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NCLB Outrages

St. Louis School Select Reading Program

Ohanian Comment: If you can get byond the atrocity of every kid in St. Louis being required to read a program developed for special education, look at the statistic offered: Under NCLB this year, 20% of students had to be proficient. This figure jumps to 40% next year.

Note even further: The decision to adopt Open Court overrides the recommendation of the curriculum committee.

Also note that reading scores have dropped in the one place Open Court is already used in the district. But don't bother the decision-makers with facts.

So much for local decision-making, teacher professionalism, and other such trivia.

"Open Court" sounds like a television show, but on Tuesday night, it became the new reading program to put every elementary school pupil in St. Louis Public Schools on the same page.

After a presentation and discussion, the School Board agreed to throw its support behind the reading program. Board members Amy Hilgemann and Veronica O'Brien dissented.

Lynn Spampinato, the district's new chief academic officer, wasted no time in making her case to the board after arriving in St. Louis on Aug. 20. The academic success of the district's students depends heavily on a good foundation in reading, she says.

Spampinato said this kind of program, which sets the same pace for every classroom in each grade, is essential for a district in which some students change schools two or three times during a school year. If a child moves from a school with one way of teaching reading to a school with a completely different method, Spampinato said, he or she is more likely to fall behind.

Open Court is one of three reading programs suggested by the Council of Great City Schools in its report this year on raising student achievement in St. Louis.

Harry Rich, the district's chief financial officer, told the board the new program would cost about $4 million, about $2.8 million of which would come from Title 1 funds and $1.2 million from the district's general operating budget.

St. Louis Public Schools administrators find themselves pressed for time to increase student achievement. Missouri's goals under the federal No Child Left Behind law will require nearly 40 percent of the district's students to test proficient or better in reading this school year, up from 20.4 percent last school year.

Tuesday's decision overrides a previous recommendation from the district's curriculum committee. But Spampinato said that the committee's choice had overlooked other factors.

"When I looked at what they recommended, I could not find a single city in the country that was using that program and making gains," Spampinato said.

Among educators, the jury is out on Open Court. Some urban districts, including Detroit, Indianapolis and Sacramento, Calif., have reported improvements after using Open Court.

Locally, the reading program is used in the Riverview Gardens School District, said Virginia Gassaway, a sales representative for Open Court's publisher. State figures show reading scores in Riverview Gardens have dropped since the program began in 2002.

Nationwide, the American Federation of Teachers recommended Open Court in 1998 as one of seven reading programs that work well for students.

Some educational researchers counter that giving teachers more control over lessons yields higher gains.

Margaret Moustafa, an education professor at California State University in Los Angeles, studied the test scores in California schools using Open Court. She concluded that while test scores rose from year to year within the same grade level, the scores actually dropped as students progressed from grade to grade.

Open Court is "based on the assumption that children are widgets who can be placed in any school," Moustafa said. "A good instructor addresses children where they are at, not where someone outside the classroom says they should be."

— Trisha Howard
St. Louis Post-Dispatch


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