Restoring Public Education Academic System

Restoring Public Education's Academic Mission

• High Expectations

• Academic Standards
• Proven Methodologies and Curriculums

By Donna Watson
Education Policy Analyst
Arkansas Policy Foundation

If there is an antidote to the dumbing down of our children, it is to be found in the many schools that work. In virtually every community in the country, there are schools that break the mold of educational mediocrity, succeeding—often against great odds—in producing literate, confident, capable students. Some of these schools are found in affluent suburbs, some in impoverished inner city neighborhoods; some are private, while others are public schools; some are predominantly white, while others have largely minority student bodies. These educational success stories are not distinguished by their funding, their status, or their religious affiliations, but rather by certain qualities and commitments they share in common.

Charles J. Sykes
Dumbing Down Our Kids

The truth is that all children can learn when challenged by high expectations, rigorous academic .standards and proven programs. If “all children, not just the privileged, are taught in ways that emphasize hard work, the learning of facts, and rigorous testing, their enthusiasm for school will grow, their test scores will rise, and they will become successful citizens.”

E.D. Hirsch, Jr
The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them

The information in this report is offered to the public freely for educational purposes only and is in no way intended to influence legislation.



* Karen Henry
Jackson T. “Steve” Stephens, Jr.
Martha Adcock
Tim Brooker, Ph.D.
Senator John Brown
Kin Bush
Ronnie Cameron
Ann Die, Ph.D.
Jeanne Earl
Tom Easterly
Scott Ford
Ronn Hy, Ph.D.
Senator Peggy Jeffries
Bob Jolly
Marilyn Latin
Greg Nabholz
Kaye Ratchford
Lisenne Rockefeller
Senator Stanley Russ
Dub Snider
Sister Deborah Troillett
Gary Wekkin, Ph.D.
Harold “Wit” Witman

Governor’s Liaisons:

Margaret Gammill
Chris Pyle

Murphy Commission Staff.,

Donna Watson
Mike Watson
Chris Carnahan

*This study is dedicated to Karen L. Henry (10/23/51-9/16/98), 1 Arkansas Policy Foundation board member & Murphy Commission Education Team co-chair.

She was a passionate crusader for education reform.

Karen will be dearly missed.

A Special Dedication to Karen L. Henry

by Donna Watson
Education Policy Analyst
Arkansas Policy Foundation

Karen Henry, Arkansas Policy Foundation board member and Murphy Commission Education Team co-chairman, was a dedicated crusader for education reform, most especially in the area of improving academic achievement for the children of Arkansas. Karen was very knowledgeable in methodologies of teaching reading having a Masters of Education with a specialization in reading skills and learning disabilities. She was a former elementary school teacher and was invaluable to the subcommittee that studied expectations, standards, and methodologies/curriculums. In fact, this report would not have been completed if it wasn’t for Karen Henry.

Together Karen and I researched improving academics by visiting reading programs, talking with university professors and elementary teachers, reading as much on the subject as possible while gathering much needed data, visiting elementary schools, attending the Education Leaders Council national conferences (Karen in 1997 and myself in 1998)—which provided us unlimited national resources on the subject. Karen personally talked with reading specialists in California and around the country; she also worked closely with Leslye Arscht of Standards Works for the review of the Arkansas Curriculum Frameworks in English and Language Arts. Karen was so dedicated to this project that just recently, although terminally ill at the time, she apologized profusely for letting me down on the writing of this report.

Additionally, last fall Karen volunteered at a Little Rock junior high school to tutor a seventh grader in reading. There were quite a number of students in the school who had been socially promoted year after year, though they were not able to read. As a final attempt to teach these students reading, volunteers were recruited to teach them using the Ramona Spalding method, a phonics-based program.

Karen’s passion for the utilization of explicit, systematic phonics during the early grades goes back twenty years when she was a graduate student at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Her professor, an avid whole-language proponent, almost denied Karen her masters degree because of their differences in education philosophies/methodologies. In the end, the dean of the education school intervened, and Karen was awarded the degree. The professor is still teaching today, preparing teachers in a questionable methodology. As a result, a generation of Arkansas teachers have been trained in whole language, and a generation of students have been denied the reading skills they so desperately need. It is evident in their test scores today.

Karen was invaluable to me personally in the preparation of this paper and to the education team as a whole during its process of looking at the K-12 public education system in Arkansas. We will continue to fight for excellence in education for the children of the state. Karen will be dearly missed both as a colleague and a friend.

Introduction and Summary

Restoring Public Education’s Academic Mission

by Michael Watson

President, Arkansas Policy Foundation

E.D. Hirsch, Jr. in his book, The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them, developed a written “pledge” every public school should provide every parent. It represents an ideal expression of the commitment to academic performance and the style of operation to which all schools should subscribe in assuring parents their children will excel academically:

All teachers at our school have not only pedagogical training but also a detailed knowledge of the subject matter that they teach. We instill in all children an ethic of toleration, civility, orderliness, responsibility, and hard work. Our staff has agreed on a definite core of knowledge and skill that all children will attain in each grade. We make sure that every child learns this core, and gains the specific knowledge and skill needed to prosper at the next grade level, thus enabling knowledge to build upon knowledge. Our teachers continually confer with their colleagues about effective ways of stimulating children to learn and integrate this specific knowledge and skill. The specificity of our goals enables us to monitor children, and give focused attention where necessary. To this end, we provide parents with a detailed outline of the specific knowledge and skill goals for each grade, and we stay in constant touch with them regarding the child’s progress. Through this knowledge-based approach, we make sure that all normal children perform at grade level, while, in addition, the most talented children are challenged to excel. Attaining this specific and well-integrated knowledge and skill gives our students pleasure in learning, as well as self-respect, and in ensures that they will enter the next grade ready and eager to learn more.

For most public schools in Arkansas, the ideal embodied in Hirsch’s “pledge” is destined to remain distant unless dramatic changes occur in our public education system. Some of that change has to begin with two critical issues that, left unresolved, will severely impair Arkansas’ ability to raise its academic performance from substandard to world-class. They are the focus of the report that follows and are summarized below:

1. Arkansas’ state academic standards are among some the weakest in the nation; unclear, vague, and rooted in progressivism, constructivism, revisionism, multi-culturalism, relativism, and a pot full of “feel good ‘I language. There is little “knowledge-based content” expressed in them (substance), but there is a noticeable amount of education lingo and process (form). Form over substance also means these standards are essentially unquantifiable. Adopt standards that can’t measure results-and it is likely few results will be worth measuring. It is a theorem Arkansas has proven in recent years, and a lesson we’ve yet to learn.

The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, an independent private foundation devoted to research on public education, recently ranked all states having K-12 academic standards and awarded Arkansas and eight other states all Fs. If evidence is needed of their inadequacy in our own state all one has to do is look at the results they have generated. By every common measure of student achievement Arkansas remains at or near the bottom when compared with other states on universally accepted academic performance tests (NAEP, ACT, SAT9). And sadly, the U.S., has ranked behind many of the 40 or so nations against which we compete on the TIMSS-the test President Clinton described as reflecting “the world class standards our children must meet”.

The perception that Arkansas may be near the bottom of a very deep academic well is disturbing given ongoing efforts to both attract business to the state and prepare our own public school children to thrive in a competitive and technologically driven world market. Both goals-economic development and academic achievement- are clearly in jeopardy at the moment due to the state’s prolonged low academic performance in its schools.

All of this means it’s long past time for Arkansas to follow the lead of states that have thrown out poor standards replacing them with some of the most rigorous and academically challenging standards in the country today-Virginia, California, Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, to name a few.

E.D. Hirsch reinforces the need for high academic standards in the following statement from The Schools We Need.

Schools need to have a coherent, cumulative, core curriculum which … gives students step-by-step mastery of procedural knowledge in language arts and mathematics. which gives them step-by step mastery of content knowledge in civics, science, the arts, and the humanities; and which holds students, teachers, schools, and parents accountable for acceptable progress in achieving these year by year goals.

Standards can-and should-specifically spell out the content to be learned under a knowledge-based curriculum (an approach desperately needed in Arkansas). They serve to provide the “outline of knowledge” Hirsch calls for in his pledge and form the basis for measuring academic performance under an accountability system. In Arkansas, our standards are essentially “non-academic”; there is generally no core of knowledge curriculum based on facts, events, and procedures as defined by Hirsch … and accountability is practically non-existent.

2. Many Arkansas educators are wedded to teaching methodologies and curriculums that simply do not work. While these programs are “educationally in vogue” representing, as they do, the “politically correct” social, cultural, and political agendas of the day, they are academically weak.

For example, a number of other states have seen through the sham of “whole language” as the primary teaching methodology for reading in the early grades, they have categorically rejected “fuzzy” or constructivist math, and they are questioning costly intervention programs such as the labor intensive Reading Recovery program. In the meantime, Arkansas’ schools remain awash in these faddish but demonstrably ineffective programs. Education officials at the state’s Department of Education, and throughout the system, who continue aggressively advocating and entrenching them are, in many cases, the same officials who initially adopted them thereby guaranteeing the current performance crisis in our schools. Again, Arkansas’ academic test scores offer the irrefutable evidence that after years of use, these program fail to achieve adequate results.

Hirsch understands that underlying the devotion to such programs is an education theory he calls the “tools metaphor” and which he addresses in his book:

American educational theory has held that the child needs to be given the all-purpose tools that are needed for him or her to continue learning and adapting. The particular content used to develop those tools need not be specified The claim that all purpose intellectual competencies are independent of the matter out of which they are formed, if it corresponded to reality, would be indeed an attractive educational idea For conveniently, in that case, it wouldn’t matter greatly what particular things a child learned The chief aims of education would simply be to assure that children acquired “love of learning” and gained “critical thinking” techniques for acquiring and using whatever they would need later. But when this tool metaphor has been taken apart and examined for literal content, it’s highly exaggerated claims have been powerfully contradicted by research, and after six decades, it has shown itself to be ineffective.

The tool metaphor, with its encouragement of an indifference to specific knowledge, has resulted in social consequences of tragic proportions. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that the broad sway of this theoretical mistake has all but nullified the bright promise of school integration and the civil rights movement.

Hirsch acknowledges that encouraging students to think and use logic and reason is important, but says it works best when students are first taught the basic academic skills they can use as the basis for their thinking and reasoning. He sees an abandonment of emphasis on properly teaching basic skills and an undue emphasis on “learning tools”. He further argues that when the use of learning tools in the classroom becomes the primary focus of teachers, with academic content relegated to a lesser-or even non-existent-status, it is a prescription for academic decline and failure. Arkansas is a textbook case history.

In 1987, then Governor Clinton sponsored the state’s first “tools based” conference on “restructuring for higher-order learning. ” It was an event that gave momentum to Arkansas’ embracing what has turned into one of the most destructive movements in the history of public education. And when linked to other ideas advanced by education progressives, ideas such as Outcomes Based Education (OBE) and cultural relativism, it evolved into a phil6sophy that has effectively deprived many of our children of academic substance in their K- 12 education. All the outcomes of this movement, cited by Hirsch in his quote above, are the reality in Arkansas now-from the tragic social consequences in the general depression of academics across the state, to Little Rock’s poorly performing schools with their own lost promise of integration hard won on the steps of Central High.

That noble fight was about any individual’s “civil right” to choose better schools-regardless of race-so that educational opportunity would be not only equal, but enhanced. Who could have predicted our public education system would become so monopolistic and so academically diminished that neither goal-“equal” or “enhanced”-would be realized? Today, young African Americans are assigned to government schools-without any choice in the matter-whether or not those schools are safe or academically performing. And when they’re not performing, as is often the case, these young people are literally deprived of their right to a better education-and thus to a better future.

Our inability to lift our schools out of academic lethargy-and provide children options when schools fail to perform-has led to a defacto racial segregation in Little Rock based on means. And African American students today, trapped in bad schools, ironically find the very system intended to break the bonds of their social oppression and pave the way for their economic and civil success still, tragically, holds them back. The effect of this is not just their lost opportunity; it is a blight on a nation that rejects racism and discrimination and professes to believe in equality and personal liberty.

And yet even today, the ideas that have caused this intolerable situation in our schools-permeate virtually every aspect of education in Arkansas. Tools terminology is rampant in our standards and constantly articulated-in lofty terms-by teachers, counselors, curriculum specialists, and administrators. Today, the “tools” movement is thriving in Arkansas’ classrooms and in our teacher colleges where it is taught as if it were gospel. And anyone who challenges the concept is castigated by educationists as profoundly “out of touch” and often labeled a “kook” for even daring to question. In the meantime, Arkansas’ children remain deprived of a level of excellence the “public” system should provide them.

What does all this mean to the Governor’s Smart Start program?

Several immediate flaws are apparent.

1. The Governor relied on some of the same educators who gave Arkansas its current academic slump to design his new program. Many of them are devotees of the “tools movement” and their continued commitment to it seems certain.

2. A look at the programs embodied by Smart Start shows an adherence to those methodologies and curriculums that “simply do not work”. They contain more whole language reading, more Reading Recovery, and more fuzzy math-all repackaged with a new look, and inevitably destined to cost more money in “special training” and require many more new teachers. This second flaw is a consequence of the first flaw. Turn to the people who created the problem in the first place, and it is likely they will offer more problems rather than new solutions.

3. The evidence is overwhelming that children should be on grade level performance not by the fourth grade as Smart Start calls for, but by the first or second grade. The head of Georgia’s public schools, Linda Shrenko, and a growing number of her colleagues in other states, have realized this and acted accordingly. E.D. Hirsch confirms it when he says “the achievement of this single, attainable goal-every child reading at grade level by the end of first or second grade-would do more than any other single reform to improve the quality and equality of American schooling.” He’s right, by the fourth grade some children are likely to be irretrievably behind the academic curve-and motivationally impaired to perform for the balance of their years. Costly “intervention” will be proposed to catch them up when “prevention” should have been the goal. And the risk of losing some of them forever is heartbreaking.

4. Linking Smart Start to some of the weakest academic standards in the country is senseless. It is could be a death sentence for Smart Start. If enhanced performance is the goal, achieving it will require replacing weak standards with performance-based standards that are clear, understandable, and measurable. Smart Start is the kind of education reform that demands high expectations rooted in core academics. Failure to ground the program in these ideas puts it behind the curve before it is even implemented. And the ultimate outcome could easily be more than a Governor with egg on his face over yet another failed education “fix”; it could be a governor whose education legacy is likely to be another generation of Arkansas children lost to our own lack of political will to confront and challenge the system’s status quo.

Unfortunately, because Arkansas’ current weak standards reflect ideologies and language that appeal to the mindset of the education establishment, there is widespread reluctance to abandon them and craft tougher standards. Accordingly, the Governor should order the development of new state standards and bring in many independent evaluators-not just those suggested by his education officials-to assure it is done correctly. There is too much at stake in his very worthy program-and in our state’s future-to let this issue of standards pass without effective resolution.

While Smart Start is on target conceptually (back to basics in reading and math in the early grades has long been needed in our state) there are lessons already being learned that could improve the state’s chances to affect an Arkansas turnaround in public education.

  • Don’t rely on an unbending “status quo” education establishment to substantively change the status quo; do count on them to offer new programs, often costly and requiring more people, that appear to be change on the surface-but, in substance, are simply more of the same.
  • ppoint people to the system willing to challenge the status quo.
  • ursue “best practices” with relentless dedication, base assessment of their effectiveness on demonstrated results.
  • Evaluate many education studies to determine strategy-and not just those produced “in” the system.
  • Assure academic standards are made tough, stick to them, and measure frequently.
  • Tell the people the truth about school performance-constantly. Engage them in the movement for reform; their public pressure makes it happen faster.
  • Hold the system accountable with persistent intellectual honesty and openness.
  • Do all the due diligence and homework on education issues, trust policy advisors who share core values.
  • Embrace those methodologies and curriculums getting dramatic gains in other states now; our situation is critical-we have to run, not creep, in our pace of reform. Children are at risk. But there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
  • Be bold, provocative, even outspoken. Declare the crisis in our schools-give it urgency. Make it the first and overriding priority in the state. What could be more important?
  • Don’t close the door to reforms such as full school choice-to do so thoughtlessly traps minorities and those without means in low performing or unsafe schools. It deprives all citizens of what should be viewed as a fundamental civil right in a free and civil society.
  • Remember that monopolies usually result in high costs and deteriorating services. Public education, as a government monopoly, proves the point. (Check the Arkansas academic outputs). Choice and competition will force all schools to perform.

In summation, it is the words of E.D. Hirsch, quoting scripture, that offer a most compelling case for courage and boldness in education reform. He eloquently defines the essence of the education issue and what is ultimately at stake:

“For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath ” (Matthew 13:12). The paradox holds more inexorably for intellectual than for money capital. Those who are well educated can make money without inherited wealth, but those who lack intellectual capital are left poor indeed

The paradox of Matthew is powerfully at work in the American educational system Those children who arrive at school lacking the relevant experience and vocabulary—they see not, neither do they understand They fall further and further behind The relentless humiliations they experience continue to deplete their energy and motivation to learn. Lack o stimulation has depressed their !f 1Qs. The ever-increasing differential in acquired intellectual capital that occurs during the early -years ends up creating a permanent gap in such children’s acquired abilities, particularly in their abilities to communicate in speech and writing, to learn new things, and to adapt to new challenges. In short, an early inequity in the distribution of intellectual capital may be the single most important source of avoidable injustice in a free society.

Education reforms such as Smart Start are too important not to be done right. And yet, the program’s potential to ignite what could be an “Arkansas education turn around” is already being risked by flawed design in the details. We have to get it right-and the hope is that the Governor will be open to needed adjustments as the state moves into the program.

And finally, every Arkansas school should offer Hirsch’s pledge as a contract with the parents they serve. When Arkansas gets to this point, we will have moved our education system to the level of performance our children deserve, our state needs, and every citizen expects.

Improving Academic Achievement in Arkansas

High Expectations, Academic Standards, and

Proven Programs Are the Cornerstones

by Donna Watson

Education Policy Analyst

The Murphy Commission Education Team believes that the future of education in Arkansas is not all “doom and gloom” and offers this report with specific recommendations to improve academic achievement in our state. The report is divided into three sections-the cornerstones of academic achievement: high expectations for all students, rigorous academic standards, and proven methodologies and curriculums, most especially in reading and math.

Murphy Commission recommendations are given at the end of each section with the hope that the Governor, legislature, and public will seriously consider them. And finally, in the conclusion, the report states that while these three are the cornerstones of academic achievement they must be coupled with academic accountability to include assessments, reporting of results, and replicating of best practices and ridding the system of those that are failed. This formula is working well in states, like Texas and North Carolina which, according the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), are leading the southern states academically. Arkansas needs to adopt this formula and make it work.

Step #1 – High Expectations

It’s a myth that if you’re born in a poor community and your skin is a certain color that you can’t achieve on a higher level.

Dr. Thaddeus Lott,

Senior Project Manager,

Acres Homes Charter Schools,

Houston, Texas.

For too long Arkansans have bought the myth that children’s social, ethnic, economic, or cultural backgrounds have impaired their ability to effectively learn in our public schools. The excuses, especially among educators, are rampant: They point to minorities, blame single parent homes, and cite low socio-economic backgrounds. Some say rural children are disadvantaged, others comment on inner-city conditions and gangs. These are factors to be sure, but these same educators often overlook that public education has weakened its standards, dumbed down the curriculum, and socially promoted children.

The truth is that all children can learn when challenged by high expectations. If “all children, not just the privileged, are taught in ways that emphasize hard work, the leaming of facts, and rigorous testing, their enthusiasm for school will grow, their test scores will rise, and they will become successful citizens.” (The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them) Schools and states that have implemented this philosophy are seeing significant results in academic achievement levels.

Texas Makes Large Gains in Achievement

By applying a business approach to their public schools, Texas has netted huge gains in student achievement

nationally, and the gap is narrowing quickly in scores between whites and minorities. “A key element of the business

approach is that, instead of being hailed for improving their relative performance, Texas schools are praised only when they meet a set of absolute benchmarks. That forces all schools and all students to meet the same standards.” (“Business Approach Nets Turnaround for Texas”) Their goal is to set high expectations for students of all races and income levels. Simply stated, children in the poverty-stricken barrios of El Paso must meet the same standards as children in the affluent neighborhoods of Plano, a Dallas suburb.

“The results have been little short of spectacular, although Texas could easily rattle off a list of ‘excuses’ for failure. The state has the fourth highest percentage of its school-age children living in poverty; one-third of its students qualify as disadvantaged under Title 1; and nearly half of its public school children are black or Hispanic.”

This has not held back students in Texas as demonstrated by the 1996 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores:

  • In fourth-grade mathematics, Texas finished in the top 10 states.
  • The percentage of Texas fourth-graders achieving at or above the NAEP’s “proficient” level in mathematics rose from 15 to 25 percent between 1992 and 1996, while the percentage below “basic” fell from 44% to 3 1 %. If Texas can achieve such impressive results over four years, Arkansas can too.
  • Black fourth-graders and Title I fourth-graders in Texas scored higher in mathematics than the same groups in other states.
  • While there is a racial gap in achievement, the gap is narrowing faster in Texas than in any other state. (“Business Approach Nets Turnaround for Texas”)

Governor George W. Bush supports the Texas initiative, and is a driving force behind it. He says, “You must continually raise the bar … we believe that high expectations yield high results. If the bar’s not high enough, it basically condemns people to mediocrity, and that’s not acceptable.”

No Excuses: Houston Educator Thaddeus Lott Puts Failing Schools to Shame

Wesley Elementary Charter School in inner-city Houston Texas has an enrollment of 99% minority (93% black, 6% Hispanic) from low socioeconomic backgrounds. It “educates children the old-fashioned way. Administration and staff combine hard work, high expectations and teacher-directed learning, in a structured and disciplined environment, with proven curriculum to achieve excellence in educational outcomes.

Those outcomes include a Stanford 9 fifth grade reading score in the top 7% (12th place of all Houston’s 182 grade schools) with a national percentile ranking of 82%. This test was given to Wesley’s first graders ‘ for the first time in the fall of 1997. This outstanding achievement was achieved by Wesley students who qualify for Chapter I free lunches at the rate of 82% of the total student population. The other schools in the elite top 7% averaged less than 20% of their students being qualified for the federal Chapter I program. In addition, 100% of Wesley’s third graders passed the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TASS) in 1996.” (See notes on visit to Wesley Elementary Charter School on May 7, 199 8 by Terry Tucker, Appendix 4 1.)

Wesley Elementary consistently garners an “Exemplary School” rating from the Texas Education Agency (refer to conclusion as to criteria used for this rating). This is the highest rating a Texas public school can be awarded. And, this rating is earned at Wesley by faculty and staff with students who have everything stacked against them and many would write off as unable to achieve at high academic levels.

Education Trust Leads the Way in Promoting High Expectations for ALL

The Education Trust, Inc. (ETI) in Washington, D.C. was created in 1992 to promote high academic achievement for all students, at all levels – kindergarten through college. Their work focuses primarily on the schools and colleges that are most often left behind in education improvement efforts: those serving Hispanic, African-American and low-income students.

Kati Haycock, executive director, cites example after example of expectations being lowered for poor and minority students. One such example includes the following assignment to a class: Students were to find a historical figure of interest, glue a picture of this person on a poster board, decorate around the picture in a manner of their choosing, and attach a 3 “X5 ” card with one or two sentences about that person. The students were given a month to complete the assignment. This might have been appropriate for a 3rd or 4th grade class assignment, but this task was given to an I Ith grade class!

According to ETI, when adults (educators, policy people, business leaders) are asked why the gap exists between minority/poverty students and white/more affluent students they get these responses: 1) poor parents don’t care, 2) there are not enough books in those homes, 3) kids come to school hungry, and 4) there are too many kids from broken homes.

But when school children are asked the same question the responses are: 1) a disinterested principal, 2) teacher is not knowledgeable in the subject area, and 3) expectations are too low. Children want to be challenged with high expectations; they are yearning for knowledge, stimulation, and the excitement of academic learning.

Education Trust’s solution is to set clear goals and high academic standards and teach all youngsters to those standards; poor and minority students can achieve! From Mission, Texas (on the border of Mexico) with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and children who come to school deficient in English to New York City where dedicated school officials have proven black and Hispanic students can achieve success rates comparable to white and Asian students … poor and minority students are making academic gains when given the chance.

Mission, Texas

Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) – 4th Grade, 1995


Waitz Elem. in Mission

Other High Poverty Schools

State Average













New York City, NY

Performing at Regents (highest) Level, 9th Gride Science

Number of Students:

















Step #2 – Academic Standards

The Case for Academic Standards:

Life without standards sounds so unreasonable, it’s almost impossible to comprehend Attempt to fly without airline standards? Drive without auto safety standards? Barbecue without meat inspections standards? Dine without restaurant health standards?, The benefits of oxygen masks, air bags, USDA stamps and ‘Employees Wash Your Hands” signs are easily understood It goes without saying: standards in these areas and others improve our quality of life.

Why then have we dared attempt education without standards for so long? In fact, many schools haven’t. The challenge of what is called the “standards movement” in education today is about selection rather than invention. Excellent schools and districts-those that successfully teach the core academic subjects to students of every ability-are scattered throughout the country.

At its heart, the movement is an effort to replicate the successes these schools have already had with high academic expectations on the local level by transferring their standards and their corresponding success to the state level to be shared with all. With the right perspective, standards-setters are, in effect, already half-way home. The remaining task is agreeing on the selection of these existing academic standards, rather than struggling to generate standards from thin air.

The Standards Primer

from Education Leaders Council

Think of a track coach who tells his athletes, “Sure, you can compete in the marathon, ” but only tells them that in order to train, they should “run. ” To succeed, the competitors need to know much more than that. They need to know exactly what is expected of them, so they can prepare themselves physically and mentally, both to finish the race and to be competitive. If we do not express specific, rigorous expectations to our students, we do them a profound disservice-and leave them hopelessly unprepared for the future.

California Academic Standards Commission

Report to the State Board of Education

High academic standards are essential for improving schools in Arkansas. In fact, in numerous surveys Arkansans and Americans have called for setting and sticking to tough academic standards.

  • A Murphy Commission survey conducted by the University of Central Arkansas in May 1997 found that over three-fourths of Arkansans endorsed sticking to “tough academic standards” even if students fail to meet such standards, and that “parents and teachers”-not school boards or teachers’ unions, or state or federal officials-should have the most say in developing such academic standards.
  • A Gallop Poll conducted for the Arkansas State Department of Education in June 1996 found that 85% of Arkansans favored higher standards in basic subjects for students to be promoted from grade to grade, and 82% favored higher standards in basic subjects from students to graduate from high school. Additionally, 72% favored stricter requirements for high school graduation even if it means fewer students would graduate.
  • A corresponding national Gallop Poll found that 87% of Americans surveyed favored higher standards in basic subjects for students to be promoted from grade to grade, and 84% favored higher standards in basic subjects for students to graduate from high school. Another 65% nationally favored stricter requirements for high school graduation even if it means fewer students would graduate.

What Standards Are: (by Leslye Arscht of StandardWorks) “Standards are expected to be explicit statements of what students should know and be able to do at different grade levels. In other words, what will students master and by when. Standards are not designed to tell teachers how to teach or what activities to use in the classroom. Good standards:”

    • define measurable academic content, knowledge, and skills
    • reflect academically rigorous content necessary for students to be comparable to the best in the world
    • are useful, providing students with what is needed for employment and citizenship
    • specify a common academic core for all students
    • are clearly written and intelligible to teachers, parents, students, and the general public
    • are specific without dictating how they should be taught
    • represent a solid progression of skills and concepts
  • are absent red flags and flash points

Fordham Foundation Rates the States Standards (Source: The State of the State Standards)

The Thomas B. Fordharn Foundation-a non-profit, non-partisan private foundation devoted to research on elementary and secondary education and chaired by former Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education, Chester Finn-has extensively analyzed the effectiveness of state academic standards in all 50 states. It graded the standards in five core academic subjects-language arts, math, science, history, and geography-and found that overall “most states thus far failed to set clear and rigorous expectations for what children should know and be able to do? ” According to their analyses, the Foundation addressed six questions as to why this is so:

1. Why are many state standards so vague? There are four possible explanations for “many state documents turned out to be vague and nebulous”:

a. In many states the “committee” process was used to develop their standards. It’s possible that there were “too many cooks adding the broth”; many of these people included politicians, educators, citizens, business leaders, experts, “resource persons,” textbook publishers, etc.

b. State standard writers have been reluctant to take sides in the “culture wars” or to participate in the selection of a particular “cannon.” For example, they have been afraid to determine what books should be read in English or what events in history should be taught. Fordham Foundation believes this is exactly what standards should do, describe a knowledge base that all students should be required to learn. It’s up to individual schools and teachers to decide the method of transferring that knowledge. As a result, not surprisingly, most standards are unhelpful and unclear.

c. Some states remarked, in response to their low marks, that they are a “local control” state and intentionally defer decisions about specifics to individual districts and schools. “That may make for a good sound byte, but it’s really an abdication of responsibility. Instead of running with the standards ball, these states chose to punt.” These states vague standards actually become a barrier to learning rather than a way to improve achievement. “How can we expect students to master a body of knowledge if we fail to define what that body of knowledge is-and then convey it to them in a meaningful and accessible way? Vague standards set schools adrift without a map or compass-or even a destination.”

d. A final possible explanation for the vagueness in standards is that the state may have political or organizational problems with its assessment and accountability arrangements. If standards are explicit, then it is easier to hold people accountable for attaining them. On the other hand, if standards are nebulous and vague you can avoid the pain, because very few actually understand what is expected in the first place.

“Attaching high stakes assessments to vague standards is a formula for disaster.” This might explain what happened with eleventh graders dismal failure rate on the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing and Assessment Program (ACTAP), (During the fall of 1997, 87% failed the math portion and 58% failed the literacy part of the test.) It was tied to the weak, non-measurable curriculum frameworks, but the test was very specific and demanding requiring problem solving skills the students didn’t possess.

Example of Vague Standards

From Arkansas Math Curriculum Frameworks, K-4 Learning Expectations: Explore and construct geometric shapes using a variety of manipulative materials. Visualize, describe, model, draw, compare and classify shapes in one, two and three dimensions.

Example of Clear and Specific Standard

From California’s Mathematics Academic content Standards, Feb. 1998, grade 4: The student will recognize that rectangles having the same area can have different perimeters; understand that the same number can be the perimeter of different rectangles, each having a different area.

2. Why are many state standards hostile to knowledge? Since standards should clarify what students are expected to know and be able to do at each grade level, the Fordham researchers looked for “specific knowledge and skills that the states want students to master.” What they discovered was that many standards emphasized skills but minimized knowledge. There are two possible explanations for this aversion to knowledge:

a. The legacy of educational progressivism – Today the dominate educational theory is “constructivism.” It is “a psychological term used by educational specialists to sanction the practice of ‘self-paced learning’ and ‘discovery learning.’ The term implies that only constructed knowledge-knowledge which one finds out for one’s self-is truly integrated and understood.” (The Schools We Need) In other words, children should be allowed to learn what they want to learn. “What really matters is learning how to learn, learning ‘higher-order’ thinking skills. ” But few skills are useful without any base of knowledge; “knowledge is to skills as bricks are to mortar: you need both to build a strong wall.”

b. The present-day notions of relativism Another popular notion known as “relativism” may also explain the “anti-knowledge phenomenon.” Relativists belief that there is no actual truth or definite knowledge only 11various culturally determined ‘scripts’ orversions’ of the truth. It would be oppressive, they argue, for a state to identify specific knowledge that must be learned by all. Any such knowledge would be nothing more than the script preferred by the dominant class. Better to leave it out altogether.”

Skills are important but so is knowledge. “Skills are essential in life, especially for the workplace, but we educate our children to be citizens as well as workers. Pointing to specific knowledge and asking students to acquire it is not oppressive; rather, it is empowering, as it allows young people to participate in an add to arguments that have raged for years. We oppress students the most when we expect from them the least. “

Example of a Skills-Based Standard

From Georgia Standards, grade 7, Social Studies Skills:

The student should 1) Locate main ideas in multiple types of sources (e.g., nonprint, specialized references, periodicals, newspapers, atlases, yearbooks, government publications, etc.) 2) Take notes and develop outlines through reading listening or viewing. 3) Use features of books for information: table of contents, glossary, index, appendix, bibliography. 4) Distinguish between fact and opinion relating to regions/cultures.

