If it works, keep doing it

New York City wasted millions of dollars on bonuses for students and teachers with no effect on performance, writes Sol Stern in a New York Daily News op-ed.  Now a Core Knowledge reading program is succeeding in 10 Bronx and Queens elementary schools by teaching phonics and background knowledge to disadvantaged students. But there’s no guarantee the funding will be continued.

As chancellor of New York City schools, Joel Klein set up a comparison between the Core Knowledge pilot schools and similar schools using “balanced literacy.”

After the first year, Klein announced the early results: On a battery of reading tests, the kindergartners in the Core Knowledge program had achieved gains five times greater than those of students in the control group. The second-year study showed that the Core Knowledge kids made reading gains twice as great as those of students in the control group.

The third-year results will be released in the fall. If the gains continue, logic says the program should be extended. But logic doesn’t always prevail.

On the other hand, New York City’s Education Department has ended a three-year bonus program for teachers and administrators because a RAND study found it had no effect on students’ or schools’ performance.

‘We know how to teach black kids’

We know how to teach black kids — and other disadvantaged students — but we don’t do it, writes John McWhorter in The Root.

Starting in 1968, a huge federal study called Project Follow Through compared different methods of teaching at-risk K-3 children:  Direct Instruction (DI), a scripted phonics program using  repetition and student participation, worked much better than anything else for all students, but especially low-income black students.  DI has continued to work where ever it’s been used, McWhorter writes.

In 2001, students in the mostly black Richmond district in Virginia were scoring abysmally in reading. With a DI-style program, just four years later, three-quarters of black students passed the third-grade reading test. Meanwhile, over in wealthy Fairfax County, where DI was scorned, the minority of black students taking that test — despite ample funding — were passing it at the rate of merely 59 percent.

But DI defies the conventional wisdom of education schools, which “keep alive the canard that teaching poor kids to read is an elusive, complex affair requiring a peculiarly intense form of superhuman dedication and an ineffable brand of personal connection with young people,” McWhorter writes. “In a better America, schools that do not use DI to teach kids from poor households should be seen as vaguely criminal. People should point them out as they drive by them, like crack houses.”

What works for struggling readers

One-to-one tutoring by teachers is the most effective intervention for struggling readers, concludes a Johns Hopkins research analysis.

1. One-to-one tutoring works. Teachers are more effective as tutors than paraprofessionals or volunteers, and an emphasis on phonics greatly improves tutoring outcomes.

2. Although one-to-one phonetic tutoring for first graders is highly effective, effects last into the upper elementary grades only if classroom interventions continue past first grade.

3. Small group tutorials can be effective, but are not as effective as one-to-one instruction by teachers or paraprofessionals.

4. Classroom instructional process approaches, especially cooperative learning and structured phonetic models, have strong effects for low achievers (as well as other students).

5. Traditional computer-assisted instruction programs have little impact on reading.

The review lists reading programs with strong evidence of effectiveness; the list includes Success for All (developed at Johns Hopkins) and Direct Instruction.

Left behind

Mr. Kim, a Teach for America novice in Washington, D.C.,  tried to explain to JR that he needs to do much better to pass summer school and move on to 10th grade. Asked if he’d review for the final, he said “probably.” After all, he said, did George Bush pass a law about not leaving anyone behind?

We explained that NCLB was about schools and not individual students.

. . . JR didn’t buy it. He expressed his confusion: “Well then why do they still call it ‘No Student Left Behind’?”

We told him we didn’t know.

Mr. Kim also is trying to help LA, who never learned to sound out words phonetically.

He told me after our session that when he “reads” he looks at new words and compares them to the limited set of words he already knows and sees how they are similar.  Based on this familiarity analysis, he literally “guesses” what a word might mean.  He told me he never actually sounds out new words because he doesn’t know how to.  So, when he sees “America” he often says “Americans” since he is more familiar with the latter word and doesn’t actually “read out” the former.

These students were left behind years ago.

Teach for America teachers are finishing their summer training — four hours of sleep a night seems to be the standard — and heading to their teaching assignments. Here’s a link to their blogs.