Article of Interest - Literacy
Support for Reading Recovery: Letters to the Editor of Education Week
Disseminating Data on Single-Sex Schools
to the Editor - www.edweek.org,
July 10, 2002
article located at
You report that according
to a six-year Australian study of 270,000 students, both girls and
boys in single-sex educational settings scored "on average, 15 to 22
percentile points higher than peers in coeducational settings" ("Evidence
on Single-Sex Schooling Is Mixed," Research, June 12, 2001). In
the article, you quote Ken J. Rowe of the Australian Council for
Educational Research, who says that these findings "pale into
insignificance" in comparison with the gains made when students have
Single-sex classrooms can
be established literally overnight, at virtually no cost: Simply
assign all the boys to go to chemistry class at one time of day, and
schedule the girls at a different time. You don't need new schools,
new facilities, or more staff.
No comparably simple
mechanism exists to replace "unskilled" teachers with "skilled"
teachers. For that matter, there is no easy way to reliably
distinguish a skilled from an unskilled teacher. Nor is there
universal agreement about how to transform an unskilled teacher into a
skilled teacher. We can be sure, however, that all the proposed
fixes—whether they involve retraining unskilled teachers, recruiting
skilled teachers, or both—will be expensive.
The Australian school
population bears many similarities to our own. Both countries have a
dominant English-speaking culture with diverse immigrant populations.
Both countries have cities with large numbers of lower-income students
from homes where English is not the primary language. If a simple,
unambiguous, and easily implemented intervention can improve student
performance by 15 percent to 22 percent, how is that "insignificant"?
Shouldn't we consider giving it a try?
Charters Were 'Off the Mark'
To the Editor:
In a response to our recent
Public About Charter Schools?," Commentary, May 15, 2002), Michael
R. Williamson charged that our work reflects "flawed research, faulty
data, and amazing bias" ("Michigan
Charters," Letters, June 5, 2002). While space constraints prevent
us from responding to each of his points, we feel compelled to address
a few that are particularly off the mark, given a comprehensive review
of available data.
First, Mr. Williamson
responded to our finding of lagging student-achievement gains in
Michigan charter schools by citing another evaluation report that
found that charter schools outpaced comparable schools on the state's
"adequate yearly progress" measure. However, that study failed to find
a positive charter school effect on other achievement indicators, was
restricted to Detroit-area charter schools, and included fewer years
of data than our study did. At the same time, two other studies
(which, like ours, included all Michigan charter schools) found a
negative achievement impact associated with charters. Given a choice
between a single positive finding based on a smaller sample and
several negative findings based on larger samples, it seems reasonable
to give more weight to the latter.
Second, Mr. Williamson
correctly noted that our findings are at odds with a federally
sponsored study that found that Michigan charter schools enroll a
higher proportion of students qualifying for free and reduced-price
lunches than the state average for all traditional public schools. Our
findings, however, were based on the more relevant comparison of each
charter school with neighboring traditional public schools. This
analysis shows that while many charters are located in urban areas,
they tend to enroll lower concentrations of low-income and at-risk
students than do neighboring public schools.
Third, Mr. Williamson
faulted us for stating that few Michigan charter schools enroll more
costly high school students. However, his claim that 95 percent of the
charter schools cater to middle or high school students appears to be
based on the grades for which charter schools are authorized to take
students. Data from the Michigan Department of Education indicate that
only 15 percent of charter school students are actually enrolled in
Finally, Mr. Williamson's
charge of "amazing bias" seems difficult to sustain in light of the
fact that our studies of charter schools in some other states have
been rather positive. Moreover, these studies, which are posted on the
http://www.wmich.edu/evalctr, all have extensive technical reports
that explain methods, data sources, and limitations. This makes it
possible for others to verify and replicate our findings.
Our Commentary pointed out
that the weaknesses in Michigan's charter school reform are not
inevitable, and that there is no reason to think that the charter
school concept is fatally flawed. Our evaluations are intended for use
by the state agencies that sponsor them as instruments for
improvement. This is evident in the detailed reports and constructive
feedback we provide to individual schools and to the state agencies.
