New York City Politicos Cave In To Fed and Drop Balanced Reading
Notice that Joel Klein is asking, "Where's the science?"
Just four months after adopting a new citywide reading curriculum, New York City plans to abandon it in 49 troubled elementary schools so it can win $34 million in federal aid that is available only if the city uses a more structured program approved by New York State and the federal Department of Education.
Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein has consistently argued that the city's choice of reading curriculum is superior to the more rigid programs endorsed by the Bush administration, and that the city needs a uniform approach to streamline teacher training and help students who move from school to school within the system.
Yesterday, he continued to praise the city's curriculum but said that the $34 million was too much money to give up.
"This is a significant amount of money for some of our really-highest-needs programs," Mr. Klein said in an interview. "It's a pragmatic decision."
The chancellor also for the first time criticized federal education officials, saying they should be more flexible. He said that recent national testing data showed that New York, Boston and San Diego — cities that use a so-called balanced literacy approach — were making better progress than cities using programs preferred by Washington as "scientifically proven."
"It's being done in the name of science," Mr. Klein said of Washington's restrictions. "And the question is: where's the science?"
New York City's current balanced literacy curriculum uses books from classroom libraries instead of basic readers and encourages students to read and write on their own level.
In its place, at the 49 schools, officials are proposing a more traditional program called Harcourt Trophies and a companion Spanish version called Trofeos.
The $34 million that Mr. Klein hopes to win is part of $129 million in federal Reading First money awarded to New York State in September. Applications from individual school districts must be submitted to Albany by the end of this week.
Other school systems using reading curriculums similar to New York City's have refused to bow to the federal mandates.
San Diego did not apply for Reading First money and Boston's application was rejected because the city refused to fully abandon its existing reading program, even in a small number of schools.
Boston is negotiating with Massachusetts officials to retain the core of its balanced literacy program and still qualify for Reading First money to be used in 10 of its 134 schools, said Thomas W. Payzant, the Boston schools superintendent.
"We would have had to make changes that were so dramatic it would have tossed out everything we had been working on for four or five years," he said, adding, "You don't want to turn down dollars, but by the same token, you don't just put in a program and in a year expect to see magnificent results."
In New York City, education officials declined to name the 49 schools that would get the new curriculum but said they were spread across the city.
They said the schools all had extremely low test scores — in most cases less than 40 percent of students are reading at grade level. The schools also serve impoverished communities and many have large populations of non-English-speaking students.
The Trophies program, published by Harcourt Education of Orlando, Fla., uses textbooks that include reading passages with built-in vocabulary and comprehension lessons and exercises.
Mr. Klein and other city education officials insisted that the Trophies program was very closely aligned with a balanced literacy approach, using real children's literature for reading material and many similar teaching techniques as well as employing classroom libraries along with more traditional books known as basal readers.
"The Harcourt Trophies program contains all the elements that our current comprehensive approach does," said Michele Cahill, the chancellor's senior counsel for educational policy.
She did, however, note a major difference between the Trophies program and the citywide curriculum.
"Our citywide approach does not have basal readers," she said. "We use the literature in the classroom libraries as readers."
Privately, some education officials acknowledged that the department was bracing for criticism that it was somehow backing away from the citywide curriculum and that the chancellor's decision might have been pragmatic but it was also hypocritical.
Dr. Payzant, who was an assistant secretary of education in the Clinton administration, said he agreed with Chancellor Klein that education officials in the Bush administration were too inflexible in their view of reading programs.
"The irony is you have got a Republican administration that normally champions local control and opposes any kind of federal involvement in setting prescriptive curriculum for school districts to follow," he said.
"There ought to be some flexibility in deciding what the best way is to get the results."
Chris Doherty, the director of Reading First, defended the program.
"We really don't feel the requirements are overly rigid at all," he said. "It's helping focus the funds on programs that have proven to work."
David M. Herszenhorn
For U.S. Aid, City Switches Reading Plan
New York Times
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES