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Questionable decision on reading textbooks Split decision: Choice of two programs leaves questions about efficacy, teacher training.


IF there is compelling logic to the Baltimore City school board's decision to set up a reading curriculum that switches gears abruptly between the second and third grades, we fail to grasp it.

Acting CEO Robert E. Schiller and other school officials contend that such a program would not adequately prepare third-graders for the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests, which measure a student's ability to use basic skills in problem solving and other higher-level thinking. Evidence from several schools using a basic-skills curriculum, however, contradicts the educators' assertions.

Yet most schools around the state that have adopted a back-to-basics Core Knowledge Program are showing steady, if sometimes modest, improvements in MSPAP scores, while some schools in this group are showing sizable year-to-year gains as children have more exposure to the curriculum.

A second concern centers around teacher training for the new curriculum -- the quality of which will be absolutely critical to the success of individual students. Yet the board's decision means that elementary schools will have to conduct thorough and effective training for not one, but two distinctly different approaches to reading instruction.

Even if they succeed in providing excellent training for both groups of teachers, what happens if a principal needs to shift a third-grade teacher into a second-grade classroom, or a second-grade teacher to a third-grade class? Those teachers will have had little or no training in the reading curriculum they would be expected to teach. Does it make sense to hamstring principals and hamper teachers' effectiveness in this way?

The textbook decision suggests that too many people involved in city schools -- from the board down -- are not ready to make the tough choices necessary to provide a focused, disciplined ,, approach to instruction. The inability to make a clear choice on reading instruction will make teacher training more complicated and student achievement even more precarious.

! Pub date: 5/24/98

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