Improvement, however, cannot come without a clear-eyed appraisal of
strengths and weaknesses.
It is certainly appropriate
that policy and program evaluators are themselves evaluated by others.
In this spirit, we appreciate Mr. Williamson's comments on our work.
However, his critique misses the mark in many important respects.
'Prejudice' in Evolution Reporting
To the Editor:
The article on the "No
Child Left Behind" Act of 2001 and its report that calls for teaching
scientific arguments for and against evolution manages to confuse the
Congress Said, Let There Be Other Views. Or Did It?," June 12,
2002). No one is saying that the report language accompanying the
federal education act requires teaching intelligent design. But both
the chair and vice chair of the House Education and the Workforce
Committee have made it clear that the report language is intended to
interpret the act as states apply it. That is what report language
does for all laws, a fact Education Week omits.
Most importantly, the
article may leave some with the impression that critics of Darwin's
theory want intelligent design taught in its place. That is not so. We
all want Darwin's theory taught, and also the scientific arguments
against it. That is the nub. You do not even need to advocate the
positive alternative theory of intelligent design to show what is
wrong with the scientific case for Darwinism.
However, what I most object
to in the article is the subtle prejudice. For example, you report
that two "scientists" argued in Ohio recently against teaching the
pros and cons on Darwin, while two "Discovery Institute officials"
argued in favor. In fact, both proponents are themselves scientists:
Jonathan Wells, whose doctorate in biology is from the University of
California, Berkeley, and Steven C. Meyer, whose philosophy of science
doctorate is from Cambridge University.
Education Week has
yet to cover this subject fairly.
Essays, Old Ways Are Best
To the Editor:
I don't agree with the idea
of computerized scoring of student essays ("States
Testing Computer-Scored Essays," May 29, 2002). When these essays
are part of a high-stakes test, two or more real, live people should
review each one. Your article notes that one software engine
"typically matches [human] experts more often than two [human] experts
can match each other." This is a scary notion.
If the opinions of two
scorers don't match, then an essay should be sent for a third review.
By simply accepting that the computer validates one person's review,
we may be leaving out the other half of the picture. Perhaps a child
doesn't use a rich vocabulary, but does effectively describe and
demonstrate an understanding of the concept or material at hand. This
child would be overlooked by a computer program, but a person might
understand his strengths and thus allocate appropriate points.
Computer-scored essays can
conceivably be used as a supplementary tool to help teachers review
numerous writing exercises. With technology's assistance, the teacher
might even be able to assign more such exercises. But this doesn't
mean that all written material should be left to computers to assess.
The teacher's insight is invaluable and forms the basis for providing
help in improving writing.
Anecdote On Certification
To the Editor:
It always amazes me when
anecdotal evidence ("I knew someone who ...") is still used to
prop up a favorite belief. In her recent letter to the editor ("Is
Any Certification Worth Continuing?," June 5, 2002), Louisa C.
Spencer gives two examples of people she knows for whom certification
was/is really unnecessary. I know a person who won $30,000 on slot
machines in Vegas, but my friend's success isn't exactly a good
predictor of my success or the success of millions of others.
More relevant to this
issue, I could give many personal examples of people who "knew their
stuff" but were failures as teachers. "Knowing the content" is simply
not enough to ensure quality teaching, nor is it enough to cite a
personal example or two to systematically ensure the quality of
thousands of teachers.
Certification and advanced
certification, such as that offered by the National Board for
Professional Teaching Standards, is the exact opposite of what Ms.
Spencer calls "just a monopolistic practice in restraint of truly
effective public education." Certification is a system designed to
make public education more effective—and a way to instill public
confidence that a teacher is qualified. Advanced certification, such
as from the national board, defines and refines the teaching process
and establishes standards for the highest quality teaching.
