District 6 should listen to the feedback
This informative op ed cites Elizabeth Jaeger's report, "What Every Parent, Teacher and Community Member Needs to Know About No Child Left Behind." Kudos for bringing the issue and the report to wide public attention.
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by Patricia A. Kennedy
Greeley-Evans School District 6 administrators and school board members seem unwilling to hear what many parents, teachers and community members are trying to communicate to them regarding the district's approach to raising achievement levels. Everyone agrees that students who can read well will do better in school and will have higher levels of achievement. What is frustrating is the district's blind assertion that the only way to raise reading scores is by adopting a "Reading First" program, a common schedule and subjecting students to massive amounts of testing.
Other school districts across the state are raising achievement levels and are doing so without a highly scripted reading program or a common schedule that dictates every minute of the school day. There are other alternatives to raising reading scores and achievement levels that are equally or more effective, are less boring for kids, ensure children receive critical instruction in science, social studies and technology, and leave room for more teacher and student creativity.
In our own district for example, Cameron Elementary, prior to this year, successfully raised third grade Colorado Student Assessment Program reading scores by 8 points in 2006 using the four-block approach to teach reading. The entire staff trained for three summers and were successfully implementing this approach to teaching reading which is far more child-friendly than the current curriculum. In addition, it was being implemented without spending millions of dollars on new books and materials, and it did not require a common schedule to be effective. Students did not have to miss other subjects to learn to read. In fact, the strategies being taught were reinforced through reading in other subject areas and by a daily self-selected reading block which incidentally was eliminated in the current common schedule along with a regular block of time for technology instruction.
The Foss science kits selected for use in our elementary schools were specifically chosen because of research results in El Centro, a district in California with demographics similar to those in Greeley. When fully implemented, student achievement scores among at-risk students and students learning English improved significantly not only in science, but in reading and writing, as well. Considering the demands of tomorrow's work world, doesn't it make more sense to teach reading through science and other subjects instead of in isolation?
Houghton Mifflin, our current reading program, is one of the programs approved under Reading First. In her report "What Every Parent, Teacher and Community Member Needs to Know About No Child Left Behind," Elizabeth Jaeger explains Reading First is a funding arm of NCLB. This initiative was established to increase reading achievement in the primary grades. To qualify for funding, states were required to submit a proposal which was to go through a rigorous review process. These proposals were to specify how states planned to assist local districts, to implement assessment, select scientifically based instructional materials, provide professional development and evaluate program effectiveness.
In fall 2006, the Office of the Inspector General released a scathing report chronicling rampant abuses on the part of the Reading First officials, stating that the program has been beset by conflicts of interest and intentional mismanagement. The report suggests that the department illegally dictated what curriculum schools must use and stacked curriculum review panels with people who supported particular publishers. Follow-up reports have shown financial and political corruption.
Everyone agrees that reading is key to success in school. However, there is not agreement among parents, teachers and the community that the program adopted by District 6 is either the best or most cost-effective way to achieve that outcome. Lackluster CSAP results this spring and dropping graduation rates would indicate maybe it's time to listen to feedback about the effects of this reading program. There is more than one way to skin a cat.
Patricia A. Kennedy is a retired classroom teacher from Greeley-Evans School District 6. She lives in Greeley.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES