Reading First Curriculum

"Whose decision was it to purchase the new Houghton Mifflin Reading Series?" I posed that question at the District Accountability Committee meeting of November 21, 2006. Dr. Ranelle Lang non-verbally deferred to schoolboard member Marlene Schuman by looking her way. Marlene then said that the district had used Houghton Mifflin all along and that this was just a new edition. When I probed about the implementation of the scripted nature of teaching it she said that it just had never been done right before.

At the March 27th BOE presentation when the Houghton Mifflin books were adopted at a price of $815,161.00 Dr. Lang indeed mentioned that Houghton Mifflin materials were available in all Greeley-Evans schools. "However, some schools were using the 1999 edition which was based on a different reading and instructional construction " she said.

However, I discovered that "explicit" (or scripted) phonics instruction was not mandated until 2002 when the No Child Left Behind law was enacted. "Low-performing" school districts can receive Reading First grant money, but only if they use reading programs that are founded on scientifically based research and thus teach the main components of reading with "fidelity" [meaning scripted to the last letter]. Houghton Mifflin is one of the publishers who "delivers" what the government wants. Since a contract is involved with Houghton Mifflin it will be nearly impossible for teachers to make the instruction more child friendly and suited to individual needs, unless District Six is willing to repay the grant money of $300,000 for the current 2006-2007 school year .

  • The No Child Left Behind Act signed into law by President George W. Bush on January 8, 2002, established Reading First as a new, high-quality evidence-based program for the students of America.
  • Funds are dedicated to help states and local school districts eliminate the reading deficit by establishing high-quality, comprehensive reading instruction in kindergarten through grade 3.
  • Only programs that are founded on scientifically based reading research are eligible for funding through Reading First. Funds are allocated to states according to the proportion of children age 5 to 17 who reside within the state and who are from families with incomes below the poverty line.
  • Funds support increased professional development to ensure that all teachers have the skills they need to teach these programs effectively. The program also supports the use of screening and diagnostic tools and classroom based instructional reading assessments to measure how well students are reading and to monitor their progress.

That evening three Houghton Mifflin representatives were present to answer questions, but the schoolboard members had none to ask. Mrs. Kautz then moved that the board adopt the reading series as presented.

As part of this adoption [of the new Reading Series] all other reading programs were to be discontinued. Houghton Mifflin would collect all outdated materials in order to make room for new methods and new materials. "This was part of the purchase agreement with the company." said Ranelle Lang who never mentioned that "teaching with fidelity" was part of the agreement as well.

Would our school board still have agreed so eagerly to sign this pact if they had known about "the devil in the details", responsible for taking away teachers' autonomy and many children's enjoyment of reading?

Larry Kleiber said: "The real benefit though is that when the program is implemented with fidelity [meaning in the scripted manner demanded by the company] students will learn to read". His accompanying power point slide stated, "..and scores improve". Maybe in the short run, as "the National reading Panel did not find that the benefits for teaching phonemic awareness and phonics are lasting." Click here and read the third paragraph.

Furthermore, please note that the National Reading Panel stated that "Over the school year children need no more than 20 hours of phonemic awareness instruction. Less than 10 minutes per day!" If only this could be so for the students in District Six! Instead they must endure this instruction for 90 minutes each day (even in half-day kindergarten!), or 7-1/2 hours per week which amounts to 270 hours in a school year of 180 days! Why? Could it be that the Colorado Department of Education purposely demands that school districts contract with Houghton Mifflin as a condition to receive Reading First grant money?

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