If Ms. Spencer's two
teachers are and were as good as she believes, they would be able to
obtain certification, and the process of national board certification
would help them become even better. What parents wouldn't want a
national-board-certified teacher teaching their children?
Schools Give Teachers More Clout
To the Editor:
Your article on teachers
unions' efforts to expand their role through legislation gives me
Take Bids for Power to Legislatures," June 12, 2002). My law
practice is almost entirely devoted to issues involving charter
schools. There is no more certain way for teachers to achieve the
level of involvement they apparently are seeking through legislation
than by starting their own charter schools or supporting others that
Charter schools are proven
examples of giving teachers more authority and broader roles in
delivering education. And the students and teachers are big winners in
such efforts. If teachers' unions want more influence in the
classroom, then supporting charter schools should be first on their
Mann: 'More, Please'
To the Editor:
Thank you for publishing
Peter H. Gibbon's Commentary ("A Hero of Education," May 29, 2002, Web
rights restricted by publisher). Knowing Horace Mann is understanding
why the American public school is the envy of the rest of the world,
and how it has become the most stabilizing force in the world's most
More on Horace Mann,
please, his struggles, annual reports, accomplishments ...
Patrick HobanExecutive Director
Washington State School
The writer is a past
president of the Horace Mann League, whose headquarters are in Omaha,
Private: Clarifying a Report
To the Editor:
Your account of the U.S.
Department of Education's "Private Schools: A Brief Portrait," in "The
Condition of Education 2002" report ("NCES
Study Finds Greater Success in College by Private School Grads,"
June 12, 2002) distorts findings of the report and misquotes my
comments about it.
The report itself cautions
readers about making the kind of gross generalizations contained in
your account, saying: "Although this analysis compares averages for
the private and public sectors ... no inferences can be drawn from
these data about causality. Any number of variables distinct from
school sector and type may contribute to inputs and outcomes."
In other words, as I
emphasized in my comments to your reporter, students do well in
schools—both public and private—that have small class sizes, qualified
teachers, high standards, and access to instructional materials. Yes,
it is true that schools are better able to serve disadvantaged
students when those students are a small percentage of the schools'
total enrollment, but to extend that to the assertion that "students
do better in private schools than in public schools ... " is a
complete misinterpretation of my comments and of the report itself.
In October 1994, Money
magazine found that "about 10 percent of all public schools—about
2,000 schools nationwide—are as outstanding academically as the
nation's 1,500 most prestigious and selective private schools." What I
actually said was that a fair comparison of public and private schools
would compare similarly situated schools.
National Education Association
Must Fight Negative Poll Image
To the Editor:
Your recent Close Up from
the Public Education Network-Education Week Poll ("Boards,
Parents Seen as Powerful," June 5, 2002) should be a wake-up call
to all teachers. Essentially, these poll results from registered
voters suggest that teachers and students are not responsible for the
quality of their schools, nor do they have the power to change that
I work with beginning
teachers and am disheartened by these findings. I constantly tell new
teachers that they have power to change the lives of children. Maybe I
should simply change my mantra and tell them they are entering a
profession in which they will be afforded no respect, no
responsibility, and no power.
But wait, we then move to
the third paragraph of your report and see that teachers are to
blame for the failure of schools. Maybe, instead, I should explain
to my new teachers that they have power and responsibility in the
failure of schools, but not in their improvement.
But I won't tell teachers
they have only the power to be negative, because this would be a lie.
We teachers do have power, along with responsibility, but many aren't
willing to recognize and use it. As we move into an era in which
noneducators are increasingly running the schools, we must stand up
and say no. We must not be bullied into believing we lack the power to
make a difference.
Teachers, fight back. Share
this poll and others like it with school board members, principals,
and parents. Begin discussions about these numbers and explain the
negative impact they have on education. Hold public forums to debate
the issues. Do whatever you need to do, but start talking. If you
don't, then we really will have no power, and those few who make the
decisions will continue to leave classroom educators out of the
Director of Field Experience
Western New Mexico University
Gallup Graduate Studies Center
Freedom Can Serve Us All
To the Editor:
In his recent essay,
Patrick F. Bassett describes the school-related plot of Dr. Seuss'
last book, Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!, and then makes a
politically palatable plea: that we give high-performing public
schools the same incentive of curricular freedom we currently give
private schools ("Testing,
Accountability, and Independence," Commentary, June 19, 2002).
