Congress hates the most successful part of No Child Left Behind, writes Charlotte Allen in a Weekly Standard story on Reading First. She looks at a Richmond elementary school for low-income black students that’s shown dramatic gains in student achievement. With the help of Reading First funds, teachers start students with direct, systematic instruction in phonics.
The education establishment may sneer at the techniques (teacher Laverne) Johnson uses, but they are part of a small-scale miracle: Ginter Park, despite an unpromising location and a high-poverty-level student body, now ranks in the top third of more than 1,100 public elementary schools in the state of Virginia, holding its own against schools in the ultra-affluent, highly educated suburban counties of northern Virginia just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. Until only five years ago, Ginter Park … the second-worst-performing elementary school in the Richmond Public Schools district — which was itself the second-worst-performing school district in the state.
Deborah Jewell-Sherman, who took over as superintendent in 2002, standardized the reading curriculum.
Before that, every teacher had been free to pick his or her own reading materials and design his or her own curriculum. This led to widespread “hobby teaching,” as one Richmond teacher called it: Instructors left to their own devices would sometimes spend the entire school year working with their students on art and other projects that suited the teacher’s interests . . .
I wonder how common “hobby teaching” is.
Update: Shep Barbash suggests LA’s superintendent, a former admiral, hire a chief academic officer who understands the success of Reading First.
In California, the percentage of Reading First schools scoring at 600 or higher on the state’s Academic Performance Index â€” the dividing line between basic and below basic performance â€” has increased from 4% in 1999 (the year the state launched an initiative similar to Reading First) to 40% in 2002 (when Reading First began) to 93% in 2006. The achievement gap between Reading First and other schools on this benchmark has narrowed from 63% to 48% to 6% over that time.
Reading achievement at RF schools in LA is improving more rapidly than at other schools.