In a story on the clash between phonics-pushing feds and whole-languaged-happy locals, the New York Times lauds a Madison, Wisconsin reading program that’s allegedly raised scores dramatically for black students.
Surrounded by five first graders learning to read at Hawthorne Elementary here, Stacey Hodiewicz listened as one boy struggled over a word.
â€œPumpkin,â€ ventured the boy, Parker Kuehni.
â€œLook at the word,â€ the teacher suggested. Using a method known as whole language, she prompted him to consider the wordâ€™s size. â€œIs it long enough to be pumpkin?â€
Parker looked again. â€œPea,â€ he said, correctly.
Call it the $2 million reading lesson.
By sticking to its teaching approach, that is the amount Madison passed up under Reading First, the Bush administrationâ€™s ambitious effort to turn the nationâ€™s poor children into skilled readers by the third grade.
In part one of his response, Ken DeRosa of D-Ed Reckoning provides a reading passage altered to force readers to guess the meaning from context. Struggling this way does not inspire love of reading.
In part two, DeRosa analyzes the statistics to argue Madison students aren’t doing better in reading compared to other Wisconsin students; if anything, they’ve slipped a bit. Because the state reading test was made easier and the cut score for proficiency was lowered, all Wisconsin students look better. However, there was no progress in fourth-grade reading on the federal NAEP test.
With help from Rory of Parentalcation, who’s great at finding data, Ken shows that claims of fantastic progress by black students are illusory. Their scores improved on the easier test at a slightly slower rate than white students. It looks like to me as though blacks nearly caught up in basic skills but remain far behind at the proficient and advanced level. Perhaps someone who knows more statistics than I do — lots of you do — can find flaws in Ken’s analysis.
Language Log thinks Reading First is pushing programs because they’re proven effective, not because they’re sold by cronies.
Update: Here’s more on why Madison rejected federal funds.