But the title of Dr. Seuss'
posthumously published book, with its fictional "Diffendoofer" school,
brings to mind the kind of freedom that allows us not only to "do
curriculum differently," but also to "do assessment differently." Why
must schools' chances at curricular freedom be tied to the states'
definitions of what constitutes "high performance"?
Let's have the courage to
let local communities not only set curricular standards, but also set
performance standards for their public schools. And let's encourage
local communities to adopt performance-standards systems similar to
the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System. Communities should focus
on the educational distance each child travels from September to June,
rather than focusing on the educational location of all children in
To give curricular freedom
only to schools that meet current state definitions of "high
performing" will help only those communities that need help least.
Until state legislators read and understand Hooray for Diffendoofer
Day!, we need to fight for curricular freedom for all communities.
Land O'Lakes, Wis.
The writer is a lawyer who
is currently completing her dissertation in political science.
More In Teaching History?
To the Editor:
I was struck by what
Jonathan Zimmerman said in his Commentary
"Don't Know Much About History. Why Not?," (June 19, 2002). I have
been a high school history teacher for the past 30 years, and I am
concerned by the lack of background knowledge that students coming
from the middle and elementary schools seem to have about history
today. This puts a heavy burden on high school teachers. We have to
take these students from zero knowledge to a workable use of history.
Mr. Zimmerman says the
problem may stem from teachers' lack of knowledge about history. He
uses his own early efforts to teach the subject as an example. His
first impulse, to write facts, names, and dates on the blackboard,
demonstrated this lack of knowledge, he says. A better way of
presenting the information would have been by asking questions, not
presenting "answers." Asking questions about the present, so that
students can see the connection between today and the past, is a
better way to get students to retain what is taught in class, he says.
Mr. Zimmerman apparently
feels that over the years he has learned more about history and, thus,
now could be a better history teacher. I see the change as not so much
as an increase in knowledge of the subject, but in how it is
effectively taught. The factual information remains the same; the
improvement is in the teaching method. Asking questions gets students
to think, not just copy what the teacher has written on the board.
What Mr. Zimmerman has
shown is that ideas such as U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige's
call to increase the number of classes teachers-in-training take in
subject matter and reduce the number in teaching methods will not
produce better-trained teachers. Subject matter is important, but
teaching methods and preparation cannot be de- emphasized.
A vast knowledge of
history's subject matter does not mean that a teacher can convey that
knowledge to students. Just ask anyone who has taken an upper-level
history course from a learned professor who knows nothing about the
art of teaching.
Robert C. Massey
U.S. and World History Teacher
Mountain Ridge High School
Deer Valley Unified School District
of the SAT: Don't Shoot the Messenger,
Strengthen the Curriculum
To the Editor:
Peter Sacks' "contrarian"
view of the SAT ("On
Changing the SAT," Commentary, June 5, 2002) is loaded with many
of the spurious charges that have been leveled against the test since
I joined the College Board staff in 1955. Four examples:
"The unabashed winners
of our national swoon over testing are those motivated by profit."
Fact: The College Board and the Educational Testing Service, which
administers the SAT for the board, are both nonprofit enterprises.
"Rather than a measure
of innate aptitude, an SAT I score mirrors one's place in the social
and economic hierarchy." Facts: The SAT was never intended to and
does not measure the intelligence one was born with; it measures the
verbal and mathematical academic abilities one needs to do college-
level work. Many socially and economically disadvantaged students earn
better grades in school and higher scores on the SAT than a lot of
their advantaged peers. But there continues to be a difference between
the average SAT scores of minority and majority students. It is
diminishing slowly, but still mirrors the educational deficit this
country has to make up. It is that deficit, not the SAT, that is to
blame for that difference. The critics and the press keep shooting the
[are] devices that sort viciously by class and race." Fact: The
SAT and its offshoot the PSAT were "devices" that benevolently fueled
the opening up of access to higher education that occurred in the
1950s and 1960s. For every minority student claimed to have been
discriminated against by the SAT, there were others who were
discovered through it to possess the ability to do college-level work.
