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 … Continue reading Superkids K-2 Core Reading Program From Rowland Reading Foundation

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 … Continue reading Wisconsin Reading Coalition Update

The ‘Balanced Literacy’ Hoax

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

“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.