Example of a Knowledge-Based Standard

From California Standards, Standard 3, grade 10:

The student will identify the sources and describe the development of democratic principles in Western Europe and the United States (After) examining major documents (such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, the English Bill of Rights, the Declaration of the Rights of Man, or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) for specific democratic principles they contain, the student makes a comparison chart showing how

certain principles appear in these documents.

3. Why are many state standards entranced by “relevance”? This is the notion that everything must be related to the child’s own life. The child-centered school has become popular as has the idea that students need “to understand themselves.” The Fordham Foundation authors looked for “romance with relevance” in standards It was not hard to find, especially in mathematics where they found an abundance of “False Doctrine,” an excessive emphasis on “real-world” problems. “Mathematics is today widely regarded as something that must be presented as usable, ‘practical,’ and applicable to ‘real-world’ problems at every state of schooling, rather than as an intellectual adventure.”

Reverence for relevance was also evident in many state English standards. Nineteen of the twenty eight documents that were examined required students to “relate what they read to their own lives or personal experience. This defeats the point of regarding great works of literature.”

“Why are the states shy about asking students to know and be able to do important things that may not be immediately relevant to their daily lives? Perhaps they fear that children of the MTV generation will tune out if asked to step too far outside the youth culture or into abstract thinking. This approach, of course, only serves to dumb-down expectations and to suggest that standards-setters don’t trust local teachers to make the material interesting to their students. Great teachers have always found ways to spark classroom enthusiasm for the material studies … States should stick to setting expectations; teachers should be held accountable for helping students reach them. “

Examples of Over-Emphasis on Relevance

Delaware’s English Language Arts Standards:

Students connect their own experiences to those of literary characters relating to the feelings of the characters of

varying ages, genders, nationalities, races, cultures, religions, and disabilities.

AR English Language Arts (and Reading) Curriculum Frameworks:

Experience a personal response to materials read. (What if a student doesn’t, but they comprehend the material? Leslye Arscht)

4. Why do many state standards confuse classroom means with educational ends?

“Education standards should be clear about what is to be learned by students at various grade levels and how well it is to be learned. Period. Standards should not seek to prescribe teaching methods, pedagogical strategies, or lesson plans. Standards are about ends, not means.” Many states confuse these and standards are muddled. Many states have written standards of teaching rather than standards of learning.

“Standards, if done right, should not standardize the schools. Rather, they should free the schools from top-down dictates while obliging them to focus on results.” And, often states promote practices that have little or no solid support in research. It is feared that many standard writers feel that it is their place to reform teaching rather than to clarify what children are to learn.

A good example of this is the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics revision of math standards in 1989. “NCTM wanted to replace what it viewed as boring, oppressive lessons with dynamic, engaging ones. Teachers became facilitators rather than instructors and students became active learners rather than depositories of information. Regardless of what one thinks of this teaching philosophy, it does not meet our definition of standards: Statements clarifying what students should know and be able to do at various points in their academic career. ” States must stay focused on core knowledge and essential skills and leave teaching techniques to schools.

Examples of Standards as Means Instead of Ends About Idaho’s English Standards, the Fordham Foundation states: “The document is heavily oriented to a process approach for reading and writing, to a reader-response approach for literary study, to learning all skills in context, and to a focus on students’ values and attitudes. It even offers a number of ‘position statements’ at the end of the document that promote a variety of trendy pedagogical ideas.”

Arkansas English Curriculum Frameworks:

1.2.4 Discover language through “fun” writing activities. (This standard explains how teacher should teach not what students should learn. Leslye Arscht)

5. How politicized are the state standards?

“Lack of clarity or rigor can be blamed on incompetence or neglect, but politicization smacks of dogmatism and propaganda.” Fortunately, most of today’s state standards focused on academics and stayed away from trying to indoctrinate students in a particular view on issues or controversies.

History was one of the areas in which the authors found examples of manipulation: standards that were biased or filled with indoctrination or inappropriate applications of history. Ten out of the 37 states (including Arkansas) did not successfully avoid promoting political or social dogma and ten states did not manage to avoid manipulating student feelings or attitudes.

Examples of promoting political or social dogma

English Arts & Reading Frameworks: (by Leslye Arscht)

These AR standards include some moral and social dogma that could inflame the public:

1.10 Appreciate and express cultural diversity in writing.

1.2.7 Write to reflect personal, multicultural and universal ideas

(These are difficult to measure. Is it possible for students to express cultural diversity in their writing? Careful of the word “personal,” many parents feel that invites invasion into their homes.)

6. To what extend did national standards impact state standards?

The idea of national standards is one of controversy. Many are opposed to such a notion and argue that children in Arkansas are different than children in Ohio because of experiences, environments, and interests. Others argue that national standards are more of the federal government’ s intrusion into state and local education. However, national standards have been drafted both with the help of the federal government and some without the Fed’s intervention.

Two examples of national standards that have been less than ideal are:

a. English standards developed by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the International Reading Association which were deemed “devoid of anything resembling standards.” Most states do not acknowledge (or have very little reference to) the NCTE standards.

b. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Standards are perhaps the best known of all the national standards. Developed in 1989, “NCTM math” that once enjoyed popularity are now on the decline, “most visibly in California, whose new standards can fairly be viewed as a repudiation of the NCTM approach.” However, these standards are still prevalent in many states, including Arkansas. (More information in section on Math methodology and curriculum)

The Arkansas Curriculum Frameworks

The Fordharn Foundation reviewed the Arkansas Curriculum Frameworks for math, history, science, and geography and the state received Fs on all standards reviewed. Copies of the full report are available on request. The Fordham Foundation study, which looked primarily at academic content, revealed that Arkansas “standards” were generally deficient, vague and nebulous, and not measurable. (A summary of all the states’ scores and of Arkansas’ frameworks from the Fordharn Foundation can be found in Appendix 42.)

Since the Fordham. Foundation did not review Arkansas’ reading and language arts frameworks, the Murphy Commission’s Education Team asked Leslye Arscht of StandardWorks to analyze them. One of the first items she pointed out is that the Arkansas Curriculum Frameworks are not really standards. Although in the early stages of the standards reform movement, these terms were often used interchangeably, they no longer mean the same thing. As stated earlier, “standards are expected to be explicit statements of what students should know and be able to do at different grade levels. In other words, what will students master and by when?

Curriculum frameworks on the other hand provide an outline of how information will be covered (curriculum) and when it will be covered (across a grade band) so that students can meet the standards. Standards are not designed to tell teachers how to teach or what activities to use in the classroom. The Arkansas’ English language arts frameworks include some of all these things-including activities on the ‘how’-to the detriment of the standards.” Although the English language arts frameworks are thorough and cover all the important areas of reading, writing, listening, speaking, grammar and conventions, and research skills, they still do not meet many of the criteria of good standards. (See eight point description of good standards previously discussed in section entitled “What Standards Are” on page 10.)

(An Overview Analysis of the Arkansas English, Language Arts (Reading) Curriculum Frameworks is found in Appendix 43.)

Unfortunately, Governor Huckabee’s new Smart Start Initiative, a K-4 “back to basics” reform, plans to keep the Curriculum Frameworks as the cornerstone of its program. According to the Smart Start Overview, standards will be the first component of this initiative:

“Represented by the Arkansas Curriculum Frameworks (Frameworks), these standards will continue to be rigorous and well-defined. At Grades K-4, they will serve as the basis for the expected levels of proficiency demanded in reading and mathematics, including a very specific definition of what is meant by’meet or exceed grade-level requirements in reading and mathematics by Grade 4.’ At Grades 5-12, they become the blueprint for enhanced student performance, increasing the basic foundation laid earlier in breadth and depth.”

The Arkansas Department of Education has indicated that the frameworks will be reviewed, refined, and rewritten, if necessary, to “ensure that all expected performances are measurable.” The concern of the Murphy Commission Education Team is twofold:

1. These frameworks were mandated by Act 236 which embraced Goals 2000 with “learner outcomes.” Governor Huckabee has publicly opposed this act and has made efforts to repeal most of it during the 1997 General Assembly. The Commission believes that by keeping the frameworks in any form, there is a basic philosophical difference between the Department of Education and the Governor. The frameworks drive the entire Smart Start Plan, everything from reading methodology to textbook selection.

2. The frameworks are not “strong”, not “rigorous”, and not “well-defined,” as the Smart Start Plan claims. It will be very difficult to make these frameworks truly “academic” even with the effort currently underway to reword and rewrite the frameworks. However, the Commission will not pass judgment on this effort until it has seen the revision of the frameworks, but it believes there is a much better way to develop high standards. and that Arkansas must get it right this time.

Process of Developing High Standards for Arkansas:

Leslye Arscht recommends Raising the Standard: An Eight-Step Action Guidefor Schools and Communities by Denis Doyle and Susan Pimental as guide to the process of developing standards.

“The standard setting process must begin at the district level-where ultimately ‘ownership’ of the standards must be earned or nothing changes regardless of a state document.” In other words, the process outlined below might be started with Arkansas Department of Education but ultimately must involve citizens, statewide. There are several key steps to assure effectiveness of the process:

1. Select a cross-section of participants

2. Cast a wide net

3. Organize regional teams

4. Have expert facilitators on hand

5. Settle on a common format for the content areas

6. Build community consensus

7. Take time for critical review

8. Allow for a series of drafts-feedback-redrafts-feedback rounds.

(A more complete explanation of process for developing standards is explained in Appendix 43.)

As stated before, there are already schools, districts, and states in the nation that have completed the process of setting standards. And in Arkansas, Batesville and Bentonville school districts stand out as pacesetters. Arkansas should identify best practices beginning in the state but also looking to other states.

The Standards Primer published by the Education Leaders Council looks at a variety of lessons, both good and bad, states can refer to as they make their way through the standards maze. These lessons include:

How to launch a solid effort to create and implement standards without reinventing the wheel

Why academic standards are needed as a solution for educational failures

States that have succeeded brilliantly or failed miserably

Resources which serve as a pool of quality academic standards

Additionally, the Bentonville-based Walton Family Foundation has offered to pay the expenses of Leslye Arscht of StandardWorks to assist Arkansas in the process of developing standards. The Governor’s office and the Arkansas Department of Education should consider accepting this offer.

“Standards are not the entire solution to the education problem. They do, however, serve as a guide post for states and communities wanting fundamental improvements. The challenge is to build consequences for success or failure, and to allow schools the freedom to respond to the results.” (The Standards Primer)


1. Arkansas should set high expectations for all students, a belief all children can and will learn. The goal should be that each child will progress at least one grade level every year. If teachers, administrators, and other school personnel don’t believe this way and make excuses why children cannot learn, they should be removed from the system.

2. Arkansas should scrap the state’s weak curriculum frameworks and develop rigorous academic standards that are measurable and understandable. Use of the Fordharn model for standards development would assure competent standards based on facts, events, and content. It will further assure students “know”, “do”, and “learn”.

3. The Department of Education should consider the Walton Family Foundation’s offer or look at other options to begin this process of developing state standards. Again, several Arkansas school districts have recently undergone developing standards, and they, too, could be of assistance in this process. This is the first critical step before assessments can be tied to any standards.

4. Arkansas should begin the new standards reform process by capturing and examining states that received “As” on their standards under the Fordharn system of evaluation: English and Reading (Massachusetts), Math (California, North Carolina and Ohio,) History (Virginia,) Science (Arizona, California, Indiana, Vermont, and Wisconsin), and Geography (Texas, Indiana, and Colorado). The state should settle for nothing but the best standards for its students.

Step #3 – Proven Methodology/Curriculum

In striving to meet education standards, Arkansas must choose academic programs, curriculums and methodologies that represent the “best practices” across the nation with demonstrated records of exceptional results in core academics. With test scores at substandard levels and with high college remediation rates, Arkansas should thoroughly and carefully reassess each school’s methodology and curriculum especially in reading and math. The state continues to pour money into the same deficient practices year after year while expecting improvement that never comes. The only thing more disturbing than this practice is that our educators rarely seem to care about results, seeking instead to defend and justify programs they adhere to with a cult-like fanaticism.

The problem:

Why Dick and Jane Can’t Read

The 1993 National Survey ofAdult Literacy discovered that some 90 million Americans-nearly half the adult population-have severely limited literacy skills, and their ranks swell by millions each year.

See Dick Flunk

The 1993 NAEP reported that 70% of American fourth graders, 30% of eighth-graders, and 64% of 12th graders did not attain a proficient level of reading. ” These students have not attained the minimum level of skill in reading considered necessary to do the academic work at their grade level,

Don’t Read, Don’t Tell

In Arkansas only 20% of fourth graders read at a proficient level according to the 1994 NAEP while only 33.5% of fourth graders tested on the Arkansas criterion test in spring 1998 read proficiently. In the area of literacy (reading and writing) those passing the eleventh grades test (ACTAP) revealed the following results: 44% in Spring of 1996, 49% in fall 1996 and 42% infall 1997.

ALEC’s Report Card on American Education, 1996, & Smart Start Action Plan, ADE

Consider that “in 1940, the U.S. had an adult literacy rate of 97%, even though most white students attended school for only eight years, and most blacks for only four. Today, despite the most expensive public schools and colleges in the world, the U.S. has a Third-World work force, with a literacy rate below 76%.” (“Public Schools Produce’Most Illiterate’ Generation Ever”)

How has a nation that has dedicated so many resources to education allowed illiteracy to become so pervasive? The

answI er is clear; the methodology used to teach reading in many of our schools doesn’t work. “A recent analysis faults

U.S. education policy since 1940 for the decline in literacy, placing much of the blame on ‘whole language’ reading

instruction.” (“Public Schools Produce’Most Illiterate’ Generation Ever”)

The Reading Wars (Source: National Right to Read Foundation)

Unfortunately many children and adults have become victims of what has been dubbed “the reading wars,” a battle between two methodologies: whole language and phonies.

Whole Language, which was first introduced in the early 1970s, is based on the theory that children will learn to read just as they learned to speak, and that reading skill naturally emerges among children immersed in literature. The teacher reads aloud from an interesting text, and children follow along, and the children memorize a few basic, often used words, such as “see”, “spot”, and “run.” Children guess at the meaning of words from the context and from pictures and photos accompanying the story. Drills, memorization, learning sounds of letters or accurate spelling are discouraged. It is estimated that a child can memorize 1, 554 words by the end of the 4th grade; this method is used in about 85% of our nation’s schools.

Phonics, the predominant instructional practice that once made America the most literate nation on earth, relies on an intensive, systematic approach that believes children learn to read by first learning the sounds and syllables of the English language. Then they can put syllables together like building blocks to quickly acquire a reading vocabulary as a broad as their oral vocabulary. Memorization and drilling are used to help the child learn the correct sounds, and accurate spelling is required after the first grade. In a typical phonics-first system, the child can read 24, 000 words by the end of the fourth grade-possessing the ability to read almost anything; this method is used in 15% of our nation’s schools.

Note: Children must be taught explicit phonics which builds up from part to whole while implicit phonics breaks down from whole to part. When educators say they teach a combination of whole language and phonics, they are usually referring to implicit phonics; these educators use terms like “balanced”, “embedded phonics”, and “integrated language arts” to describe their methodology. When using a combination of these two methodologies a good analogy to remember is that phonics should be the “main course” and whole language should be the “dessert”, not visa versa. (See a more complete comparison in “Whole Language vs. Phonics” and “Explicit or Implicit Phonics: Therein lies the Rub” in Appendix #4.)