In shooting the messenger, the critics and the press have chosen to
and continue to emphasize the former.
evidence that actual performance in school, such as rank in class, as
indicated by grades, is almost always the best predictor of success in
college." Note first the "almost." Note also that the difference
in the power of prediction is "almost always" small and that the two
used in combination (grades and SAT scores) are more than "almost
always" a better predictor than either measure used alone.
Enough said! Given these
misrepresentations or biases, how much credence should be given to
rest of what the author has to say?
George H. Hanford
The College Board
To the Editor:
Hope springs eternal. Every
time I think we are making a modicum of progress in improving
educational standards, another article appears condemning needed
changes in the status quo—in this case, the SAT. Exactly why
the author of your Commentary, Peter Sacks, is termed a "contrarian"
in the essay's second headline is a puzzle, since objections to
standardized testing are the norm rather than the exception in most
educational publications today, as evidenced by two similar critiques
in this same issue of Education Week.
Mr. Sacks' first major
point is that revising the SAT I to be more like the SAT II is
ill-conceived because there is no real difference between the two:
Scores on both have very high correlations.
To state the obvious, the
fact that two tests correlate does not mean there are no significant
differences in the content of the two. There are, in fact, major
differences: The SAT I measures a variety of verbal and mathematical
skills; the SAT II consists of separate tests, each measuring student
performance in specific academic subjects—algebra, trigonometry,
chemistry, physics, and U.S. history, for example. Classifying both of
these as standardized tests is misleading and ignores the very real
differences between the two.
observers—outside the mainstream of education—would think it eminently
sensible to test students in subjects they study (the SAT II), rather
than a mixture of generalized and often unrelated skills (the SAT I).
In fact, the obvious reason that President Richard C. Atkinson of the
University of California favors the SAT II is its direct relationship
to the academic curricula students complete, or should be
completing, in high school. And there are additional benefits.
First, the change would
send a clear signal to high schools that students must enroll in,
rather than avoid, challenging academic subjects in order to gain
entrance into the better colleges and universities. As recently
documented in your excellent article
"Research Underscores Need for Tough Courses," (May 22, 2002),
students of all cultures and ability who complete a more rigorous
curriculum enjoy distinct advantages and benefits over their
counterparts who lack this preparation. The article points out that
"students who took advanced math and science courses were 17 times
more likely to attend a four-year rather than a two-year college," and
that "African-American students were particularly likely to increase
their chances for admission to a four-year institution by taking a
more rigorous course sequence."
Second, instead of studying
word analogies and other gimmicky exercises required on the SAT I,
teachers could engage students in the higher- reasoning and
problem-solving skills that are integral to the academic disciplines.
What is absolutely astonishing to me is the resistance one finds in
education to such logic. The prevailing view is that academic
standards and core curricula emphasize memorization and facts and
ignore the real needs of children. With this type of thinking, is it
any wonder that when someone like E.D. Hirsch Jr. recommends a core
curriculum for all students, he is vilified and ostracized by the
I certainly agree with Mr.
Sacks on one point: A partial change in the SAT I, such as adding a
writing sample, will not significantly change the test. Where I
disagree most emphatically is his view that the SAT II is just another
standardized test that will not benefit students. Here he is dead
wrong. Using the SAT II as the standard for college admissions has the
potential of significantly improving the high school curriculum and
increasing educational opportunities for all students.
