Culture-changing reform

Los Angeles Superintendent Roy Romer, the former governor of Colorado, is a radical, writes George Will.

The school district’s dramatic improvement in elementary school scores is the result of a rigorous curriculum featuring instruction in phonics. Plus what Romer calls “really trained teachers — trained after they leave school,” trained especially in how to teach reading. Plus teaching coaches in classrooms. Plus — Romer calls this “the real culture-changer” — diagnostic measurement. Tests developed by the Educational Testing Service to serve as models for other school systems return results in 24 hours, revealing what homework is needed and shaping classroom instruction for each child during the subsequent 10 weeks.

To those who criticize “teaching to the test,” Romer responds: That is what flight schools do. Because we take flying seriously. He likens testing throughout the school year to what many football teams now do by studying photos during the game, when diagnosis is immediately useful.

Romer, whose reformist agenda has a Rumsfeldean breadth, believes the six-hour school day is too short. So is the 180-day (163 for 300,000 Los Angeles students) school year. In Japan and Europe the school year is 60 days longer. And Romer thinks it is unwise to base teachers’ pay on length of service plus post-B.A. credentials rather than on students’ cognitive accomplishments plus peer review by other teachers.

Most contemporary policy arguments — how many foreign interventions are too many or how much deficit is too much — are questions of prudence. The education of poor children is a question of justice.

Via Number 2 Pencil.

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  1. Wacky Hermit says:

    When I read this, I wondered why 300,000 Los Angeles students had only a 163-day school year. Why is that?

  2. Please, oh please, make this guy Secretary of Education, or Education Czar. It’s amazing how such a list of commen sense notions can change a school system for the better. I afraid that in wacky LA he’ll probably be fired for setting standards to high and ruining the failing students self-esteem.

  3. Mike McKeown says:

    Schools improve and students learn more based on what happens in the classroom. Everything else is only important as it leads to good practices in classrooms.

    The key to improving LA schools and student performance has not been rearranging the deck chairs for administrators, it has been radically rearranging the curriculum.

    The addition of systematic, explicit phonics instruction, the deletion of the worst of Whole Language, the addition of direct instruction math programs linked to the clear learning goals of the state standards, and the deletion of discovery learning math not linked to much of anything have been the key changes improving performance.

  4. aschoolyardblogger says:

    Please note the statement “deletion of discovery learning math not linked to much of anything” in the last comment. Roy Romer does not ignore deep conceptual reading or math instruction, just haphazard practice. In Colorado, where the Interactive Mathematics Program functioned with a very high level of teaching proficiency and standards, he sat in the classrooms, spoke with students and teachers, wrote a letter of sincere gratitude and then used the teachers as monthly counsel while governor of the state. The man is a thinker, learner and problem solver and not opposed to getting out a taking a long slow look.

  5. We need to clone him. Put one in every school district office.

  6. The 163 day school year is based on a three track year-round calendar referred to as Concept-6. You can view at
    The con-6 day is also longer by about 20 min.