Children learn to read at Lapham Elementary, a K-2 school in Madison that relies on direct instruction in phonics. Black kids do particularly well compared to other schools that use a “balanced literacy” approach. Yet the successful school’s left after being denied a promotion, and the program is being changed.
Five years ago, in 1999, Lapham bucked the Madison district’s reliance on the Balanced Literacy reading program in favor of a grounding in explicit phonics for nearly all first-grade students. The results have been impressive. They have also been ignored.
Former Lapham principal Barbara Thompson often invited district administrators to visit, but they never seemed interested, she said last spring, before quitting to become superintendent of the New Glarus school district.
Lapham’s innovative approach has resulted in reading scores for Marquette Elementary third-graders that are virtually unsurpassed districtwide. (Lapham’s K-2 program is paired with Marquette’s 3-5 grades.) Scores for African American students particularly stand out.
In 1998, just 9% of Marquette black third-graders were considered “advanced” readers, as measured on the third-grade state reading comprehension test; by 2003, 38% were “advanced.” District-wide, only 9% of black children scored as “advanced” in 2003.
For Marquette’s low-income kids, the “advanced” figure was 32%, up from 19% from five years earlier. For all students combined, the school ranked a close second to Shorewood Elementary, with 52% scoring “advanced.” (See the chart on page 10 for school comparisons.)
Other Madison elementary schools use an expensive tutoring program called Reading Recovery for children who lag in reading. Lapham teaches them to read well in the first place. In Madison, one third of black students are referred for special education. Lapham teachers think few of these children are disabled. They just need better reading instruction.
Via Education News.