Joseph M. Appel
Education: Understanding the Costs, Reforming the System
To the Editor:
Jay P. Greene's
Myth of the Special Education Burden," (Commentary, June 12, 2002)
attempts to debunk a myth, but fails to address the burden. His entire
treatise is an elaborate statistical analysis of special education
populations, which, he concludes, have essentially remained static
over the 25-odd years of the Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act. He chastises districts for failing to educate the same
distribution of needy students today with more funding available. But
it's not about the population; it's about the uncontrollable,
escalating costs of providing the mandated services for these
students. His own conclusions make that obvious.
If Mr. Greene had analyzed
the special education budget as carefully as he analyzed the special
education population, he would see that there is no myth at all here.
There is a clear, black-and- white financial burden of an unfunded
mandate and all the havoc that wreaks with public funds. For example,
Mr. Greene would see that the local school district bears the burden
of substantial noneducational costs for special-needs students in
out-of-district residential schools.
Indeed, in 1994, the
Massachusetts state auditor proclaimed that only 30 percent of costs
associated with special education residential placements were
education-related, urging the legislature to reimburse districts a
full 70 percent. Legislators balked, cried poverty, and pointed to the
letter of the law that did not require any specific reimbursement
percentage on their part and continued their gratuitous 50-50
reimbursement formula. Hence, many education dollars are, by law,
going for noneducation expenses.
If Mr. Greene analyzed the
budget figures instead of the population figures, he would also see
that local districts can bear staggering legal costs as parents
exercise their right to sue the district on behalf of their
special-needs children. In some cases, parents lured by the prospect
of free tuition and lawyers on retainer for private schools abuse a
system with few checks and balances for safeguarding public funds.
Again, the local district is forced by law to expend education dollars
for decidedly noneducation expenses.
Educators are not engaged
in a shell game of manipulating numbers, as Mr. Greene's Commentary
wryly suggests. They do, however, find themselves with dwindling
options for meeting the needs of all their clients, including the ones
not protected by law. Unless the loopholes of the law are closed by
legislators willing to put money where their mouths are, and create
proper controls and oversight on spending, abuse of the system will
continue, public education dollars will go for noneducation expenses,
and Commentaries like Mr. Greene's will serve to deflect attention
from this real burden.
Jade WalshJackson Hole, Wyo.
The writer formerly served
as a member of a local school committee in the state of Massachusetts.
To the Editor:
"The Myth of the Special
Education Burden" puts forth its own myth: that school districts
"profit" by over identifying students with disabilities. To dismiss a
3.5 percent increase in the number of students with disabilities by
simply saying the students have learning disabilities and do not
require expensive services is also a great myth.
Currently, in Missouri,
funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is
approximately 10 percent federal funds, 20 percent state funds, and 70
percent local funds. While there is some relationship between the
number of students identified and federal and state funds, local funds
remain the same regardless of the number of students identified.
School districts operate in a limited-resource model. Money spent in
one area decreases the amount available to fund other areas. Thus,
using the per-pupil-spending figure provided by the author—$7,086 for
each student identified as a student with a disability—the local
special education costs increase by approximately $4,900. Where is the
A brief review of the "23rd
Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals
with Disabilities Education Act" provides the most recent snapshot on
special education trends. Between the 1990-91 and 1999-2000 school
years, the number of students with disabilities between the ages of 6
and 21 has increased by 1,321,956. Of that number, 727,949 were
classified as learning- disabled. Thus, there were nearly 600,000 more
students with disabilities in categories other than learning-disabled.
There are numerous other
myths and very few facts in this Commentary. The report to Congress
provides factual information that addresses issues like poverty, the
medically fragile and low-birth weight babies, and the shortage of
qualified special education service providers.
The IDEA has provided great
benefits to students with disabilities. However, failure to
acknowledge and address the burden of special education may place many
of those benefits in jeopardy in the future without common-sense
reform of the IDEA. It is interesting to note that in completing
compliance reviews on the implementation of the IDEA, not one state
was found to be in compliance. A law that is so complicated that not
one state can comply is clearly burdensome. More monitoring and more
advocacy will not fix this problem. More money will not fix this
problem without reform.
