In the coming days you’re going to learn about the biggest development in reading instruction that won’t make the front pages of any national newspaper. But it should. Here’s the biggie: Core Knowledge, possibly the least appreciated of all the successful school reform efforts, is about to roll out a new reading instruction program.
Wait, you’re thinking, don’t students in CK schools already do well in reading? Well, yes, but that’s not the real point here. You see, Core Knowledge never had a separate reading program. Never knew that? Neither did I. The CK folks just relied on their deep-drip strategy of immersing students in real learning, knowing that reading comprehension, regardless of how reading skills were taught, would emerge. That worked pretty well, but now CK is getting more serious about targeting reading skills, and that’s a good thing.
On reading, I’m with Sol Stern here on the need to declare a Marshall Plan reading emergency. I’m most familiar with the boy-reading stats, so indulge me for a moment here: 54% of black male 4th graders scored below basic on reading on the 2007 NAEP. And don’t think this is a race thing: Among white male high school seniors with at least one parent who graduated from college, one in four score below basic in reading. That stat borders on breathtaking.
Naturally, Congress has stepped into this national crisis by cancelling the only federally sponsored reading program, Reading First, that targeted poor readers. You know, Reid Lyon, the controversial idea-guy behind Reading First, reminds me of Ronald Reagan. Sure, he was flawed, but he got a few big things right. And the biggest thing he got right was that tens of thousands of poor black boys were being sent to special ed not because they had reading disabilities but rather because schools failed to teach them to read. Soon, they dropped out of school and contributed to social disorder, thus presenting a public health crisis warranting NIH involvement. What has changed since that NIH assessment? Nothing.
The Democrats who feel righteous about scuttling Reading First need a gut check. Instead of dumping that extra money into the laps of school districts that have a dubious track record of handling reading instruction, perhaps it’s time to create a new National Reading Panel, which could review the previous findings and recommend adjustments. Ok, pigs will fly first, but I had to get that off my chest.
Which brings me back to the good folks at Core Knowledge. Here’s an outfit that might come up with something sensible, combining all the science of phonics with teaching children real stuff to apply to reading skills so that comprehension grows as well. CK just completed a year-long pilot of the kindergarten materials, which ran in more than 40 classrooms in the 2007-08 school year. Over the next three years, CK will field test a K-2 reading program that will include rigorous evaluation.
My (former) friends at Core Knowledge won’t be happy with me for revealing all this, but with a new school year about to launch, isn’t it a bit scary that educators still haven’t figured out reading instruction?
–Guestblogger Richard Whitmire