The Research is in with Phonics Triumphant and Whole Language in Retreat

The great tragedy is that the research in reading instruction, time and time again, proves that whole language does not work and that phonics-based instruction does. Everyone is looking for the “silver bullet” for student achievement; it appears that explicit, systematic phonics could be the answer. A panel of national experts on reading has called for “an end to the reading wars,” as a result of the following data:

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), a division of the federal National Institute of Health has completed a 30-year, $200 million study of reading. NICHD Chief Reid Lyon states that is typical that children who do not receive proper instruction in how sounds heard in speech are represented by the letter symbols used in print (phonics) have difficulty reading. And many of these children are labeled learning disabled. Says Lyon, “There is no way to read if you are not very facile in the use of phonies.” (“See Dick Flunk”)

NICHD funded and oversaw empirical, replicable research at eight major univeristies-Yale, Johns Hopkins, Florida State, Bowman Gray School of Medicine, and the Universities of Toronto, Colorado, Houston and Miami-and have reported more than 2,000 journal articles since 1965. Benita Blachman, a professor education at Syracuse University, summarized the results of this research in a 1994 review published in Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal. “We have had a scientific breakthrough in our knowledge about the development of literacy. We know a great deal about how to address reading problems-even before they begin … The tragedy is that we are not exploiting what we know about reducing the incidence of reading failure. Specifically, the instruction currently being provided to our children does not reflect what we know from research … Direct, systematic instruction about the alphabetic code is not routinely provided in kindergarten andfirst grade, in spite of the fact that at the moment this might be our most powerful weapon in the fight against illiteracy. “(“Don’t Read, Don’t Tell”)

Bonnie Grossen, a research associate at the College of Education at the University of Oregon, summarized the NICHD research and identified seven steps for producing independent readers:

Principles of Reading Instruction

I . Teach phonemic awareness directly in kindergarten. 2. Teach each sound-spelling correspondence explicitly. 3. Teach frequent, highly regular sound-spelling relationships systematically. 4. Teach students directly how to sound out words. 5. Teach students sound-spelling relationships using connected decodable text. 6. Teach reading comprehension using interesting stories read by the teacher. 7. Teach decoding and comprehension skills separately until reading is fluent. (A more complete description with definitions can be found in Appendix #5.)

Marilyn Adams, a visiting scholar at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of a 1990 publication Beginning to Read which was the result of a federally funded study, says, “You can teach children more efficiently and effectively if you use phonics. If you don’t know how the alphabet works, you can’t learn how to use an alphabetic language. There is no argument.” (“See Dick Flunk”)

Keith Stanovich, a researcher at the University of Toronto, wrote in the Reading Teacher in 1994, “That direct instruction in alphabetic coding facilitates early reading acquisition is one of the most well-established conclusions in all of behavioral science. Conversely, the idea that learning to read is just like learning to speak is accepted by no responsible linguist, psychologist, or cognitive scientist in the research community.” (“Don’t Read, Don’t Tell”)

And Maggie Bruck, an associate professor of psychology and pediatrics at McGill University in Montreal, has reviewed the entire data-base of educational research and has not found a single example published in a major peer-reviewed journal that showed that whole language worked (“Don’t Read, Don’t Tell”)

After reviewing the arguments mustered by the phonics and whole-language proponents, can we make a judgmentas to who is right? Yes. The value of explicit, systematic phonics instruction has been well established Hundreds of studies from a variety of fields support ‘this conclusion. Indeed, the evidence is so strong that if the subject under discussion were, say, the treatment ofmumps, there would be no discussion. (“How Johnny Should Read”)

Case Studies: (Source: “Don’t Read, Don’t Tell”)

1. “At a 1997 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Barbara Foorman, an educational psychologist at the University of Houston, presented a comparison study of two groups of low-income first-and second-graders who had been classified as ‘reading disabled.’ These students scored at the 25th percentile in reading ability at the beginning of the year. At the end of the year, the students taught whole-language achieved mean scores near the 25th percentile. Those taught systematic phonics had mean scores at the 43rd percentile. According to Foorman, ‘such results suggest that direct instruction in sound-spelling patterns in first- and second-grade classrooms can prevent reading difficulties in a population of children at-risk of reading failure.”‘

2. In 1985, Arizona’s Peoria Unified School District compared the Spalding program, a phonics-based language-arts system, with the district’s existing whole-word program. Kindergarten through third-grade classes were paired in one high-income, two middle-income, and two low-income schools. By the end of one year, control schools’ average reading comprehension scores remained at or below the 50th percentile, while scores from all the phonics schools at all incomes ranged from the upper 80th to the high 90th. Based on that evidence, the district adopted Spalding in all 18 of its schools. During the next eight years, Peoria consistently maintained scores 20-30 percentile points higher than neighboring districts with school populations of similar income.”

3. “Jane Hodges, a professor of education at the Mississippi University for Women, has compared first-graders in Aberdeen, Mississippi, who were taught in systematic phonics with those instructed in whole language. The phonics students scored 42 percentile points higher in reading overall, and 34 points higher in comprehension.

Reading Recovery (whole language-based) vs. Direct Instruction (phonics-based)

Prevention, not intervention, should be the goal ofreading instruction.

Reading Recovery (RR): An Intervention Program; Expensive and Ineffective

Reading Recovery was developed by New Zealand educator and psychologist Marie Clay, and the program came to the United States via Ohio State University in 1984. In the 1996-97 school year a total of 9,815 U.S. schools were using Reading Recovery in 48 states plus the District of Columbia and Department of Defense Schools. Reading Recovery has been endorsed by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and was cited in her book It Takes a Village.

Reading Recovery is an early intervention program that serves first-grade children who score in the lowest 20% of their class. The goal is to have these students reach the average levels of reading achievement in their classroom. To meet this goal, regular classroom instruction is supplemented with daily one-to-one, 30 minute lessons for 12-20 weeks by with a specially trained teacher. It combines reading practice (via whole language) using a graded book series and includes training in sound to letter correspondences in creative writing and spelling. Children generally spend about sixty hours in RR instruction before being “discontinued,” thus providing the opportunity for another child to enter Reading Recovery. (Catalog of School Reform Models: First Edition)

Reading Recovery began in Arkansas during the 1991-92 school year with 8 schools in five districts participating and served I 10 students with 12 RR teachers and one teacher leader. During the 1996-97 school year, the program had grown to 120 schools in 95 districts serving 1,240 students with 165 RR teachers and 17 teacher leaders. UALR serves as one of 19 regional training sites in the United States. In its six years, RR has served 3,944 at risk students of failure in first grade; 2,765 or 70% were reading at the average grade level of their first-grade class when discontinued from the program. –






Teacher Leaders





































(Reading Recovery Arkansas,. June 1998)

In 1991-92 there was I Reading Recovery teacher for every 9.17 students In 1996-97 there was I Reading Recovery teacher for every 7.52 students

In 1991-92 there was I lead teacher for every 12 Reading Recovery teachers In 1996-97 there was I lead teacher for every 9.71 Reading Recovery teachers

Note: The figures above seem to indicate Reading Recovery is bent on growing more labor intensive with the passage of time, and thus more costly as it expands. This raises still more questions concerning efficient use of scarce education resources.

According to Reading Recovery’s own research, an estimated 7,000 first graders per year in Arkansas need reading assistance. Over the past six years, Reading Recovery has successfully discontinued 2,765 students of the 42,000 they estimate to need reading assistance. This leaves unaddressed the needs of some 39,000 students in the system who require special attention by Reading Recovery’s definition. The market this creates for the program’s services would seem vast and unending indeed. And certainly, if all these children were served by the program the cost would be astronomical, Consider, that it took 557 teachers (both RR and lead teachers over that six year period) to help only 2,765 students; that’s about a I to 5 teacher/pupil ratio.

These numbers raise a critical question. Could there be a more effective way to reach more children and prevent lifelong reading problems? Many education policy experts discount the need for intervention, except in extraordinary cases, arguing that prevention is much more cost effective than intervention. This means if teachers are well-trained in teaching reading skills to begin with-and use proven methodologies and curriculums-children will learn in a traditional classroom setting.

In the meantime, Reading Recovery experts claim they are building “literacy models” (new definition of literacy is discussed on page 26) and say “we just need more time and more money.” The performance data produced by Reading Recovery is very favorable which leads legislators, Co-op directors, and educators to believe this program works. However, most of their research is generated by RR itself-nationally at Ohio State University, statewide at U.A.L.R., and throughout the fifteen Arkansas Educational Service Co-ops. And, many of Arkansas’ public colleges and universities embrace the Reading Recovery program. The dean of education at a public Arkansas university said when asked about RR, “If s great! Reports proving it works. Need to extend it further, get ‘the village’ involved.”

National, Independent Research Paints Less than Favorable Picture of Reading Recovery The following is a summary of findings from “Reading Recovery: An Evaluation of Benefits and Costs,” by Bonnie Grossen and Gail Coulter, University of Oregon, and Barbara Ruggles, Beacon Hill Elementary, Park Forest, Illinois:

1. The Reading Recovery data reporting system is flawed.

2. The standard for successful completion of Reading Recovery is not equitable.

“Reading Recovery’s goal to bring the lowest pupils to the average level of their class, falls short of a more equitable standard level, such as the national average.”

Consider in Arkansas that only 20% of fourth graders tested proficient in reading (1994 NAEP) and only 33.5% are reading at a proficient level (1998 Arkansas criterion referenced test). Is this the average reading level that Arkansas wants for its children?

3. Reading Recovery does not raise overall school achievement levels.

4. Far fewer students than claimed actually benefit from Reading Recovery.

5. Reading Recovery does not reduce the need for other compensatory reading services.

6. Children who are not expected to be successful are removed from the program and from the calculation of the success rate.

7. Research-based alternative interventions are more effective than Reading Recovery.

8. Reading Recovery is extremely expensive and does not save other costs.

(For further information on these seven points, refer to the Executive Summary of this research in appendix 4 6.)

Highlights from “Questions and Conclusions from a Discussion of Reading Recovery,” by Patrick Groff, San Diego State University (Effective School Practices, Summer, 1996.) are offered below:

1. Are gains from Reading Recovery enduring?

“Several disinterested independent critics of RR have pointed out that most of the reading improvement gains brought on by RR are temporary; they ‘wash-out’ over time.”

“The average score advantage of Reading Recovery students was not maintained at the end of the second grade, nor on tests for the third and fourth grades.” (Study by Ohio Department of Education)

“The principles and practices of Reading Recovery are very similar to those of whole language. Whole language has been shown clearly to be a failed instructional innovation.”

2. Is Reading Recovery cost-effective? Since this is a one-to-one tutoring method it is the most expensive kind of teaching. Schools who participate in Reading Recovery most likely will sacrifice other educational services to students in general and omit purchases of educational materials, equipment, supplies, etc. to find the money to fund this program. However, “promoters of Reading Recovery typically downgrade its cost, depicting them as very reasonable.” The Ohio Department of Education estimated that the costs of RR are some 50% higher than other remedial programs that they used.

How much does it cost per pupil? Estimates have ranged from between $4,000 per student to as high as over $8,000 per student. As a general rule of thumb, independent researchers estimate that you can add at least an additional year of per pupil funding for each RR student that is tutored in this program.

Three years ago, the Wake County Schools in North Carolina issued a report questioning the reading recovery program citing its expense and ineffectiveness. They discovered that RR cost the district $846,000 during the 1993-94 school year to serve only 290 students, a cost of $3,000 per student. What’s more, district officials discovered that this costly reading program did not produce lasting results and concluded there might be a more cost effective method to meet the needs of many more at-risk children. (See “Wake wonders if reading plan is paying off’ in Appendix #6.)

3. Public reaction to Reading Recoypry. Once the public (outside the education establishment) learns how very expensive yet how ineffective it is, they will protest “that expenditures for RR are not a wise use of the limited school funds that are now available.” In a letter to the Ohio Department of Education, Ohio State Senator Cooper Snyder (chair of the senate education committee) says, “Reading Recovery is nothing more nor less than a Band-Aid for the first grade. Why aren’t we doing the (reading instruction) job right to begin?”

4. Has RR become a commercial product? The fact that the name, Reading Recovery, is now a trademark signifies that is has become a marketable item. Marie Clay has profited form the from large sales of her books. Centers (like UALR) that charge fees for training teachers have consistently increased the number of teachers trained as more and more school districts have jumped on the RR bandwagon (see table above for Arkansas data on growth of RR); each one of AR educational Co-ops has a RR specialist (lead teacher.) Also, RR advertises much the same way as common consumer products are promoted. “That is, its advertisements stress its supposed advantages, while conveniently leaving undisclosed its shortcomings.” (For more information on this study, see appendix #6)

The following comments are taken from a Critical Review of Research in Reading Recovery edited by Stanley L. Swartz and Adria F. Klein (with contributors including 14 professors, one county department education official, and one private educational consultant):

This text of this study “makes it clear that Reading Recovery has an ulterior motive, beyond that of remediating children’s reading problems. As professor Gay Su Pinnell (head of the RR movement in America) predicts, RR will become ‘the foundation of new models for educating and nurturing our nation’s teachers.’ After this new changeover to the RR model takes place, each teacher will be an ‘autonomous decision-maker,’ meaning each teacher will be empowered to reject empirical evidence on reading instruction in favor of the implementation of the whole language approach. As a consequence, each teacher solely will decide what reading competence is, and how well his/her students are learning to read.”

The information from the Arkansas Reading Recovery program bears this out. When their teachers talk about building “literacy models” they mean that trained RR teachers will go back to their schools and replicate this approach among other teachers. This practice has the added advantage of further entrenching these literacy models-with their RR philosophy-in more and more schools.

According to the Reading Recovery Newsletter, May 1997, “questionaires … revealed that 96% of former RR students wereperceived as ‘average’ or ‘above average’by their second-grade teachers.” The literacy model, with its de-emphasis of quantifiable results in favor of subjective evaluation by those advancing their cause, is taking root. With something as important as learning to read in the first grade, should we expect more than a mere perception and shouldn’t we have results that measure and hold teachers – especially in reading – accountable?

In spite of overwhelming evidence, proponents of Reading Recovery and whole language, with a disregard to independent research, continue to strongly embrace this methodology and “intuitively” know it is what is best for children. In fact according to Swartz and Klein, “no report of RR by its advocates points to any of its shortcomings.” Most of the teachers connected with RR are highly educated and well trained, and they have done a great public relations job in selling this program to state legislators, Arkansas Department of Education, school districts, and even private foundations that help fund the program.

Still, it’s very difficult to get concrete data on the per pupil cost of RR or its effectiveness with students who are three or four years removed from the program. The regional trainer at the UALR Reading Recovery Center, said she had no idea of the cost or how the children were doing as they progressed to 3rd, 4th and 5th grade. Her remarks were, “We haven’t had time to track them.” They are so fanatical about their program that one RR lead teacher from a Co-op remarked at a statewide reading conference, “Some people say it becomes a cult.” Can we expect these teachers to be objective when reviewing the benefits and pitfalls of this program?

Direct Instruction (DI): A Prevention Program with a Proven Record of Results (Source: Catalog of School Reform Models) Direct Instruction has evolved from a theory of instruction developed by Siegfried Englemarm of the University of Oregon. Englemann’s early works focused on beginning reading, language, and math and were published by Science Research Associates in 1968 under the trade name DISTAR (Direct Instruction System for Teaching and Remediation). Over the past three decades, the original curricula have been revised and new ones developed through sixth grade. These curricula have been incorporated into the comprehensive school reform model known as the Direct Instruction Model, which has been implemented in some 150 schools nationwide. DI curricular materials have been used in hundreds more schools.

Englemann’s theory of instruction is that learning can be greatly accelerated in any endeavor if instructional presentations are clear, rule out likely misinterpretations, and facilitate generalizations. He and his associates have developed over 50 instructional programs based on this theory. Each program is shaped through field tryouts; student errors are carefully evaluated and lessons revised prior to publication. The lessons are carefully scripted and tightly sequenced.

The comprehensive Direct Instruction Model incorporates teacher development and organizational components needed to optimize use of these programs. Through substantial training and in-class coaching, teachers in the lower grades learn to present highly interactive lessons to small groups. students make frequent oral responses, and teachers monitor and correct errors immediately. Students are placed at appropriate instructional levels based on performance, so those who learn rapidly are not held back and those who need additional assistance receive it. The model calls for inclusion of students with special needs except in the most extreme cases. Although the DI model incorporates curricula for all areas, its reading, language arts, and math curricula can be implemented separately. DI is most frequently adopted by poor-performing schools in high poverty areas, but is not limited to these areas.