The burden of special
education is no myth. The current reauthorization of the IDEA provides
an opportunity for common-sense reform. Congress needs to focus on
keeping teachers in classrooms working directly with students, and
decreasing the time spent in meetings and generating documents for
compliance. Congress needs to focus on the education of students with
disabilities and remove the burdens that are driving many special
education teachers from the field.
Congress must focus on the
education of all children. It is no myth that now is the time for
common-sense reform of the Individuals with Disabilities Education
Thomeczek Law Firm LLC
Recovery: Bad Rap for a Program That
'Outshines All Others'
To the Editor:
The recent slam on Reading
Recovery by a few well- meaning individuals who seldom see the inside
of a classroom is interesting but doesn't match with reality ("Researchers
Urge Officials to Reject Reading Recovery," June 5, 2002).
Teachers on the front lines know Reading Recovery works to bring
at-risk 1st graders up to grade-level reading in 20 weeks or less.
Yes, the program is intensive and doesn't work for everybody—only
about 80 percent of those students who get the full 20 weeks are
reading at grade level at the end. But I know of no other program that
shows similar success rates, anywhere.
Perhaps that's why Reading
Recovery is in the eye of the storm. Those who want to tear down
public schools have called for accountability and results and claim
public education offers neither. By trying to discredit Reading
Recovery, however, they are picking on the wrong program. This one
works and works well. That's why more schools are using it every day.
To the Editor:
I am dismayed and
frustrated after reading the recent attack on Reading Recovery by
university professors. After teaching struggling readers to read in
nine school districts and training teachers in 37 states in quality
literacy instruction, I am astounded (but not surprised) to see this
type of ignorance in the field. Why is it that just when we,
educators, finally reach the top of the mountain, someone comes along
and tells us to come back down because we aren't really there yet?
Decades of research,
training, experience, observations, teaching, "live" lessons, literacy
conferences, data collection, parent surveys, global collaboration,
and theoretical practices have culminated in this world-renowned
intervention program. It is the closest we have ever come to "leaving
no child behind." If the program is implemented and supported as
designed, it works.
Sure, the program has
problems, but these are mainly related to quality assurance and
consistency. Corporations and factories struggle with these issues all
the time, but unlike building an engine, we are dealing with human
minds. Training teachers around the globe to be experts in reading
instruction and to consistently implement the research- based methods
behind the program are difficult challenges, but nothing worthwhile is
ever easy. There are Reading Recovery teachers who are inconsistent in
using all required methods and materials and who are unable to work
with children five days per week. So problems with phonemic awareness,
writing, or spelling do occur for some children. This is the fault of
inconsistency in supporting and maintaining the program, not the
quality of the program itself.
There are many who claim
that Reading Recovery is not cost- effective because it is designed
for one-on-one instruction. Are we, as a nation, willing to turn our
backs on something that can save children from a lifetime of
illiteracy and frustration because we are unwilling to make it
available for every child who needs it?
Connie R. Hebert
National Literacy Consultant
West Springfield, Mass.
To the Editor:
Because Reading Recovery is
used as the first safety net for the lowest-performing 1st graders, it
does not skip the children who ultimately will need long-term special
education services. If a school does not have full implementation of
Reading Recovery and serves only the bottom 5 percent of 1st graders,
the program receives a bad rap as one that does not work. When a
school serves the bottom 20 percent of students, however, the success
rate for Reading Recovery outshines all other programs.
Success for All and other
intervention programs have tried to copy the techniques used by
trained Reading Recovery teachers to enhance their programs. Imitation
may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in my professional opinion
we shouldn't settle for copycats when we can have the real thing.
Having had training in
Reading Recovery, I can say that it is the best professional
development available. I am certified in special education and
bilingual education, and I hold a principal's certificate, but the
training I hold most dear is my Reading Recovery training. It has
helped me the most in my career and in my ability to help those
children with the greatest needs.
