Gains present, but slight; Solutions: A retired teacher suggests that a more diverse curriculum and better teacher training are keys to successful reading instruction.


MAIL RECEIVED and intercepted.

In August, I did some analysis of the latest reading test scores in the city and came to the (very tentative) conclusion that there is a ray of hope -- not only in Baltimore, but in other urban centers around the country.

Sara M. Porter, a retired teacher and faithful reader who lives in Jarrettsville, responded. These are excerpts from her letter: "[The article] states that 'some national and local experts believe that there's something at work unprecedented in the three decades' since urban schools began their slide.

"I certainly agree. Volumes were written in the '60s, including Martin Mayer's 'Crisis in the Classroom' and John Holt's 'Why Children Fail.' Yet in spite of many books and articles, the education establishment seemed totally unable to come up with answers as to just what should be done.

"There is no doubt that the media have focused the public's attention," Porter's letter said. "Locally, The Sun's Reading By 9 has made an enormous impact. One parent I know took the first four articles in the series to a school team meeting to help back her case for better instruction, and she got results. Since even educators distrust educational research, I doubt if the Annals of Dyslexia, a peer-reviewed educational journal, has had the same impact.

"So why are reading gains so small in the city?

"There are other reasons besides the obvious social and economic status of some students.

"First, one size still doesn't fit everyone. The city, unlike the counties, is overly dependent on programs. As good as the Open Court [reading textbook] series is, there are better methods for children who need more structure in the early grades.

" There are a number of [reading] programs to choose from, and more than one program should be made available to classroom teachers.

"Second, while good programs are vital, teachers need more than a program to teach beginning readers. Most teachers do not find solid coursework in their colleges on how to teach beginning reading.

"Reid Lyon of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has said that there is a body of knowledge about teaching reading. This is particularly true of beginning reading where misteaching is rarely benign and quite often results in confusion and psychological defeat for the learner. This body of knowledge has yet to find consensus, and therefore is not part of education college course work, nor is it offered through in-service courses. Enterprising teachers with some money to spare have sought training outside the establishment.

"All children can learn to read if we can give them what they need at the beginning of their school careers. Keeping them reading is only possible if they have learned how to read in the first place."

Rethinking city schools' approach to kindergarten?

Early this summer, Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation, wrote the following note to J. Tyson Tildon, president of the Board of School Commissioners for Baltimore. I received it anonymously: "Dear Tyson,

"As our foundation works in the city schools, we find that one of the most striking deficiencies is the lack of all-day kindergarten in most elementary schools. We, of course, realize that this is due to both a lack of resources and a lack of space.

"We have applauded the board's emphasis on the early grades and therefore were surprised when you decided to set aside funds to reduce class size in grades four and five, which also requires more classrooms, rather than reinforcing your emphasis on the early years by funding all-day kindergarten.

"May I ask you to reconsider this decision and examine the research to persuade yourself as to which will be the most cost-effective intervention? This examination should be accompanied by an analysis of your kindergarten curriculum. Historically, it has emphasized socialization and de-emphasized cognitive enhancement.

"We believe many children can and should learn to read by the beginning of first grade. The city school system has historically disagreed. As far as I know, the city school board has never explicitly addressed this critically important educational issue.

"I believe this issue urgently requires the attention of the city school board."

First Union volunteers bring Dr. Seuss classic to schools

Starting tomorrow and continuing through Oct. 22, employees of First Union, the nation's sixth-largest bank, will read "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" by Dr. Seuss to more than 2 million children in 75,000 classrooms from Connecticut to Florida. Each of the classrooms will receive a copy of the children's classic. (Heck, it's also an adult classic.)

It's part of First Union's "Reading First" program, through which the bank pledges 2.4 million volunteer hours in the schools through 2000.

Of course, the bank gets publicity through this program, just as The Sun does for its Reading By 9 campaign. But this is one commercial venture that's a pleasure to report. It's far more beneficial than the alarming number of commercial excursions in schools designed to sell everything from suntan lotion to ham, hamburgers and soft drinks.

Pub Date: 10/03/99

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