Thursday, March 01, 2007

Code Words

Hard recovery for failed US schools

The Christian Science monitor has an article up on schools that have to go under administration for failing AYP. One of the examples they use is Sobrante Park Elementary School in Oakland Unified School District. The conclusion is that one reform doesn't work. Successfully transformation of schools has to include several reforms including changing the staff, revamping the curriculum, and other revisions.

They cited Sobrante Park as one school that was able to completely transform itself. Of course in the article, they never do tell us exactly how they managed to make the transformation, but they did give one hint.

The teachers adopted a more scripted and uniform curriculum, making it easier for them to collaborate and for the principal to evaluate them.

Sounds suspiciously like they adopted direct instruction.

The results: The school kicked ass in almost every grade, scoring above average compared to the state scores, despite being predominantly poor and minority.

You think all these media organizations would start to notice the trend.


Jane said...


I found you from another blog and followed your comment trail! This is some interesting info you post!

I teach for LAUSD. We are one of the poorest school in the district of 600 elementary schools. We have made tremendous gains with scripted DI. However, everything has a price.

Yes we are doing significantly better on our state tests. But, we have cut out almost entirely PE, Music, SS, and science because the scripted curriculum takes almost all day to get through.

If it is not a tested subject it takes a back seat. Of course class parties are out, school plays are gone, most field trips are gone too. We get one a year- AFTER testing. We just brought back art for the first time in maybe ten years. It is like turning on a light bulb! My students just thrive for this one hour a week. A subject with some creativity!

We don't have time to read chapter books and they aren't in the program at all. That is no chapter books at all in even grades 4 & 5! Sure I have a classroom library and kids are encourgaged (forced) to take home books, chapter books, every night, but most don't read them at home. So, this year I have put some of the DI aside to give my students the experience of sticking with a chapter book.

I worry that we are sucking the joy out of children's education. Will that impact graduation rates down the road? Who will ever know?

Parentalcation said...

I suspect your school is implimenting Direct Instruction poorly. I checked out the website for Direct Instruction, and there are several "chapter books" series that are available with the DI curriculum in 4th and 5th grade.

I also suspect that its your school administration that is responsible for the cutting out of music, PE, science, etc...

Direct Instruction School models provide plenty of opportunities these subjects.

Having said that, in the long run, having students who can read and who are successful at math is probably more important in the long run that the extra-curricular activities.

Parentalcation said...

By the way... I just checked out your blog and your school and class seems to have plenty of art and music activities.

And I count at least two field trips you have taken in the last two months... per your blog.

By the way... I grew up in Los Angeles and was totally into reggae and ska. I have been to the King King club several times for gigs.

Jane said...

Hi again,

Not sure what field trips you think we took. I have been on several field trips with my graduate class, but not with my 4th grade class.
My husband and I took last year's class out to dinner on our time and dime. My husband and I took my class to Venice Beach to the Nike B-Ball clinic on a Sat. in July (totally off the clock) and the Black History Museum came to our school.

The Jazz concert comes to our school every other year. My husband made every teacher a CD of 100 Years of Black music for Black History. Other than that, there is only orchestra for about 20 students in the whole school (600+students.)

You are right, we now do have enough art. For the first time in nearly 10 years we have an arts grant and have an art teacher.

You are also right about my administration putting the pinch on PE, SS, and Science. This may be more of a backlash from NCLB. In other words, since those subjects aren't tested they get the back seat. This is to protect her job. Principals get moved if their schools get PI status for too long. Not exactly against that. It makes sense in a way. However, does add to the already intense pressure associated with these tests.

As for our DI program our district adopted Open Court district wide. No chapter books unless we sneak them in. That is my biggest complaint about that program. I like the district wide adoption because I tend to get about 5 new kids coming in and out of the class each year. This way they are all versed in the program.

There is no magic bullet in education. DI works, but so did other things when those other things were in vouge. When whole language was the rage we were given all kinds of research to prove that it worked. The constructivists have their studies and data too. DI does work (especially w/ my population) but there is room for other things too. It's all very political. Some of the biggest benefactors of DI are the textbook companies. Each child in my room gets 5 consumable workbooks a year. In a district of 72,000 students that's a lot of mula.

Parentalcation said...

My apologies about the field trip thing... by the way you have a very interesting blog. I love the crayon theme.

I believe Open Court is a watered down version of Direct Instruction to make it a little more appealing to teachers and schools... as I understand it, it isn't quite effective as Direct Instruction.

Actually whole language never worked, neither did "fuzzy math". You may have been given documents that called themselves "research", but that doesn't mean it actually was research.

1. The largest education study ever showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that Direct Instruction was the most effective method of teaching.

2. There are plenty of schools out there that use Direct Instruction that successfully raise the achievement of low SES kids to that of middle class students.

3. I have never seen one single example of a constructivist school that has raised the performance of low SES students to that of middle class kids. (If I am wrong, please point it out to me).

I totally understand your issue with there being no chapter books, but I still suspect its an implementation issue, not a pedagogy issue.

Question: Would your 4th grade students be capable of reading chapter books if it wasn't for your direct instruction (notice small letters) curriculum?

The biggest benefactor of any curriculum is the textbook companies. I also suspect they make a lot more money off of ineffective text books than they do off of direct instruction text books, considering that school districts are so reluctant to adopt direct instruction.

I understand that school districts are reacting poorly to NCLB, I also understand that NCLB is poorly written, but I maintain that it is better than what we had before.

Eventually, through trial and error more and more schools will wake up and stop trying to beat the system by "teaching to the test".

I really do respect teachers, and I am sure that you are a caring teacher, but education is a service. At the end of the day, I am concerned more about whether my kids are getting the most bang for their buck when they spend 6 hours at school, than whether a teacher is personally satisfied because he (or she) got a warm fuzzy by creating their own "innovative" way of presenting social studies or science.

I don't personally hold teachers responsible for the failings of schools, except as far as they support the system that institutionalizes the failings.

R. Earl Wizemann said...

The point you (parentalcation) seem to be missing in your scipted curriculum advocacy, is that test scores are ambiguous at best when it comes to measuring what kids know and don't know. What they tell us is that the bare minimum (of what?) has been achieved and we are one step closer to epistemic sameness.

rightwingprof said...

"When whole language was the rage we were given all kinds of research to prove that it worked. "

Well no, only badly flawed research.

"The point you (parentalcation) seem to be missing in your scipted curriculum advocacy, is that test scores are ambiguous at best when it comes to measuring what kids know and don't know."

One of these days, I'd love to see some proof of this rather silly statement. From what we have to deal with at the university (that would be the products of schools), tests over-estimate, if anything.