The charge that Reading
Recovery does not address phonemic awareness is false. When a child is
able to listen to a sentence and use letter-to-sound analysis to
decode it into writing, this proves much more helpful than having the
child perform tasks that are artificial, such as "Say 'cat,' now take
off the 't' and put in a 'p.'" When, in real life, do children have to
do such things? Reading Recovery makes the connection between reading
and writing easy for children to understand.
Let's not throw away a
diamond for some cheap cubic zirconia.
Coordinator, Special Programs
To the Editor:
The letter attacking
Reading Recovery that was recently distributed by researchers funded
by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development and
others makes a number of unfounded accusations. Its assertion that
Reading Recovery is not effective flies in the face of nearly 20 years
of evidence and is based on flawed interpretations of data.
Year after year, reports
from the National Data Evaluation Center show compelling evidence of
effectiveness. Students who complete the program successfully are
extremely unlikely to be retained in grade because of reading
difficulties or to be placed in special education because of reading
or writing problems. Their classroom teachers report substantial gains
in reading. These assessments of student progress don't come from
Reading Recovery; they are made by school officials.
The critique also alleges
that the Reading Recovery methodology does not follow an "intent to
treat" approach. This is a medical methodology used in randomized
trials where research subjects are randomly assigned to one of several
treatments. Reading Recovery is not a medical study; this methodology
simply does not apply. Its underlying intent, however, is to account
for every study subject. The accusation is that Reading Recovery does
not report on every student. But the only students who are excluded
from National Data Evaluation Center reports are those for whom
outcome status is missing; these represent 90 out of 150,000 children.
Anybody who accuses Reading Recovery of not accounting for every child
either does not understand statistics or has a purely political
What Reading Recovery's
critics fail to understand is that the program is not an esoteric
medical experiment, but a reading intervention that works successfully
on a very large scale. The NICHD's own research does not pass the test
of scalability because, by its own admission, the phonics-only
programs its researchers favor are not implemented as well as they
should be on a national basis. As a result, NICHD researchers do not
collect data on how the interventions they favor actually work in the
For parents of failing 1st
graders, evidence of practical success is probably a more attractive
choice than experimental data collected by medical researchers in a
handful of laboratory schools.
Francisco X. Gómez-Bellengé
National Data Evaluation Center
Is Limited in Specialized Schools
To the Editor:
I commend the New York City
board of education and the City University of New York for recognizing
that high-ability students need more schools that will challenge them
and provide them with an environment that encourages their continued
to Add 3 Schools With Entrance Exams," News in Brief, May 22,
What concerns me, however,
is that these schools will use the same entrance-exam results as the
science schools. Looking at the racial makeup of Stuyvesant High
School, Bronx High School of Science, and, to a slightly lesser
extent, Brooklyn Technical High School, it is clear that this test
systematically excludes black and Latino students. Black and Latino
students make up less than 7 percent of the enrollment of Stuyvesant
High School, less than 20 percent of Bronx High School of Science, and
only one-third of the population of Brooklyn Technical High School.
The creation of these new specialized high schools cannot be used to
distract us from the very serious questions we need to ask about the
Specialized High School Exam.
How is it that a test could
create schools in which the enrollment is so different from the
general population of New York City?
How do we explain that
students from private, parochial, and only three public school
districts account for more than half the students admitted to
Stuyvesant High School and the Bronx High School of Science, according
to a 1997 report from the Association of Community Organizations for
Reform Now, or ACORN? And why haven't the city's Math Science
Institute programs yielded any notable results in getting more black
and Latino students admitted to these schools? (In fact, it appears
that the black and Latino population has decreased since the creation
of the MSI.)
Have any studies been done
to assess whether or not these exams are accurate and represent the
only way to determine which students will be successful in these new
We have found that hundreds
of black and Latino students, most whom did not qualify for Stuyvesant
High School or the Bronx High School of Science, excelled in the
extremely competitive environment of private college- prep schools in
New York and throughout the Northeast.
Lynne Harwell Algrant
The Albert G. Oliver Program
New York, N.Y.
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