The instructional design components incorporated in Englemann’s theory of instruction have been the subject of numerous research studies over the past 30 years, beginning with Project Follow Through, a large-scale federal research project that was begun in 1968 to examine a variety of approaches to educating disadvantaged students. The Project evaluation found that DI was the most effective model in all three areas studied: basic skills (reading, language, math, spelling), cognitive skills, and affective behavior. In fact, no other model came close. Unfortunately the newly formed U.S. Department of Education “inaugurated what it calledjoint dissemination’ of the results: by advocating all models, including ones that performed worse on all counts than the control groups, it effectively advocates none.” (“Failing Grade”, See Appendix #7)

Many other evaluations conducted since then also have found significant positive effects on student achievement in reading, language arts, or math, as measured by a variety of standardized tests. Many of the program benefits appear to endure well past elementary school. Several studies have found that students who received DI in grade school have higher high school test scores, graduation rates, and college acceptance rates.

Examples of Schools Having Success with Direct Instruction Wesley Elementary Charter School was highlighted in the previous section entitled “High Expectations” because Dr. Thaddues Lott, his administration and staff believe any child can learn. This public school utilizes the Direct Instruction method and results have been amazing although Wesley has all the demographic markers that would predict school failure. It is located in inner-city Houston, has 99% minority enrollment, and 82% of the students qualify for subsidized lunches. However, students excel and these “at-risk” students have raised standardized test scores by 30-40 percentiles.

Ifs hasn’t always been easy for Dr. Lott. Although he brought Direct Instruction to Wesley in 1975, he’s had to fight the education bureaucracy (Texas Education Agency, Houston Public Schools, and even the University of Houston) to continue his successful program. In 1991, the Houston School District mandated a literature-based whole language approach to teaching reading, and Dr. Lott refused to abandon his phonics-based instruction. Because of his exceptionally high test scores, district officials accused him of cheating and sent a representative from the central office to prove just that. In the end, the Houston School superintendent publicly apologized.

Wesley converted to public charter school status a few years later with the hope of avoiding future conflicts over his methodology and curriculum. In their charter, which is a legal contract with the Houston School District, Dr. Lott and his staff agree that every student will progress at least one grade level every year.

Portland Elementary School, a tiny Delta school located in Ashley County Arkansas, has also made academic gains with the use of Direct Instruction. Over the past 2 1/2 years student scores have risen on the Stanford Achievement Test from the low 35th percentile to the 55th percentile, just over the national average. “That’s highly unusual for a Delta school to make those kinds of gains,” Principal Ernest Smith said.

Before implementing Direct Instruction most elementary students were reading two years below grade level. Smith credits the dramatic rise in test scores to his reading program which is phonics-based. He admits not all the scores are where they should be yet; some of the third graders were still at the 40th percentile, but are expected to continue improving their scores. Educators from across the country have been visiting Portland to observe the program in action, and the school was recently honored at a national conference sponsored by the International Reading Association and was named a Title I School of Distinction by the United States Department of Education for the year 1997-98, (“Test Scores soar in tiny Delta School”)

Despite these gains in test scores, a dean of education at a major public university in Arkansas said she didn’t approve of the school in the Delta using direct instruction because it didn’t allow for “critical thinking.” Dr. E. D. Hirsch in The Schools We Needs counters that, “to stress critical thinking while de-emphasizing knowledge reduces a student’s capacity to think critically.”

One Observer’s Comments on Reading Recovery/Direct Instruction Demonstrations

by Donna Watson

During the fall of 1997, 1 visited a Reading Recovery demonstration at U.A.L.R. for a “behind the glass” demonstration of a 2nd grade student that had been successfully “discontinued” from the RR program during her first grade year. (I could view the student and teacher but they were unable to see me.) The girl was with a teacher in a one-to-one setting utilizing a variety of books and other materials. She was asked to read one of the books for the demonstration. The book contained pictures and one to two lines of text per page. The teacher would ask the student to explain what was happening in the picture before the child attempted to read the text. Then the child would try to “read” based on her continued viewing of the picture and words as well as the leading suggestions of the teacher. She completed the book with interaction and assistance from the teacher.

.(Note: Remember, “discontinued” means the student has completed RR intensive one on one work and is back in the regular classroom and should be reading at the average level of the class.)

In May, 1998, 1 visited Wesley Elementary Charter School in Houston Texas which utilizes the Direct Instruction methodology. In a first grade classroom children were reading from a third grade- reading book that contained few pictures and extensive text. Each child in the group was eager to read aloud for the teacher and required no assistance from her. Several children worked independently from a workbook while answering questions in the book; I was astonished by the difficulty of the instructions in the workbook and the correctness and neatness of students’ responses. Another first grade class was doing analogies; third graders were reading from a fifth grade book; and second graders were reducing fractions. (See Notes on visit to Wesley Elementary in Appendix #I)

There was no comparison on the achievement levels of the students in these two settings. Anyone able to make an objective observation should be able to see the difference. While results may vary from school to school and child to child, there is overwhelming evidence in favor of students learning to read well if given the chance to learn phonics in the early grades.

Many States are Embracing Phonics to Combat Illiteracy; In contrast, Governor Huckabee’s Smart Start K-4 Initiative utilizes whole language-based programs ELLA, Effective Literacy for Grades 2-4, and McRat.

During the past several years, California, Ohio (the first state to embrace Reading Recovery in the U.S.,) South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin have passed legislation requiring instruction in phonics in the early grades. Others states including Maryland, Nebraska, Mississippi, Arizona either have legislation pending or have committees developing phonics-based curriculum. Georgia has implemented a phonics-based Reading First program in the state’s elementary schools which says if by the end of first grade students are not reading on grade level, at the beginning of second grade, they will read all day long until they are at grade level.

Of the above mentioned states, California is most noteworthy, because it enthusiastically embraced whole language in 1987 and, as a result, their reading scores plunged tying Louisiana for the rank of worst in the nation by 1995. In a response, the state revamped its standards and went back to phonics and scores are beginning to improve. Additionally, school boards and local communities across the nation are returning to phonics-based curriculums while abandoning whole language. (“States Embrace Phonics to Combat Illiteracy”)

And, recently the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), an Atlanta-based taxpayer funded organization, announced the five states in the southern region making the most dramatic academic gains. It’s not surprising that four of these five-North Carolina, Texas, Georgia, and Maryland-have adopted a phonics-based curriculum and/or passed legislation mandating phonics.

However, while other states are acknowledging the importance of phonics in the early grades, Arkansas’ recently revealed that the Smart Start Action Plan will utilize three whole language-based programs. These programs have been developed by the same people that have been in charge of reading (and Reading Recovery) throughout the state; most have been grounded in the whole language approach, not systematic phonics. In fact, the teacher textbooks from these programs were all written by whole language proponents, including Gay Su Pinnell, the head of the Recovery Program in the United States, and Linda Dom, the head of the Reading Recovery regional training center located at UALR. At the very least, the Smart Start Plan should give, schools a choice as to which approach they would like to have-whole language “balanced literacy” approach or explicit, systematic phonics approach. As it stands now, staff development from ADE will only offer the following three programs:

(Source: Smart Start Staff Development Programs provided by ADE) 1) “Early Literacy Learning in Arkansas (ELLA) is designed to provide intensive, long-term staff development that will complement Reading Recovery programs by offering training in supportive classroom literacy strategies to teams of primary teachers, focusing on first grade.” Priority is given to RR schools and training is provided through the ADE and Education Service Cooperatives. This training “includes information and strategies which will ensure a supportive classroom for Reading Recovery students, including components of a ‘balanced’ literacy program.” The ineffectiveness and expense of Reading Recovery has been discussed earlier.

2) “Effective Literacy for Grades 2-4 is a two-year staff development program promoting a balanced literacy approach to reading, writing and assessment. Developed by the Arkansas Department of Education Reading Program Support Specialists, the training is offered at the regional education service cooperatives.” The content of this program includes the reading process, the writing process, skills and strategies for reading, flexible grouping, assessment and parental involvement.

3) “Multicultural Reading and Thinking (McRat) infuses higher order thinking, multicultural concepts, and performance-based assessment into classroom curricula using available materials and resources. Developed in Arkansas by the State Department of Education reading staff and classroom teachers, the McRat approach is used in classrooms, grade 3 through 8. “

McRat integrates thinking and problem-solving processes into the core of educational practice, namely the interactions between teacher and student in regular classrooms. The program: a) provides teachers with explicit strategies for teaching reasoning and problem solving throughout the curriculum; b) trains teachers in a state-of the-art, alternative assessment approach to evaluating students’ progress; c) it emphasizes the teaching of intercultural concepts as a meaningful context for the application of thinking and problem-solving strategies while teachers are taught how to use the framework of higher-order thinking throughout the curriculum.

Additionally, McRat is “consistent with provisions of Act 236, the program embodies the movement toward linkage between instructional programs and ‘alternative assessment’ ” (read between the lines: not your usual basic tests.) The McRat approach addresses national Goals 2000.

The manuals for these three programs use a plethora of “tools terms” and other lofty phrases like “higher order thinking skills,” “Zone of Actual Development”, “Zone of Proximal Development”, “balanced literacy”, “developmentally appropriate”, “metacognitive awareness”, “alternative assessments”, plus many more. Welcome to “Thoughtworld” which according E.D. Hirsch, Jr. is ” that knowledge-aversion romantic theory of education.” These programs are based on abstract-even discredited-theories of how children learn and have replaced content-based curricula in schools throughout Arkansas and the nation.

According to Hirsch, “Prospective teachers and members of the general public are bemused, bullied, and sometimes infected by seductive rhetorical flourishes … these terms and phrases pretend to more soundness, humaneness, substance, and scientific authority than they in fact possess. Promulgating this system of rhetoric has been an ongoing function of American schools of education, whose uniformity of language and doctrine ensures that every captive of the teacher-certification process and every professor trained to continue the tradition is imbued with educationally correct phrases. Consensus-through-rehetoric has been one of the main instruments of the Thoughtworld’s intellectual dominance.” (The Schools We Need) For even the college educated, it is difficult to understand how these manuals (and thus the programs) can actually help teach reading to children.

The Murphy team predicts that in 4-5 years, when those first benchmark tests are given, there will be little or no significant changes in student reading scores if these “literacy” programs are the basis of teaching reading in Arkansas. Wouldn’t it be more cost-effective and much wiser to return to systematic phonics the Arkansas classrooms? At a time when students are in desperate need of good sound reading instruction, does it make sense to rely on programs that use a methodology which is proven not to work?

Problems with Definition of Literacy

Unfortunately the definition of literacy has also changed over the years. No longer does it mean “the ability to read.” According to the participant’s notebook from Effective Literacy for Grades 2-4, literacy can have three additional meanings:

1. the “basic or primary levels of reading and writing that serve comparatively over time and across space” (Graff, 1989)

2. a set of “reading and writing practices governed by a conception of what, how, when and why to read and write” (Lankshear, 1987)

3. “the possession by an individual of the essential knowledge and skills which enable him or her to engage in all those activities required for effective functioning in his or her groups and community and whose attainments in reading, writing, and math make it possible for him or her to use these skills toward his or her own and the community’s development” (UNESCO, 1962)

Literacy today means much more than knowing how to read:

A flier entitled “When Do You Teach Reading” sent home to an Arizona kindergartner’s parents explains more fully the latest notion of literacy :

“When a child has the chance to hear poetry and one good story after another, day after day … They are being taught to read!

When their year is a series of mind-stretching, eye-opening, eye-filling trips … helping them know more solidly about their world … They are being taught to read!

When a child hears good adult language: when they have the fullest, freest chance to use their own language … They are being taught to read!

When they create with blocks; communicate with paint … use their body freely as a means of expression … They are being taught to read!

When a child stares – fascinated at a picture or looks every so carefully at a scale in a store or at the life in his aquarium … They are being taught to read!

When they hammer ever so carefully at the workbench, fashioning their battleship … They are being taught to read!

When they use their whole body; two eyes, two hands, two arms. two legs, and knees and feet to pull themself (sic) up a scary slanted climbing board … They are being taught to read!” (“When Do You Teach Reading?”)

No one will deny that good literature is not important for children, but learning basics first-26 letters of the alphabet, the 44 sounds they make, and the 70 most common ways to spell those sounds-could open up a whole world of rich literature and make it possible for every child to read and read well. And for most children, learning this basic code unlocks 85% of the words in the English language by the end offirst grade, which leaves ample timefor rich literature!

See Dick and Jane Continue to Flunk: Arkansas, We Still Have a Problem!

Despite all the research and evidence on the best methodology to teach reading, the literacy problem still exists and objections to returning to a phonics-based approach remains. Departments of Education in our colleges and universities teach predominately the whole language approach to reading.

Whole language appears to have an iron lock on schools of teacher education, academic journals, and much of the education bureaucracy. Support for whole language is so uniform among professors of teacher education that many newly minted teachers have never been taught anything else. Critiques or negative reviews occasionally appear in educational journals, but they are rare and usually drowned out by a chorus of praise. Professor Patrick Groff noted that over a recent five-year period, the journal of Reading Teacher published 119 laudatory articles on whole .language and only a single piece that referred to possible shortcomings.

State education departments have been particularly susceptible to whole language programs and many have incorporated them into state guidelines, most dramatically in California. In addition, Groff noted whole language “holds out the lure to teachers that they alone, will become the judges of how well their pupils have learned to read This totally unassailable exemption from accountability by teachers to parents and other parties is called teacher empowerment by advocates of whole language. ” (Dumbing Down Our Kids)

So why aren’t the schools rushing to implement programs that demonstrably work and chucking out those schemes that have been so badly discredited? The answer according to Jeanne Chall, professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, lies in the “more powerful forces at work-values, ideologies, philosophies, and appealing rhetoric.” Since the 1920s, when child-centered theories began to dominate the schools, the vision of education embodied in whole language has dominated educational thinking. “For a growing number,” wrote Chall, “it means a philosophy of education and of life, not merely a method of teaching reading.” But unfortunately this method has proven ineffective, and the “least effective for those who tend to be at risk for learning to read-low- income, minority children and those at risk for learning disability.” (Dumbing Down our Kids)

The Great Wall

How has a philosophy so flawed and proven ineffective continued to flourish?

1. Part of the problem lies in the fact that although the government and various other organizations have done extensive research, they do not effectively disseminate their findings. And those who should be most familiar with this research-education professionals, teachers, and school adminstrators – have chosen to ignore it. “It’s as if the educators have erected the intellectual equivalent of China’s Great Wall, successfully thwarting researchers’ efforts to invade the schoolhouse.”

2. State education agencies, as well, have also been hesitant to take a strong position. Their response is often, “We don’t suggest from this level how reading should or should not be taught in the classroom. Decisions like that are left to the local districts.”

3. Those education professors that are familiar with the research fail to incorporate it into their classrooms. Would-be teachers are given little or no instruction in explicit phonics as professors tout the advantages of whole language. Even at the graduate level this occurs. One California teacher seeking a doctorate in reading instruction approached Reid Lyon, director of NICHD, after a lecture he gave. “Her face wet with tears, she told him that no one had ever exposed her to phonics-based instruction.” One reason whole language remains so popular is because iVs easier for teachers to administer-” it frees teachers from using stuffy worksheets and dull drills of yesteryear.” However, these teachers fail to realize the learning of letters and syllables usually only requires about 20-30 minutes per day and the rewards are immeasurable.

4. And finally, “whole language also flourishes because of the long-standing skepticism toward research in the education community. Even educational researchers admit to the shoddiness of educational research in the past, and the tendency of ‘the latest findings’ to swing educators from fad to fad. Very little research actually ever makes it into the classroom. For the most part, teacher colleges that serve as vocational schools are often separate from research institutions, so professors who train teachers are insulated from professors who engage in research.” (“See Dick Flunk”)


1. Enact legislation requiring school districts to use explicit systematic phonics instruction with decodable text as part of their reading curriculum in grades K-3.

2. Teacher licensure requirements for those teaching reading should be strengthened and should include training in explicit, systematic phonics. Teachers should be required to demonstrate they can effectively teach reading.

3. Redirect all state and local taxpayer money now spent on Reading Recovery to retraining teachers in how to teach explicit systematic phonics.

4. The Smart Start Action Plan should be amended to allow schools the option of choosing two to three phonics-based programs in staff development, even if it means contracting out to other organizations for these services (since very few ADE reading personnel have the skills to teach systematic phonics.)

5. The Arkansas Department of Education should consider a pilot program, taking five to ten of the lowest performing schools in the state, and implementing a phonics-based approach to reading. Progress should be measured during the next 4-5 years with results compared to whole language schools.

6. Ensure that all children are reading on grade level at the end of first and every grade thereafter. Take appropriate actions in the first grade-waiting until 3rd or 4th grade is too late. End social promotion of children not reading on grade level. (Whole language proponents would rather wait until later, because they believe some children cannot possibly begin reading until the age of nine.)

“…the achievement of this single, attainable goal-every child reading at grade level by the end of first or second grade-would do more than any other single reform to improve the quality and equality of American schooling. “(The Schools We Need)

Why Johnny and Mary Can’t Add, Subtract, Multiply and Divide

The Problem

American 13 year-olds average score in the Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) placed the United States at 28 out of the 41 industrialized countries that administered the test. Also on the TIMSS, U.S. Seniors “scored below students from most other countries on a math-test … even Americans who took advanced math courses performed worse that most students taking equally rigorous courses elsewhere.” (“U.S. seniors at bottom in math, science”)

On the 1996 8th grade National Assessments of Educational Progress (NAEP), the national average was only 23% proficient; Arkansas’ proficient rate was 13%, the same as it was in 1992. This means 87% of Arkansas eighth-graders cannot perform math at a proficient level! (Report Card on American Education, 1996)

“In total math skills, there was a 13% drop among fourth-graders, a 16% drop among seventh-graders and a 17% drop among I Oth graders” between 1988 and 1995 on norm-referenced tests-the Metropolitan Achievement Test, 6th edition (NIAT6) and the Stanford Achievement Test, 8th edition (SAT8). (“The ups and downs of test scores”)

On the math portion of the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing and Assessment Program (ACTAP) the results were dismal. Of the three tests administered to I Ith graders, 80% failed in the spring of 1996, 82% failed in fall 1996, and 87% failed in fall 1997. (Arkansas Department of Education)

The Math Rebellion

If the schools have embraced joyful reading, can joyful math be far behind? On the surface, it seems unlikely, since math ought to be relatively immune to the fuzzy approaches that emphasize feelings rather than substance. Mathematics, after all, is the great unequalizer; it has a way ofseparating those who can from those who cannot. While educationists t7y to reduce the stress and anxiety of learning, math is not pain-ftee and probably never will be. It has a penchant for accuracy and a rather uncompromising attitude toward self-esteem: If you can get the right answer you can feel good about yourself, but if you cannot, mathematics doesn’t much care. The square root of 99 is still 9.9498 743 no matter how a child feels about it.

Historically, of course, mathematics has not gone unscathed by the periodic fads that sweep across the nation’s schools. The disaster of the New Math in the 1960s is still fresh memory for many parents. But most Americans have a very clear idea of what kind of math they think schools teach their children. For most Americans, the teaching of arithmetic is a basic test of common sense. There is a nearly universal sense that 4 x 8 = 32-and that is something that children ought to learn, even ifsome of them think it is hard or irrelevant, or insensitive to the needs of their inner selves.

But there is perhaps no other issue in the nation’s schools where the gap between the public’s expectations and the reigning ideology of the educationist is wider or more profound (Dumbing Down Our Kids)

Consider these statistics:

86% of Americans believe children should learn to do arithmetic “by hand”, which includes memorizing the multiplication tables before beginning to use calculators.

More than four out of five “math education professionals” believe that the early use of calculators will enhance students problem-solving skills. And, only 12% of “math educators” share the public’s fear that the use of calculators in early grades will inhibit the child’s ability to do computation on his/her own.

“Fuzzy math” or “whole math” programs have been embraced by the nation’s school systems including those in Arkansas. This “new New Math” approach utilizes the constructivist education philosophy which dictates that reality must be “constructed by the leamer-right answers do not have an objective existence”. It is part of the progressive education philosophy, that believes that “textbooks narrow learning to dull, repetitive tasks, and that memorization is boring and not relevant to the student.” It also insists that “learning basic skills before progressing in the curriculum condemns countless youngsters to a low level, repetitious math program.” (“The Second Great Math Rebellion”)

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Standards

Much of the movement to this fuzzy math approach has been a result of the standards developed in 1989 by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). These standards, entitled Curriculum and Evaluation Standardsfor School Mathematics, have been the “single most influential guide to changes in the nation’s K- 12 mathematics teaching, and in the contents and attitudes of our best-selling textbooks.”

The NCTM is an organization of math teachers, university professors in schools of education, and administrators and officials at all levels. Unfortunately the “most obviously missing voice in this listing of those influential in school mathematics today is that of the mathematics profession itself, as it might be represented by the three major professional organizations: The American Mathematical Society (AMS), the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). (State Mathematics Standards)

“The idea behind NCTM standards is that’conceptual understanding’ of math, not problems and practice, is what matters. Ifs like saying you can learn to play a piano concerto by studying how it’s written-and forget about learning musical notation or even what a piano is. These standards fail to recognize that the memorization of basic math facts and the ability to do mental math are not only important skills, but predictors of futures success.” (“MTV Math Doesn’t Add Up”)

Unfortunately by “taking the math out of math,” children will have a very difficult time developing the skills of critical thought, abstraction, attention to detail, clarity, perseverance and discipline. What the new New Math offers in return is “only brief, superficial glimpses of numbers, disguised in inane problems even the children find laughable. Rigorous study of math, with all its challenges and eventual conquest, truly gives students what educators tout as all-important: self-esteem.” (MTV Math)

What’s In and What’s Out in the NCTM standards: (Source: Dumbing Down Our Kids)

K-4th Grade-

Teachers should devote more time and attention to:

Cooperative work

Discussion of mathematics


Writing about mathematics

Content integration

Exploration of chance

Problem-solving strategies

Use of calculators and computers

Teachers should give decreased time to:

Early attention to reading, writing, and ordering numbers symbolically

Complex paper-and-pencil computation

Addition and subtraction without renaming

Isolated treatment of division facts

Long division

Long division without remainders

Paper-and-pencil fraction computation

Rote practice

Rote memorization of rules

One answer and one method

Written practice

Teaching by telling

For 5th-8th graders, the NCTM standards propose de-emphasizing-

Relying on outside authority (teacher or an answer key)

Memorizing rules and algorithms

Practicing tedious paper-and-pencil computations (emphasis added)

Finding exact forms of answers

Memorizing procedures such as cross multiplication

“In teaching algebra, the standards propose giving less attention to ‘manipulating symbols’ and ‘memorizing procedures and drilling on equation solving.’ ” They also propose de-emphasizing learning formulas in statistics and probability and call for spending less time on teaching geometric vocabulary and “facts and relationships” in geometry.

There is also a de-empahasis on the teacher in their traditional role of leading a class. The teacher now becomes a “facilitator.” Additionally, with the abandonment of much computation, the NCTM’s standards “envision a dramatically expanded role for calcutlators-beginning no later than kindergarten.”

And, as if it’s not enough to have multiculturalism. in reading and other programs, it has infiltrated the math arena as well. “Whenever possible the NCTM standards insist, students’ cultural backgrounds should be integrated into the learning experience. Not missing a chance to patronize minority students, the standards note that black or Hispanic students, for example, may find the development of mathematical ideas in their cultures of great interest. It also means that math teachers must strive to create ‘caring environments’ in which they are careful not to impose their knowledge of right and wrong approaches to mathematics on students from different backgrounds.”

“In other words, the standards are a declaration of surrender.”

An Overview of the Arkansas Math Crusade: Higher order Thinking Skills in Mathematics (Arkansas Statewide Systemic Initiative)

Arkansas was among those states that embraced NCTM in an effort to improve math test scores. Scores have not signficantly improved during the time this popular math initiative has been in place, and yet some educators wonder why. A brief explanation of the Arkansas Math Crusade from the Crusade’s introductory material provides insight:

“In 1991, a statewide steering committee of classroom teachers and college professors representing both the colleges of arts and sciences and the colleges of education created a vision for mathematics education reform in Arkansas. That vision, based on the NCTM Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics, not only included developing mathematical power for all students, but it also included helping teachers accomplish this goal.”

The mission of the Arkansas Math Crusade is as follows:

  • “to help mathematics teachers create successful learning environments for every student;
  • to promote professional growth for teachers in content and instructional strategies;
  • to provide access to hands-on mathematics manipulatives, calculators, and technology in all Arkansas classrooms.”

(See NCTM Position Statement on “Calculators and the Education of Youth,” Appendix #8.)

This initiative has four goals that are aligned with the NCTM standards-problem solving, communications, reasoning, and connections. The mathematical content and concepts are organized into 15 modules that represent 1) Number Sense, Properties, and Operations, 2) Measurement, 3) Geometry, 4) Algebra and Functions, and 5) Data Analysis, Statistics, and Probability. (Note: the Arkansas Math Curriculum Frameworks align with these five categories and are explicitly based on NCTM standards.)

Assessments will include “performance task” and “portfolio assessment.” The performance tasks “are designed to give teachers opportunities to demonstrate how they make sense of mathematics. As part of the course, all teachers are provided with many items used in the tasks within the modules, including calculators, manipulatives, and measuring instruments. Thus, the performance tasks are an extension of both mathematical content and the use of mathematical tools.” Portfolio assessment includesjournal writing, summaries of research articles, and a public awareness project. (Arkansas Math Crusade)

An article in the Arkansas Math, Science, & K-4 Crusades Quarterly Newsletter Spring 1996 asks these questions about math assessments, “Are your students involved in activities and investigations that require reasoning and communicating mathematical ideas … where data must be organized to reach a solution? … where there can be more than one correct answer? “

Arkansas’ goal should be improving academic achievement for students in math, and while the Crusades look good in print, Arkansans should be concerned about the dependency on the NCTM’s standards (weak and fuzzy while utilizing teachers as “facilitators”), the lack of the teaching of math facts (more reliance on “manipulatives” and calculators and less on computation and memorization,) and the use of these “alternative assessments” (not requiring the correct answer and depending on “journal writing and public awareness projects.”) As is the case in reading, we also need rigor in knowledge-based, proven math programs in order to have students not only proficient, but excelling as well.

Case Studies in the new, New Math

1. “Marianne Jennings, an Arizona State business professor, has brought enlightenment to the multitudes. With her commentaries on her daughter Sarah’s eighth-grade math book (she calls it MTV Math for its colorful pictures, disconnected ideas and generally casual attitude) she has helped parents across the country realize they are not the only ones dismayed by current mathematics education.” They’re learning that getting the right answer to a math problem can be much less important than having a good rationale for a wrong one. (“President Clinton’s Mandate For Fuzzy Math”)

Mrs. Jennings said, “One evening my blood boiled, as I witnessed my daughter using a calculator to compute 10% of 470. Later that same evening, when I had to explain to her how I got 25% when the answer to an algebra problem was one-fourth, I asked my own flesh and blood, ‘Are the other kids this dumbT My straight-A child reassured me: ‘Oh, they’re much dumber.”‘ (MTV Math)

2. The recent TIMSS results jolted Americans when it was discovered that “one-third of U.S. l2th-graders couldn’t compute the price of a $1,250 stereo that was on sale for 20% off. Only one in nine could plot a graph. Even the best U.S. students-presumably the next engineers-scored miserably. ” (“Low X-pectations”) In fact, it appears that even America’s best and brightest 12th graders are the worst in the industrial world in math. Fourth-graders and eighth-graders performed slightly better. It appears “that the U.S. is the only country where kids do worse the longer they stay in school.” (“Why America has the World’s Dimmest Bright Kids”)

3. “In written testimony, an Arkansas math teacher with 18 years of classroom experience noted ‘dramatic’ declines in students’ grasp of basic addition and multiplication facts, whole-number computation, estimation and measurement skills, and fractions and decimals. ‘Many students have very few estimation skills,’ the teacher wrote. ‘They have no idea if an answer to a computation problem is reasonable or not. They can punch in the wrong numbers on a calculator and not recognize a ridiculous answer.’ These are students who don’t know their multiplication tables, can’t figure percentages and are totally discombobulated by fractions.” (“The ups and downs of test scores”)

Other Problems in Math Include:

1. Poorly trained teachers

Gene Wilhoit, former director of Arkansas Department of Education, blamed the low ACTAP test scores in the

spring of 1996 on unprepared teachers, ineffective classes and students without a solid foundation in math. “This is

not simply an issue for low-achieving students We have higher-level students performing much lower the real

problem is in the training of mathematicians.”

Diane Gilleland, former director of Arkansas Department of Higher Education, said one of the main problems is in the training of math teachers. “We are doing our children a disservice to allow 250 people to get a physical education degree with math hours and be a math teacher.” Most elementary teachers are only required to take six hours of classes on math in college, and unfortunately, most of these teachers feel uncomfortable taking and teaching math. Middle school teachers must take at least 18 hours of math courses while high school teachers are required to take 21 hours including advanced courses. (“Three variables factor into formula for low math scores”) Many other -disciplines, such as social science, require 36 hours in the field to be certified.

2. Low expectations for students

Far too often students cover the same materials in math over and over, year after year, instead of assuming students have learned the material. The seventh and eighth grades become a vast wasteland, with teachers unsure of exactly what to teach because traditionally algebra isn’t taught until 9th grade. Why? Because that’s the way it’s always been done. Students often fear math, and most especially, algebra. But deferring algebra to the ninth grade means that “90% of a ninth-grade math book is new material-a huge blast of abstract thinking after years of easy-going arithmetic.” Also, by then high school students have often been pegged “smart in math” or “not very smart in math.” And the not so smart ones can opt for dumbed-down math courses, such as general math or practical math. (“Low X-pectations”)

3. Poor quality and dumbed-down math textbooks

Textbooks can also be blamed for many math problems. “When I opened my daughter’s eighth-grade algebra book, I thought is was her social science book. Call it MTV math: The Addison-Wesley textbook, Secondary Math: An Integrated Approach: Focus on Algebra, has color photos, essays on Dogon tribe of Africa, and questions such as ‘What role should zoos play in today’s societyT There’s Maya Angelou poetry, pictures of Bill Clinton and little insights from Tabuk and Esteban. The book, with its busy pages and journey through environmentalism, is an 800-page pedagogical nightmare. By contrast, our mathematical superiors, the Japanese, have 200- to 300-page texts about-get this-math.” (MTV math)

In a third-grade Addison-Wesley textbook, in a section entitled “Sorting Shapes,” students are asked to draw and describe “blofabs,” “slogs,” and “gorfs.” (See Appendix #8)

Recently an Arkansas Department of Education employee (who works with the state approved textbooks) was questioned as to why so many math textbooks deal with subjects other than math. She replied, “That’s the integrated approach that has been called for in the Curriculum Frameworks.”

The good news is that students are now required to take more years of math in high school; however, the bad news is, if it’s the new, New math, is this really good news at all?

The Smart Start Action Plan calls for the hiring of fifteen K-4 math specialists to be assigned to the cooperatives and ten secondary math specialists to be assigned to university centers. This is a worthy goal, but will these specialist tout the NCTM standards or a back-to-basics math approach? Hiring “more of the same” will not produce improved results in students’ math scores.

California Endorses Back-to-Basics Math Standards

The California State Board of Education has endorsed a set of no-nonsense standards for math education from kindergarten through seventh grade that emphasizes correct answers and lots of practice while discouraging the use of calculators. As a direct result of this action, California was the only state that received a perfect score on Fordham Foundation’s review of math standards-even beating out Japan (a country world-renown for high achievement in Math ) After much controversy and lengthy debate State Education Board members agreed that American schools need to start teaching students more like their counterparts in Japan and Singapore, where students come out on top in international tests.

The new standards require public school students to memorize multiplication tables in third grade and that students master the age-old routines of borrowing and carrying while adding and subtracting. And, long division, a skill very few students master anymore because of the use of calculators, would once again be introduced beginning in fourth grade. And in every grade students are required to “make precise calculations,” hence get the right answer.

“The entire state of our children’s education depends on these standards,” Kathryn Dronenburg, State Board of Education member, said. “All you have to do is read them and see they are incredibly rigorous at every level.” Although the state’s 1,000 school districts are not required to abide by the standards, these new standards will shape textbooks and the statewide standardized test, and the results of these tests will be highly publicized. (“State Endorses Back-to-Basics Math Standards”)

Saxon Math Program

John Saxon, the author of an alternative mathematics series, approaches math with an emphasis on “the building blocks of mathematical knowledge and relies on drilling students in such skills until they become second nature. Although his curriculum is considered anathema to the educational establishment, Saxon’s books are used in more than four thousand schools. His analysis of the nation’s further needs is very different from the vision of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.”

“We need to get as many students as we can through calculus in high school,” Saxon writes. “We need students who are competent in the use of fractions, decimals, mixed numbers, percent and rations. We need students who know trigonometry and analytic geometry. We need a workforce that allows Americans to compete successfully in a technological world. We do not need guidelines that recommend leaving students ill-prepared for chemistry and physics and that ridicule preparation for calculus.” (Dumbing Down Our Kids)


1. Abandon the National Council of Mathematics Teachers (NCTM) standards (which includes the Arkansas Curriculum Frameworks and Arkansas Math Crusades) and implement rigorous standards of mathematics for all Arkansas students. The Arkansas Department of Education and school districts should take a long and serious look at the California math standards.

2. Require teachers to be certified in mathematics if they are teaching math. Additionally, teacher licensure requirements for those individuals entering the profession should be strengthened.

3. Return to a back-to-basics, “no-nonsense” approach similar to the California initiative, complete with memorization and computation, where there is one correct answer to a problem. Only time-tested and proven methodologies and curriculums should be used for teaching math.

4. Implement high expectations in math for all students. Teachers should discontinue the practice of repeating the same math year after year. Allow all eighth-graders the chance to take algebra; those that are not successful can repeat it in 9th grade.


Demanding Academic Accountability

Although the cornerstones of improving student achievement are high expectations, academic standards, and proven methodologies and curriculums, this should be the beginning of the process, not the end. The next three steps would provide a measure of academic accountability and should include:

1. Assessments

Assessments should be implemented and tied both to our own rigorous academic standards (criterion referenced tests)

and to comparative measures with other states (norm-referenced tests.) Arkansas should retain the Stanford

Achievement Test (SAT9) or another norm-referenced test and should administer it at grades 3,5, and 7 (as opposed to

5, 7, and 10 as is currently done.)

The ACTAP criterion exam should continue to be given at grades 4, 8 and I I with the last test eventually used as a high school exit exam to determine eligibility for graduation. Additionally, every first and second grader should be assessed to make sure they are reading on level at the end of that grade. And at no time, in any grade, should students be socially promoted. Arkansas schools must end this practice! (Specific requirements for academic accountability are discussed more fully in the Murphy Commission report, Streamlining and Cost-Savings in the K-12 Public Education System.)

It’s important to test students because: (Note: This ties in with #3 below.) a. ” Testing helps schools identify weaknesses. Testing students creates data that can be analyzed to identify weaknesses in students and teachers, providing both with information needed for specific improvements. b. Test data can illuminate best practices When test scores are combined with demographic data, it becomes possible for educators to identify those schools and instructional programs that are succeeding despite poverty and other obstacles. These high-performing schools become models for reform.” (“Business Approach Nets Turnaround for Texas”)

2. Reporting Results of Assessments

Reporting results of these assessments to parents and the public should be presented on a school by school basis. Parents have a right to know-and schools have an obligation to tell thern-how the academic quality and performance in their child’s school ranks when compared with other public schools in Arkansas, district by district, and generally for the state as compared with other states in the nation. Arkansas remains the only school in the southern region that currently does not report on a school by school basis, choosing instead to report district by district. And, many states post these results on the internet as well. (An example of a school performance report card is included in Appendix # 9.)

(Note: As a measure of accountability, the Murphy Commission still endorses the district by district report card published annually by the Arkansas Department of Education, and specifics of this accountability program is discussed in the Streamlining and Cost-Savings in the K-12 Public Education System report.)

Parents should be involved in the reporting of these results. Require parents to come to the school annually to receive their child’s report card and at the same time explain the results of the school report card. For those parents that cannot go to the school, teachers, administrators, and/or counselors should go to the parents, most especially when students have low performing scores. This is working in many states that require teachers to phone or visit parents to monitor a child’s study habits and performance levels. And, principals are using a variety of methods to link up with the school.

Additionally, the Governor of Arkansas should be required to annually provide a televised “School Performance” address to the citizens of the state. Parents and the public at large should and must be informed on the “state of education” in an honest and open way. (Details of this recommendation are found in the Murphy Commission’s report, ArkansasPublic Schools … A Thirty Year $20 Billion Taxpayer Investment Yields an Unprecedented Crisis in Academic Performance. )

3. Review Results and Replicate Best Practices

This final step in academic accountability should include assessing the best practices of those schools and programs making academic gains. Schools that are failing should adopt these methodologies and curriculums. Teachers and administrators in high performing schools should be rewarded and congratulated on the school, district, and state level. Likewise, schools that continue to fail to improve should have teachers and administrators removed from the system. Strict sanctions should be implemented.

Note: The Smart Start Action Plan has an academic accountability portion, and though it needs some refinement, it is a definite move in the right direction. Accountability in the program should be expanded to include information in addition to test scores. Texas has made tremendous academic gains and each school is rated on a yearly basis and rewarded accordingly. Arkansas could look at the Texas model and adopt a similar rating system, and all school ratings should be published annually and made available to citizens of the state.

The Texas School Rating System (“Business Approach Nets Turnaround for Texas”) Texas assigns its schools a rating based on three factors: dropout rates, attendance rates, and the percentage of students passing each of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) tests on reading, writing, and mathematics. The state has increased the thresholds for each ranking annually since 1993. (Arkansas should do the same once an accountability program is in place.)

The 1998 standards are:

School Ranking

Dropout Rate

Attendance Rate

% of Students passing the TAAS


1% or less

At least 94%

At least 90%


3.5% or less

At least 94%

At least 80%


6% or less

At least 94%

At least 40%

Low Performing

More than 6%

Less than 94%

Less than 40%

The Murphy Commission Education Team fervently believes implementing these six steps-high expectations, academic standards, proven methodologies and curriculum, student assessments, reporting of results, and utilizing & rewarding best practices will lead to improved academic results. It also understands this is what the parents and citizens of Arkansas want and should demand!

However, getting the education establishment to agree, might prove a problem. Their solution will most likely call for more money, more time, and more programs, even if these programs have failed in the past. Somehow, they believe pouring more money into the same programs will provide improved (different) results. “We’ve tried a hundred different programs and a thousand gimmicks. We’ve poured countless billions of dollars into the schools.” (Why America has the World’s Dimmest Bright Kids”) Yet nothing seems to work.

“The public school system as we know it has proved that it cannot fix itself. It is an ossified government monopoly that functions largely for the benefit of its employees and interest groups rather than that of children and taxpayers. American education needs a radical overhaul. For starters, control over education must be shifted into the hands of parents and true reformers-people who will insist on something altogether different rather than murmuring excuses for the catastrophe that surrounds us.” (“Why America has the World’s Dimmest Bright Kids”)

And, if schools continue to perform poorly, parents and students should be given the option of choosing another school. Charter schools, tuition tax credits, and parental choice should become a viable option for every parent that has a child in Arkansas public schools. How many years can parents be held hostage to a system that fails to listen to the demands of the customer? A system that refuses to accept empirical data on best practices? A system that spends billions of dollars year after year on the same failed programs? Empower parents and only then will we once again have truly exceptional, high performing schools.

Not the end … just the beginning!

The Murphy Commission Education Team thought that after fifteen months of examining the education system and completing its reports, that its work would be completed. Instead it has found many more issues that need to be addressed and these recommendations are made that it may continue to explore ways to improve the education system in Arkansas:


1. The Murphy Commission or a similar task force should launch an in-depth review of the departments of education in the major teacher colleges and universities. It appears that much of the resistance for change and many of our educational problems are lodged here.

2. The Murphy Commission recommends that the Arkansas Policy Foundation “spin-out” a Center for Education Reform that continues to look at the issue of K- 12 public education, including working with schools and districts that want to implement rigorous academic standards and proven methodologies and curriculums. This Center should single out best practices and make other schools aware of them, as well as act as a clearinghouse for those teachers, administrators, and school board members needing further information on effective education reform.

3. The Murphy Commission or other groups should also look into such areas as:

a. Arkansas accreditation of schools process (Department of Education vs. the North Central Association accreditation processes).

b. An analysis of the textbooks on the approved textbook list.

c. The education philosophies, wants and needs of parents, teachers, and citizens and how these might differ from the those of the education establishment.


From: Dumhing Down Our Kids:

Why American Children Feel Good A hout Themselves

But Can’t Read, Write, or Add

by Charles J. Sykes

Chapter 20: “Schools That Work”

So what is the answer?

If there is an antidote to the dumbing down of our children it is to be found in the many schools that work. In virtually every community in the country, there are schools that break the mold of educational mediocrity, succeeding-often against great odds-in producing literate, confident, capable students. Some of these schools are found in affluent suburbs, some in impoverished inner city neighborhoods; some are private, while others are public schools; some are predominantly white, while others have largely minority student bodies. These educational success stories are not distinguished by their funding, their status, or their religious -affiliations, but rather by certain qualities and commitments they share in common.


The goal of educational reform, simply put, is to make more schools effective and to get more children into those schools.

In contrast to the weak or nonexistent research that supports educationist fads and pseudoreforms, we know a great deal about what makes schools effective; the research into successful schools is, moreover, remarkably consistent. Effective schools are not characterized by small class sizes, exceptional teachers, the ethnic makeup of the faculty, or by the quality or age of the physical plant. They do, however, all have forceful administrators, high expectations among the faculty for student achievement, involved parents, and an orderly school atmosphere. Successful schools, according to Gilbert Sewall, all tend to give absolute precedence to academic achievement by emphasizing cognitive leaming. They emphasize “pupil mastery of low-level skills,” which leads to “unrelenting attention to the progress of all students in the essentials of reading, writing, and computation.” the objective, to which all of the schools’ efforts are aimed, is higher cognitive development and more advanced knowledge.

Successful schools also maintain high standards and expectations: Students who fall below the minimum standards will be failed. But such schools do not write off any child as ineducable or unable to master basic, fundamental skills. In good schools, principals and department heads “act as fierce guardians of instructional quality… They tend not to be permissive, informal in their staff relationships, or overly interested in public relations. . .” Good schools are also intent on constantly monitoring and evaluating student progress. Most important of all, perhaps, effective schools recognize that pupil progress is not wholly dependent on home, parents, or other outside factors and that the schools themselves must take some responsibility. In outstanding schools, Sewall notes, “school staffs are not hostile to the concept of accountability and accepts responsibility for educating their students. They do not reject the validity of test scores, even when results are disappointing. Rather, they use test outcomes to decide what is and what is not working in the curriculum. In such an atmosphere teachers do not feel that they are or should be beyond evaluation.”

Research into effective schools has been consistent in confirming that general outline. In the early 1970s, George Weber, an analyst for the Council for Basic Education, studied four schools-two in New York, one in Kansas City, one in Los Angeles-whose third-grade classes had reading achievement scores far above those of other urban schools. Each of the third-grade classes he looked at had scores equal to or above the national norm and a very low percentage of nonreaders. What accounted for this superior performance? All four schools had strong and determined leadership, teachers committed to educational excellence, and strict policies related to discipline and order. Weber also found that each of the four schools shared similar approaches to reading. All four schools had:

  • A schoolwide concern about reading skills
  • Adroit use of reading specialists
  • A phonics-based curriculum
  • Close attention to individual student reading interests
  • Careful evaluation of pupil progress.

Webees research was echoed by studies of British students by researcher Michael Rutter, who exhaustively traced the

progress of 2,700 students in London schools from the end of their elementary education through secondary school.

The students in Rutter’s survey attended twelve different schools- all of them nonselective and all with a substantial

percentage of low-income, minority children. Rutte ‘ r and his team found wide variations among the schools and the

levels of achievement of the students. At the most successful schools, Rutter found, students who could be classified

as “low-ability” achieved at the level of “high-ability” students at the least effective schools. While the family

background and social class of the students clearly made a difference, so did the schools.

Rutter and his associates were able to identify the common traits of the best schools. They were run by teachers and administrators who “take school seriously”; they had clearly defined and carefully monitored standards for their teachers, who in turn took their responsibilities to be role models seriously. Teachers tended to be highly organized, prepared, and punctual: the schools also had high expectations for the students and set demanding workloads. Teachers in the successful schools assigned a lot of homework, but also rewarded diligence.

Even more provocative were the findings of another British researcher who set out explicitly to compare the effectiveness of different styles of teaching. Neville Bennett wanted to pit traditional approaches to education against more fashionable, “progressive” styles, and to determine which method resulted in higher levels of student performance. Bennett made non secret of the biases he brought to the study: He was inclined to support the trend toward more informal or “open” classrooms then in vogue among educationists. But as a genuine scholar, he was bothered by the wholesale rush to implement faddish new ideas and programs “not on research evidence, but on faith.”

“On both sides of the Atlantic,” he warned, “innovation is being urged without research. This of course is not new in education, the common response being that educational decisions cannot afford to wait for years while careful trials are instituted and evaluated. Yet it is a strange logic which dictates that we can afford to implement changes in organization and teaching which have unknown, and possibly deleterious, effects on the education of the nation’s young.”

Bennett contrasted the “progressive” and “traditional” approaches to education, In the progressive classroom, the teacher was a “guide to educational experience.” In the traditional classroom, the teacher was a “distributor of knowledge.” Progressive schools regarded external rewards and punishments as unnecessary, while traditional classes still emphasized external rewards, such as grades: progressive classrooms were “not too concerned with conventional academic standards”; progressive classes had little testing, while traditional classes had regular testing: progressive classed put the accent on cooperative group work, while traditionalists emphasized competition: and so on.

Bennett, frankly, expected the students liberated by the progressive style to excel in comparison with students who were still expected to memorize, practice, and learn facts by rote. to the contrary, his study of thousands of third-and fourth-grade students in 750 English schools found that the students in the traditional classes out-tested the progressive students by every measure-even in creative self-expression. Sewall later noted that “pupils in progressive classrooms that emphasized self-expression did not evince greater imagination or creativity than their formally instructed counterparts.” Students in traditional classrooms did better in math and reading and appeared to have lost nothing by not having their self-esteems massaged, their personalities adjusted, or their self-expressiveness nurtured. The key element behind the success of the traditional classrooms turned out to be rather mundane: Bennett found that students in traditional schools spent more time actually working on the subject matter they were being taught than their counterparts. In classes where the focus was squarely on academic achievement, students were required to spend more “time-on-task”, which in turn translated into higher levels of achievement. Ironically, Bennett found, not only did brighter children fare less well in “progressive” classes, but so did shy and insecure children, who tended to thrive more easily in the highly structured (and therefore less threatening) environment of the traditional classroom.

Although it is relatively easy to identify what makes school effective, it is far less easy to say how to go about making schools effective. The barriers, as we have already discussed, are formidable. Federal and state mandates and diktats that trickle down the bureaucratic hierarchies often make it impossible for schools to emphasize academic achievement. Top-down management undermines strong local leadership and waters down attempts at discipline and accountability. This is the paradox of school governance. While every school has a designated leader, they are still essentially leaderless institutions: they are staffed by professionals who are given the discretion of janitors: they claim to be accountable, but are insulated by elaborate layers of contracts, rules, laws, and regulations from any consequence of failure. the monopoly enjoyed by public education eliminates much of the incentive for change and precludes the sort of competition that might foster innovation. Not surprisingly, then, the move toward more effective schooling is more likely to flourish in the marketplace rather than inside the monopoly itself.


1. Annual School District 1996-97 Report Car4 Arkansas Department of Education.

2. “Arkansas Math Crusade: Higher Order Thinking Skills in Mathematics,” Arkansas Statewide Systemic Initiative (Introduction and Overview) and Arkansas Crusades: Math, Science, & K-4, Quarterly Newsletter, Spring 1996.

