New York City Caves to Federal Pressure on Curriculum
Chancellor Joel I. Klein is quietly supplementing a much-criticized reading
program his deputy chose for New York City elementary schools with a more intensive program for struggling readers. In addition to Month by Month Phonics, the program that Deputy Chancellor Diana Lam chose in January as part of a new systemwide reading and math
curriculum, kindergarten through third grade classrooms will use the New York City Passport program, developed by Voyager Expanded Learning of Dallas.
Though Mr. Klein has vigorously defended Ms. Lam's choice of Month by Month, the change of plans suggests just how seriously he took criticism from reading experts and federal and state officials, who said it had not been
proven to help struggling students learn to read. Under President Bush's new education law, No Child Left Behind, school districts can receive federal funds for reading instruction only if their curriculum is scientifically proven to improve reading skills. Reid Lyon, Mr. Bush's top reading adviser, complained in January that Month by Month did not have enough research backing it; he and other reading experts have warned New York City that it could lose millions of dollars in federal funds.
Voyager, which has sold reading programs to more than 1,000 school districts, is developing the Passport program just for New York City, Ms. Lam said yesterday. Several reading experts outside the city, including a member of the National Reading Panel, which Mr. Bush has endorsed, said yesterday that the program was based on proven research.
"It covers all the aspects of reading and it does so very systematically," said Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a Yale University professor who is a member of the reading panel. "This is a very positive sign." In an interview yesterday, Ms. Lam said that both Month by Month's and Voyager's Passport program would be part of a "phonics kit" that classroom teachers would use starting this fall. Phonics is the study of letters and the sounds they represent, and the Bush administration has said it should be
a central part of reading programs for students who are at risk of failing to learn to read.
"This is specifically designed for students who are finding it more difficult to learn to read," Ms. Lam said of the Passport program. "Not every child will need to use it, but it will be available in every classroom."
Though Ms. Lam said that she intended all along to supplement Month by Month with other materials, other education officials have said she decided to add another phonics program only after Month by Month came under attack.
Another city education official said that the Department of Education would start ordering materials for Voyager's Passport program and Month by Month Phonics, published by the Carson-Dellosa Publishing Company in Greensboro, N.C., on Monday. The department has also begun ordering the materials for Everyday Mathematics, a math program published by SRA/McGraw-Hill that Mr. Klein has chosen for kindergarten through fifth grade.
Though department officials would not provide a cost estimate for the Voyager program yesterday, Mr. Klein has said the new reading and math curriculums would cost a total of $50 million over two years.
While Ms. Lam said that Month by Month would remain an important part of the reading curriculum, several outside reading experts surmised yesterday that the Department of Education was keeping it only as a face-saving measure, and that most classrooms would focus more heavily on Voyager's Passport program.
Officials from Voyager did not return a call seeking comment. New York State awarded the company a contract last year to train teachers receiving federal reading funds — another sign that the company's programs meet muster with the federal Department of Education.
Each state applies for federal reading funds on behalf of all its school districts, after reviewing each district's instructional plan. New York State is eligible for $68 million in federal Reading First funds this year, most of which would go to New York City, which has a disproportionate number of students at risk.
Asked yesterday about Mr. Klein's decision to use a Voyager program, Tom Dunn, a spokesman for the State Education Department, said: "We'll review it when we see it."
Though the phonics part of Mr. Klein's new reading curriculum has won the most attention, it is only one piece. The curriculum will also require students to read books from classroom libraries and practice writing for several hours every day. But while Mr. Klein and Ms. Lam have expressed more excitement about the daily reading and writing, critics have warned that the city's many struggling students should spend more time drilling in phonics.
Ms. Lam said that as part of Voyager's Passport program, students would be tested at least three times a year so that teachers could monitor their progress and know exactly what they needed to focus on. She said that it was "somewhat more scripted" than Month by Month Phonics, and that students who needed Passport would work with teachers in small groups while their classmates worked independently on reading and writing.
Asked whether she thought the combination of Voyager's Passport and Month by Month would meet state and federal approval, Ms. Lam said, "I am confident of that."
More Intensive Reading Program Is Added for Struggling Pupils
New York Times
April 5, 2003
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES