Right Of The Star

Monday, May 16, 2005

Reading, Writing, and Ridiculous

On May 5, I wrote about the Rockford Public School's No Child Left Behind Follies (NCLB Follies) which allowed nearly $700,000 of NCLB money to be forfeited because the superintendent couldn't meet the program auditors when they showed up for a surprise audit. His excuse was that he didn't intend to use the reading program NCLB required anyway so he didn't screw up getting the money, he more accurately screwed us out of getting the money!

When I first started looking into this I was amazed to learn that many school districts have chosen to give up these funds as their administrators have chosen to use another curriculum, for example Madison Wisconsin, just to 45 minutes North has forfeited $2 Million (yes, MILLION) dollars.

Well, I did some investigating into the two reading programs cited in the news direct instruction and balanced literacy and what I found out is that it is like the new math/old math argument (BTW the results of testing shows that new math hasn't worked as well as hoped).

Here are the arguments from the Register Star's reporting on this issue:
A direct instruction classroom is compared with a balanced literacy classroom. Here’s what critics and supporters have to say.

Direct instruction:

Students are grouped based on ability. Teachers work directly with students, leading all instruction. Teachers read scripted lessons and demonstrate a skill. Students chorus the skill back, then individually show the skill. Strict direct instruction uses a fast pace with teachers sometimes using a clicking device to keep up the pace.

If students are learning the word “boat,” the word in their books is written with a small letter “a” to show that the “o” will dominate the “oa” sound.

* Critics: Students do not learn other reading tools or necessarily understand why they read. Not all words can be sounded out. Teachers are no longer diagnosing weaknesses and strengths, but simply reading scripted material. The program was developed as an intervention for at-risk students.

* Advocates: Students with strong phonics will pick up other words. Students are taught to understand what they read and, in fact, are reading Langston Hughes and other authors. A long list of research backs up direct instruction’s effectiveness. (emphasis added)

Balanced literacy:

Teachers diagnose students’ weaknesses and use various methods to strengthen reading skills; direct instruction among them. Chief instructional officer Martha Hayes also wants teachers using guided reading. In guided reading, students work in small ability groups. A teacher meets with one group, while other groups do more self-directed activities. A teacher may use the book that students are reading to emphasize phonics or other reading tools.

If the word is “boat,” a teacher may ask students if they have ever been on a boat so that they relate to the word. Or a teacher may ask the student to read the sentence and figure out the word based on context.

* Critics: Struggling students get lost in the self-directed reading groups. Teaching them to use nonphonics tools hinders learning phonics. Not every teacher has experience to use a variety of techniques to ensure students learn to read. “Balanced literacy has been espoused in Rockford the last 15 years. Show me some results,” said Bill Bursuck, who created a reading program that improved reading in three Rockford schools.

* Advocates: Students must have all the tools to read. Research shows students need more than phonics to be good readers. New administration is working to get the district on stable financial ground to more fully support teachers. Every elementary school now has a reading coach to help teachers. Next summer, workshops will provide further support to teachers.

The Rockford School district has been running deficits for years as have many districts nationwide. Recently there was a three month heated debated that ended when the distract contracted 186 of it's custodial and maintenance jobs in an effort to reduce it's deficits. Custodians and other workers in the Rockford Building and Maintenance Association had offered a 10 percent pay cut in a package that contained $2.3 million in savings. Their offer did not compete with the $3.5 million in savings that a private contract offers. (BTW, I support this contracting, lets face it with proper accountability private businesses can always outperform government)

It seems to me that for nearly $700,000 in lost NCLB funds - money that now has to come out of the Rockford taxpayers pockets you could make Old Reading work, unless there is another motive that I am unaware of.

Studies show that direct instruction works! If given the choice of two programs that work, one that comes with $700,000 and one that doesn't, which do you think is best for the kids?

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