Promising Results Found With Core Knowledge Reading Method

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A new way of teaching reading that has been tested on about 1,000 city schoolchildren has shown promising results, Anna M. Phillips reports in The New York Times this Monday morning.

You can also listen to the radio report by WNYC's Beth Fertig:


Children at 10 schools who were taught reading using a curriculum designed by the education theorist E.D. Hirsch Jr.’s Core Knowledge Foundation have significantly outperformed students taught at other schools under a variety of other methods, most of which fell under the definition of “balanced literacy,” an approach that was promoted citywide by the former schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, beginning in 2003.

In a news conference scheduled for Monday, Core Knowledge officials will announce that second graders who were taught using their method scored significantly higher on reading comprehension tests than those in the other schools, and also showed big gains in social studies and science knowledge.

The study found that for each of the three years, students in the Core Knowledge program had greater one-year gains on a brief reading test than their peers in the comparison schools. The difference was most pronounced in kindergarten, when the scores of children following Dr. Hirsch’s method showed increases that were five times those of their peers. By the third year, they were still posting higher scores, but the differences were not as wide. Between the fall and spring of last year, their scores rose 2.5 scale score points, compared with an average gain of 0.9 points in the comparison group. The scale score is based on the number of questions answered correctly, combined with the degree of difficulty of those questions.

On the TerraNova standardized tests on social studies and science, the Core Knowledge students outperformed the comparison group, but on a test of oral reading comprehension and vocabulary their scores were not significantly different.

Some proponents of the balanced literacy method, which encourages children to develop a love of reading by choosing books that are of interest to them, said the study was too small to draw meaningful conclusions.

“I think it’s a very problematic study,” said Lucy Calkins, a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College and an architect of the city’s balanced literacy program.

“As far as I can tell, they gave resources to 10 schools to support content literacy and then they tested all of the schools on content literacy,” she said, adding that there was no way of knowing with what fidelity the 10 comparison schools were using a form of balanced literacy.

But city officials seem intrigued.

“This data shows a promising option for principals to consider,” said Josh Thomases, the deputy chief academic officer for the city’s Education Department.

He said the new curriculum could be useful in helping achieve the new learning targets, known as the Common Core, that New York and most other states have adopted. “As we align curricula and materials with the new Common Core Standards, we look forward to working with this group and others toward a higher standard,” he said.

On Friday, city education officials took steps to fire the principal of the Theatre Arts Production Company School in the Bronx after a devastating report by the city's Education Department found that she had created a system there in which only 3 percent of the grades issued were failing.

The Times and other news organizations reported that under Lynn Passarella, the principal who was removed from the school, teachers "were instructed to fail only students who did not attend classes, or to give students incompletes instead of failing grades for missed work, the report said. Ms. Passarella herself, it said, erased the record of absences of some students who missed class."

Officials found patterns of erasures and lenient scoring on state Regents exams in 2010 -- so much so that after reviewing the tests, city education officials changed "score status from passing to failing on 84 percent of the school’s living environment exams, 65 percent of the global history exams and 50 percent of the algebra exams. But no students’ diplomas were revoked as a result. That year, 94 percent of the school's seniors graduated on time, more than 30 percentage points higher than the citywide rate."

“After reviewing our thorough investigation of Ms. Passarella, I have decided to remove her as principal and seek an immediate end to her employment,” Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott said in a statement. “The behavior uncovered in this report is dishonest and disgraceful, and shows a blatant disregard for principal responsibilities.”

The school has about 600 students in grades 6 through 12.

But the school, known as Tapco, appears to be hardly alone in lowering the bar for students' passing and graduation. Last month the city released the results of an audit of 60 high schools that found similar problems at 55 schools.

The Associated Press is reporting on Monday that the State Legislature will submit budget resolutions on Monday that will attempt to shift $200 million from a proposed schools incentive program back to traditional school aid. The $200 million is part of a $250 million allocation recommended by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for competitive grants to schools that show improved instruction or innovation.

NY1 reported that state officials have reversed themselves on a decision to close all three schools in the Believe charter network. Instead, the news organization reports, "the state has now decided that one of the schools, Believe Northside, should get a second chance. Despite repeated requests, state officials would not provide NY1 with specifics on why the closure decision was reversed."

And Gotham Schools reported on Friday that principals of many of the schools proposed for "turnaround" -- complete overhauls -- this summer "have begun trekking each Tuesday to the Department of Education’s headquarters at Tweed Courthouse to prepare."

Gotham Schools' Rise & Shine morning post has a more complete roundup of what's been in the news about education this weekend and Monday morning.

Here's some of what's coming up on Monday:

A planned news conference by the Charter School Center to release a trove of data on the city's charter schools was postponed. Officials said the center was "still verifying the data."

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was scheduled to speak at 8:10 a.m. at the National Leadership Summit on School-Justice Partnerships at The Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan.

At 4:15 p.m., about 100 principals from around the state are expected to meet at Southside High School in Rockville Centre, N.Y., to pose for a photo that will be part of an advertisement targeting the State Legislature to get it to change features of the new state teacher evaluation system. The school, whose principal is Carol Burris, has become ground zero for the push back by principals against the evaluation system. So far, more than 1,400 principals from around the state have signed a petition protesting the new system. The group is passing the hat to pay for the ad.

And at 6 p.m., the Brooklyn borough president, Marty Markowitz, will host a forum on the proposed turnarounds of 33 city schools for parents, teachers and principals at Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon Street. Elaine Gorman, executive director in charge of school turnarounds for the city Department of Education, is expected to attend the forum, titled "What Will Happen to Schools in Turnaround?"