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December 28, 2006

Reading Between the Lines: Madison Was Right to Reject Compromised Program

Jason Shephard:

From the beginning, Mary Watson Peterson had doubts about the motivations of those in charge of implementing federal education grants known as Reading First. As the Madison district’s coordinator of language arts and reading, she spent hundreds of hours working on Madison’s Reading First grant proposal.

“Right away,” she says, “I recognized a big philosophical difference” between Madison’s reading instruction and the prescriptive, commercially produced lessons advocated by Reading First officials. “The exchange of ideas with the technical adviser ran very counter to what we believe are best practices in teaching.”

The final straw was when the district was required to draft daily lesson plans to be followed by all teachers at the same time.

“We’ve got 25,000 kids who are in 25,000 different places,” says Superintendent Art Rainwater. The program’s insistence on uniformity “fundamentally violated everything we believe about teaching children.”

In October 2004, Rainwater withdrew Madison from the federal grant program, losing potentially $3.2 million even as the district was cutting personnel and programs to balance its budget. Rainwater’s decision, made without input from the school board, drew intense criticism and became an issue in last year’s board elections.

From a public policy perspective, the School Board should have discussed the $3.2M, particularly given the annual agony over very small changes in the District's $333M+ budget.

The further concern over a one size fits all Reading First requirement (“We’ve got 25,000 kids who are in 25,000 different places,” says Superintendent Art Rainwater.) is ironic, given the push toward just that across the District (West's English 10 [Bruce King's English 9 report] and the recently proposed changes at East High School).

Barb Williams noted that other "blessed by the District" curriculum are as scripted as Reading First in a December, 2004 letter to Isthmus. More here via Ed Blume and here via Ruth Robarts.

It will be interesting to see what Diana Schemo has to say about Reading First.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at December 28, 2006 6:43 PM
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