Why Are the Feds Trying to Take Over New York City's Right to Make Curriculum Decisions?
Another question: Why is the New York City branch of the American Federation of Teachers playing footsie with the Reading First goon squad?
Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein said yesterday that he would not jettison the reading program that his top deputy chose for New York City elementary schools, even though a number of reading experts have warned that it will not pass muster with the federal government.
But other education officials said it was increasingly likely that Mr. Klein would supplement the program, Month by Month Phonics, with at least one other reading program that had more scientific evidence of helping struggling readers.
New York City's choice of Month by Month has stirred a conflict that has been quietly playing out in the offices of city, state and federal education officials in the month since Mr. Klein announced plans for a citywide curriculum. President Bush's top adviser on reading, G. Reid Lyon, said last month that the program had no proven track record with students who struggle academically.
Under Mr. Bush's new education law, No Child Left Behind, school districts can receive federal Reading First funds for reading instruction only if their curriculum is scientifically proven to better children's reading skills. States apply for the money on behalf of all their school districts, and must justify in a detailed application the programs they intend to use.
One New York State official said yesterday that the State Education Department was increasingly worried about the program's viability. The official said the department had urged Mr. Klein to abandon the program, but Alan Ray, a department spokesman, denied that.
"We have not advised them not to use it," Mr. Ray said.
New York State has not yet filed its application for reading funds with the federal Department of Education. But if the application is ultimately approved, the state will receive $68 million in Reading First funds, most of which will go to New York City because it has by far the largest school district.
The federal government has already approved applications from 25 states. But Dan Langan, a spokesman for the secretary of education, Rod Paige, could not confirm whether any of those states intended to use Month by Month Phonics.
Dr. Lyon, the reading adviser to Mr. Bush, said yesterday that it was "unfortunate that we are making decisions about children's lives" on the basis of "untested assumptions rather than on being sure of what we know works for kids at risk of reading failure." Dr. Lyon, a researcher at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, does not work for the federal Education Department or help make decisions about individual Reading First grant applications. But he helped write the portion of the No Child Left Behind Act that deals with reading instruction. In a January speech on the first anniversary of the law's enactment, Mr. Bush said of Dr. Lyon: "He explained to me a long time ago: Some curricula work and some don't. He understands what works."
If Mr. Klein sticks with Month by Month, he puts the school system at risk of losing its share of the $68 million. But discarding the program would be a major embarrassment for Mr. Klein and his boss, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, whose top priority is improving the schools.
Mr. Klein told reporters yesterday that he was "absolutely not" backing away from Month by Month Phonics. "That's our program and we're prepared to protect it," said Mr. Klein, who was in Albany to testify about proposed school budget cuts.
Asked whether Mr. Klein might add a second phonics program, David Chai, Mr. Klein's press secretary, said, "We are engaged in discussions and believe that the curriculum implemented in our schools this September will meet the needs of the city's children and satisfy federal guidelines."
Under Mr. Klein's current plan, students in kindergarten through third grade will use Month by Month Phonics to practice letters and sounds for up to 45 minutes a day. But they will also have libraries in every classroom for more sophisticated reading and writing assignments, as will fourth through eighth graders.
By using both components, Mr. Klein is walking a careful line between the phonics approach to teaching reading and the "whole language" approach, which relies on stories to capture children's interest in reading and uses phonics secondarily. Reading specialists have long been bitterly divided between the two camps.
Some educators say that Month by Month Phonics is under attack because its publisher, Carson-Dellosa Publishing Company in Greensboro, N.C., is so small, and that large, powerful publishing companies are lobbying states and the federal
Randi Weingarten, president of New York City's teachers' union, said that Mr. Klein was brave to choose a single citywide curriculum, given how sharply divided the nation's reading experts are. But in the end, she said, it would probably make sense to have more than one phonics program.
"For some kids Month by Month might work," she said. "For others, another program might do better."
Schools Chancellor Stands by His Choice of Reading Program
New York Times
Feb. 26, 2003
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES