New York

Challenges in assessing the effectiveness of the Core Knowledge Reading Program

Yesterday, Michael Shaughnessy of EdNews interviewed Dr. Matthew Davis, who is leading the implementation of the Core Knowledge Reading Program pilot in New York City. Much of the interview covers basics of the program which we've discussed here already, including the two-strand approach to teaching reading and comprehension and the body of research supporting this method. What the interview highlighted for me are the contradictions of researching a program while trying to decide whether to continue using it, especially when real children are the subjects. Davis says that the pilot will begin this year in kindergarten classes at 10 high-needs schools, then add grade 1 next year and grade 2 in 2010-11. But the continuation of the pilot "will be contingent on success in year one and a continuation of funding," he says. Sounds fair: a program should prove itself before people (in this case, the Fund for Public Schools) invest further. Davis describes the plan for assessing the program: Within the next several weeks, students in both sets of schools will be administered nationally standardized reading assessments in order to establish a baseline performance. These same tests will be administered again at the end of the kindergarten. In addition, there will be formal observation of all teachers in the pilot classrooms to ascertain any possible correlation between the level of implementation of the Core Knowledge program and the level of student achievement. In addition, specific case studies will be conducted by the NYCDOE in three pilot schools to provide additional qualitative information. As far as the test are concerned, we hope to see a significant difference in word attack, word reading, decoding skills, and spelling by the end of the kindergarten year -- because the program has what we think is a very strong way of teaching the mechanics of reading. Background knowledge and vocabulary take a bit longer to build, and gains don't start to show up on some tests until later, but, by the end of the three-year period, we hope to see the front end of what we think will eventually be a very significant difference in vocabulary, oral comprehension, and reading comprehension. So although the survival of the program may rest on a single year's results, the promised impact of the program — increased vocabulary and content knowledge — may take three years to show up. At least three years:
New York

Crikey! NYC school reforms taking hold Down Under

Julia Gillard with Australian students Courtesy of ##http://www.theage.com.au/##The Age## It's no secret that Michelle Rhee, down in Washington, D.C., is faithfully replicating New York City's recent school reforms. But it might be more of a surprise that some of Joel Klein's ideas have gained traction with leading education officials in the land down under. After a trip to New York earlier this year, Julia Gillard, the deputy prime minister tasked with carrying out the Australian Labor Party's promised "education revolution," returned home sold on Klein-style school reform. She told the Australian Council for Education Research conference last month: We can learn from Klein's methodology of comparing like-schools with like-schools and then measuring the differences in school results in order to spread best practice. Something Joel Klein is personally and passionately committed to is the identification of school need, the comparison of like-schools and the identification of best practice. Since that speech, when Gillard's ministry proposed ranking Australian schools publicly according to the methodology used to create the controversial report cards released last year for New York's schools, Gillard has sworn to restructure failing schools by removing school heads and firing teachers; proposed financial incentives to attract good teachers to weak schools; and promised more money to low-performing schools, although states that refuse to carry out the national reforms will have their funding withheld. Klein told the Australian, a newspaper, that he's pleasantly surprised by how quickly Gillard adopted his ideas. But school advocates in Australia aren't letting Klein-style reforms be implemented without question.
New York

How “the rich get richer” in reading for understanding

In response to yesterday's post about the Core Knowledge Reading Program, reader Smith asks, Is he saying their is a core set of content that would prepare a student to understand a randomly selected reading passage on a standardized test? Could someone explain this idea to a non-ELA teacher? I’ve always assumed those reading passages could range from “The Mysteries of Ancient Egpyt” to “Sally’s Bad Day at School” to “Roger’s Time Machine Adventure”. How is content selected? Great question. It's true that the content of test reading passages varies, and I don't think anyone believes that a child can be prepared with content knowledge specific to every possible topic. Rather, some children enter school knowing thousands more words than others, and this difference compounds over years of schooling in a "rich get richer" scenario called the "Matthew Effect" by researchers. (Don't take my word for it: this study, one of many, found that by age 3, children of parents with smaller vocabularies not only knew fewer words, used fewer words per hour, and used a smaller variety of words per hour, "but they were also adding words more slowly.") Hirsch summarized this effect in a 2006 article in American Educator: Many specialists estimate that a child (or an adult) needs to understand a minimum of 90 percent of the words in a passage in order to understand the passage and thus begin to learn the other 10 percent of the words. Moreover, it’s not just the words that the student has to grasp the meaning of—it’s also the kind of reality that the words are referring to.... When a child doesn’t understand those word meanings and those referred-to realities, being good at sounding out words is a dead end. Reading becomes a kind of Catch-22: In order to become better at reading with understanding, you already have to be able to read with understanding.