3. “Business Approach Nets Turnaround for Texas,” School Reform News, The Heartland Institute, June 1998 (Condensed from a Tyce Palmaffy article, “The Gold Star State, which appeared in the March-April 1998 issue of Policy Review.)

4. Catalog of School Reform Models: First Edition, prepared by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory with assistance from the Education Commission of the States, March 1998.

5. Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel GoodAbout Themselves But Can’tRead, Write, or Add, by Charles J. Sykes, St. Martin’s Griffin, New York, 1995.

6. “Language Arts: Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking Content Standards for grades K-12,” California Academic Standards Commission Report to the State Board of Education, 10/1/97.

7. “Don’t Read, Don’t Tell: Clinton’s phony war on illiteracy,” by Robert W. Sweet, Jr., Policy Review: The Journal of American Citizenship, The Heritage Foundation, May/June 1997.

8. “Explicit or Implicit Phonics: Therein Lies the Rub,” by Dolores Hiskes, The National Right to Read Foundation Newsletter, February 1998.

9. “Failing Grade,” by Richard Nadler, National Review, June 1, 1998.

10. “How Johnny Should Read,” by James Collins, Time (article entitled “What makes a Good School,”) October 27, 1997.

11. “Low X-pectations: Here’s Y the Teaching of Algebra in the U.S. Has Been Such a Flop,” by June Kronholz, The Wall Street Journal, 6/16/98.

12. “MTV Math Doesn’t Add Up,” by Marianne M. Jennings (director of the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics at Arizona State University,) The Wall Street Journal, 12/17/96.

13. “No Excuses: Houston Educator Thaddeus Lott puts failing schools to shame,” by Tyce Palmaffy, Policy Review: The Journal ofAmerican Citizenship, The Heritage Foundation, January/February 1998, Number 87.

14. Notes on visit to Wesley Elementary Charter School in Houston, Texas on May 7, 1998, Terry Tucker and Donna Watson.

15. “Overview Analysis of the Arkansas English Language Arts (and Reading) Curriculum Frameworks,” by Leslye Arscht, StandardsWork, The George Washington University, Washington, D.C., Fall, 1997.

16. “President Clinton’s Mandate for Fuzzy Math,” by Lynne V. Cheney (Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute,) The Wall Street Journal, 6/11/97.

17. “Public Schools Produce ‘Most Illiterate’ Generation Ever,” School Reform News, The Heartland Institute, May 1997 (Summary of a study entitled “An Analysis of Crucial U.S. Education Legislation: 1940-1996,” by Regina Wood, published by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.)

18. “Questions and Conclusions from a Discussion of Reading Recovery,” by Patrick Groff (San Diego State University,) Effective School Practices, Summer 1996.

19. Raising the Standard: An eight-step action guidefor schools and communities~ by Denis P. Doyle and Susan Pimentel, Corwin Press, Inc, Thousand Oaks, CA, 1997.

20. “Reading Recovery: An Evaluation of Benefits and Costs,” by Bonnie Grossen and Gail Coulter (University of Oregon), and Barbara Ruggles (Beacon Hill Elementary, Park Forest, Illinois,) Effective School Practices, Summer, 1996.

2 1. Reading Recovery Arkansas, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Spring Newsletter, Vol. 4, Issue 1, May, 1997.

22. Reading Recovery Arkansas, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Summer Newsletter, Vol. 5, Issue 2, June, 1998.

23. Report Card on American Education, A State-by-State Analysis, American Legislative Exchange Council, 1995 and 1996.

24. Research in Reading Recovery (a critical review), edited by Stanley L. Swartz and Adria F. Klein

25. “See Dick Flunk,” by Tyce Palmaffy, Policy Review: The Journal ofAmerican Citizenship, The Heritage Foundation, November/December 1997.

26. Smart Start & Arkansas Comprehensive Testing and Assessment Program (ACTAP) Action Plan, developed by the Arkansas Department of Education, Summer 1998.

27. Smart Start staff development reading programs from Arkansas Department of Education, Training/Participant Manuals and Textbooks for Early Literacy Learning in Arkansas (ELLA), Effective Literacy for Grades 2-4, and Multicultural Reading and Thinking.(McRAT).

28. “State Endorses Back-to-Basics Math Standards,” by Richard L. Colvin, Los Angeles Times, 12/2/97.

29. State Geography Standards, by Susan Munroe and Terry Smith, Thomas B. Fordharn Foundation, February 1998.

30. State History Standards, by David Warren Saxe, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, February 1998.

3 1. State Mathematics Standards, by Ralph A. Raimi and Lawrence S. Braden, Thomas B. Fordharn Foundation, March 1998.

32. State Science Standards, by Lawrence S. Lerner, Thomas B. Fordharn Foundation, March 1998.

33. “States Embrace Phonics to Combat Illiteracy,” School Reform News, The Heartland Institute, April 1998.

34. “Test scores soar at tiny Delta school,” by Emmett George, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 4/29/98

35. The Education Trust, Kati Haycock, Executive Director, Washington, DC.

36. “The Second Great Math Rebellion,” by Tom Loveless (Assoc. Professor at Harvard’s JFK School of Government,) Education Week, 10/15/97.

3 7. The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them, E.D. Hirsch, Jr., Doubleday, New York, NY, 1996.

38. The Standards Primer: A Resourcefor Accelerating the Pace of Reform, by Michael Barrett, Edited by Jeanne Allen, Education Leaders Council/The Center for Education Reform, May 1996.

39. The State ofState Standards, by Chester E. Finn, Jr., Michael J. Petrilli, and Gregg Vanourek, Thomas B. Fordham. Foundation, July 1998.

40. “The ups and downs of test scores,” by Meredith Oakley, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 1/ 12/97.

4 1. “Three variables factor into formula for low math scores,” by Chris Reinolds, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 7/26/96.

42. “U.S. seniors at bottom in math, science,” The Associated Press, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 2/25/98.

43. “Wake wonders if reading plan is paying off,” by Todd Silberman, The News & Observer, Raleigh, NC, 6/l/95.

44. “When Do You Teach Reading,” Special for The Arizona Republic, by Jeffry L. Flake (Executive Director, The Goldwater Institute, Phoenix,) 1/12/97.

45. “Whole Language vs. Phonies,” The National Right to Read Foundation, Washington, D.C.

46. “Why America has the world’s Dimmest Bright Kids,” by Chester E. Finn, Jr. (fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education,) The Wall Street Journal, 2/25/98.

47. Winston Churchill High School 1995-96 Report Card (as mandated by the State of Texas), Letter and Report Card sent to parents 1/7/97.

Notes on Visit to

Wesley Elementary Charter School

in Houston, Texas on May 7, 1998

by Terry Tucker & Donna Watson

Appendix I

Houston Trip Notes of Terry Tucker

May 7,1998

Wesley Elementary in Houston’s inner city educates children the old-fashioned way. Administration and staff combine hard work, high expectations, and teacherdirected learning, in a structured and disciplined environment, with proven curriculum to achieve excellence in educational outcomes.

Those outcomes include a Stanford 9, fifth grade reading score in the top 7 percen (12th place) of all of Houston’s 182 grade schools, with a national percentile ranking of 82 percent. This test was given to Wesley’s first graders for the first time in the fall of 1997. This outstanding achievement was achieved by Wesley students who qualify for Chapter I free lunches at the rate of 82 percent of total student population. The other schools in the elite top 7 percent averaged less than 20 percent of their students as being qualified for the federal Chapter I program.

In addition, 100 percent of Wesley’s third graders passed the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) last year.

You gain the impression that education is a no-nonsense, serious endeavor at Wesley. A visitor is greeted by clean, well-kept landscaping on the outside, and the school’s mission statement on the wall of the entry hall, on the inside of the school.

Student work is recognized and is evident in prominent positions throughout the clean, well-kept hallway walls. Students line up with no talking to move through the hallways to lunch or recess. The children are disciplined, bright, enthusiastic, and very focused on learning in every classroom we visited, almost without exception. We visited all levels of ability grouped classrooms. Most students were two to four years ahead of grade level in reading ability.

The administration is involved in the classroom and the teachers appeared to be very hard working and motivated.

Dr. Thaddeus Lott who has been at this school since 1975, credits his suc principles such as:

  1. Teachers are the problem if children don’t learn.
  2. He won’t debate programs that are proven to work with advocates of new, trendy programs. He stays with what works.
  3. Academic leadership must be evident in principals – they must know enough to make things happen.
  4. Teachers must be able to effectively teach to the instructional level of the child, therefore he groups children according to their reading performance, with no more than two to three levels in one classroom.
  5. He focuses on individual students no group grading.
  6. Homework is an important element.
  7. Curriculum departments are unnecessary.
  8. Teacher training and in-service is very important.
  9. Parent involvement is encouraged.
  10. Teacher collaboration and classroom mentoring is important.
  11. Achievement of 100 percent mastery or perfection is the goal on all work.

Dr. Lott credits the school’s success to two proven curriculums:

1.) Phonics reading instruction

2.) Direct instruction methodology which is structured as follows:

Modeling – Teaching (teacher directed lessons)

Leading – Hearing (students enthusiastically recite answers in unison

or individually)

Testing – Teachers take five grades per day on each student to

monitor their progress.

Other observations and school personnel comments:

1.) Trendy programs that are being developed and taught to students in teacher

education departments of higher ed institutions which are of no value

according to teachers and administration at Wesley, include:

a.) Student-centered methodology

b.) Developmentally appropriate methodology

c.) Whole language

d.) The idea of not correcting papers with red marks so that children’s self-esteem is not damaged.

e.) Reading Recovery – Too expensive – teach phonics to begin with and fix the problem at the root.

f.) ESL

  1. 2 only 3 percent of Wesley students are classified special ed vs. 11 percent nationally.
  2. 3 Wesley students clearly have abundant self-esteem gained from their notable academic achievement.
  3. Saxon math is being used.
  4. A second year teacher told us that she can do more creative projects with
  5. children at Wesley because they are ready academically. Direct instruction does not kill creativity and self-esteem.
  6. No uniforms.
  7. Parents are called frequently on discipline problems.
  8. Strong vocabulary lessons.
  9. Handwriting emphasized.
  10. No computers in the classrooms.
  11. Teachers are encouraged to join the union.
  12. Teachers are not at liberty to vary from the direct instruction methodology.
  13. Wesley’s charter status allows the administration to use their own methods and frees them from bureaucracy.
  14. Wesley is a public school and receives the same per student allotment as other public schools.

Visit to Wesley Elementary in Houston

Notes of Donna Watson

Trip date: 5/7/98

Visit to the Classrooms – Tour given by Mrs. Wilma Rimes, principal

1 st Grade – Ms. Buttz

Her commentsobservations:

* Students started the I st grade in a 3rd grade text

* Dr. Lott has had to speak out for his methodology

* Problems with reading instruction are tied to the University

Classroom Activity:

Most students were enthusiastically reading aloud in a third grade text book; they were grouped in one section of the room in individual chairs. However, some 5-6 students were working independently at their desks. These students read the instructions (which seemed fairly complicated for first graders) and then followed them; the answers showed correct spelling and comprehension of what they read. The classroom was disciplined and quiet and you could sense learning was taking place.

!st Grade – Ms. Scott

Her comments/observations:

* She wanted to student teach at Wesley because of Dr. Lott and direct instruction but the University of Houston was opposed to it. The University finally allowed her to do one-half day at Wesley and one-half day at another school of their liking which taught whole language, child centered learning, etc. She said there was no comparison in the two schools; Wesley was her choice! This methodology/curriculum doesn’t stifle creativity in either children or teachers. Lesson plans are already available to her and she said this allows her extra time to be creative and innovative.

Classroom Activity:

Six or seven analogies were written on the board and students had to fill in the blanks to complete the analogy and explain the analogy. (How many of you even knew what an analogy was in I st grade?)

One Example: Car is to vehicle as hammer is to -_ – . The teacher suggested nail and

one student raised his hand to explain why nail wasn’t the correct word. He said that car is a type

of vehicle but that hammer is not a type of nail so a better choice to complete the analogy would

be tool.

2nd Grade – Mr. O’Neil

His Comment/lobservations:

* He said his students would finish the second grade reading on a 4th grade level.

* Teachers and staff expect only the very best from all students at Wesley.

Classroom Activity

* The following passage was written on the board:

shari lewis she was on stage last sunday with her puppet she puppets name is lamb chop she have a television show

Children were asked one by one to begin at the beginning of the passage and find mistakes and explain the mistakes. Examples:

“Shari” should be capitalized because it is a proper noun.

Ditto “Lewis”

“she” – We don’t need this because we already have a subject

“Sunday” should be capitalized

There should be a period after puppet.

Etc. until all mistakes were made. Then one child read the entire passage

including all the corrections.

Shari Lewis was on stage last Sunday with her puppet. Her puppet’s name is Lamb Chop. She has a television show.

* While standing, the entire class did the following problem together shouting out the proper method to solve the problem and figure the answer:




Example of what students would say: “You cannot subtract 9 from I so you must borrow from the 9 making it 8 and I becomes 11; 11 minus 9 equals 2; 8 minus 6 equals 2,” etc. until the problem was finished.

Students ended by saying in unison “Eight million seven hundred fifty-two thousand three hundred ninety-one minus six million eight hundred forty-three thousand five hundred sixty-nine equals one million nine hundred eight thousand eight hundred twenty-two.”

* Students were called on one at a time to reduce fractions and explain how they got the answer. Problems were:

1. 2/10 = 115 – 10 can be divided by 2 which is 5; 1 is the numerator and 5 is the denominator. The teacher had them recite in Arnold Schwarzenegger style (like terminator) “I am the denominator, and I’m the numerator.”

2. 4/20 3. 5110 4. 6/24 (other problems on board they didn’t work for us while we were there.)

* Students read aloud together from Hank the Cowdog, a 5th grade level fiction book. All children eagerly raised hands to read; very good enunciation and expression.

5th Grade – Mr. Cooper

His comments/observations:
* Has 30 kids in the room; all the problem kids are assigned to his room

* Said he moved to this school because of 1) discipline 2) the principal – She’s behind us 100% 3) the curriculum – It works!

* Students are doing 6th grade work; one is on 7th grade level. They have good literature and are writing a novel (since they have finished their reading textbook.)

Classroom Activity:
• Students were being tested on math

• Some were reading novels

Note: All 30 fifth graders were very well behaved while we talked to Mr. Cooper-

(Anyone that has ever worked with the age group can appreciate that!)

Lessons Learned from Dr. Thaddeus Lott

We spent about an hour and a half listening to Dr. Lott and asking questions. These are some of his comments:

* Choice & charters will provide competition needed for schools.

* Public schools are in denial; they’re like alcoholics.

  • Don’t wait until the end of 3rd grade to see if children can read; they need to be reading at the end of kindergarten.

* Use the reading program that works with children – phonies is a proven methodology.

* If the superintendent (or principal, head, etc.) comes in new and doesn’t “operate” on mid-level management, nothing changes. This is the case with Houston ISD; it’s still basically whole language driven. Need to bring in people that have the same philosophy as the head; clear out the others. “That’s why bureaucracies remain bureaucracies.”

* Principals have to know and understand reading to make it happen in their buildings.

* Reading Recovery doesn’t work and is very expensive. At Wesley we could teach an entire class what it takes to pay for one child in RR.

* Being a charter school gives us the freedom to use a proven curriculum and, in turn, we provide results. In our charter we state that every child should grow at least one year every year.

* We test 92% of our children; we’re not into massive exemptions or putting lots of students into special education (so they don’t have to be tested.).

* Homework is required and students are accountable for it. No excuses because parents are in jail, on drugs, not at home, etc,

* Teachers know up front they will have to work hard and often long hours. We look for the very best teachers. “We want thoroughbreds not nags.”

* It takes us about one week to train teachers in our methodology/curriculum and then they mentor with experienced teachers for 1-2 months before being assigned their own classroom.

* “The only thing that kills a child’s self esteem is not knowing a damn thing! “

State of the State Standards by the
Thomas Fordham Foundation
National Report Card –
State Standards Across All Subjects
Criteria for Reviewing State Standards
Arkansas State Report Cards for:
Social Studies, Math, Science, & Geography