Magic Bullets: The Secret Sauce to Raise Reading Scores
The Hundred Years War may hold the record as the longest war; The Reading Wars are rapidly closing the gap. “Why Johnnie Can’t Read” was published in 1955, spent 37 weeks on the “Best Seller” list and the “war” was off and running, sixty-eight years later the “war” continues.
Read a detailed blog I wrote diving into the Reading Wars, worth a read (“The Reading Wars Rekindled“)
Across the city, probably across the nation, schools/teachers emphasize phonics, balanced literacy or a combination, and the Reading Wars mirror the differences from school to school; schools of education, education researchers differ, and many argue the Science of Reading is or is not science. Many believe the teaching of reading is more art than science.
Eric Nadelstern, a former NYC deputy chancellor wrote,
Requiring a one-size-fits-all educational approach in a city as diverse as New York is folly.
A curriculum is only as good as the teachers who believe in it and will do everything necessary to successfully implement it. Fortunately for our children, it is easier to learn to read than to teach students how to read.
Mayor Adams and Chancellor Banks announced the kickoff at a school in District 23 (Brownsville) with the usual pomp and circumstance; half the school districts will adopt a phonics-based curriculum for the 23-24 school year and the other half the following year and teacher training is about to begin.
Will phonic-based instruction raise reading scores? We may find out two, three or four years down the road.
The first step in getting kids to learn to read is making sure they’re in school, in school every day. Chronic absenteeism plagues schools and attempts to stem absenteeism have consistently stumbled.
The Center for NYC Affairs at the New School University issued careful exploration of standardized test scores and chronic absenteeism,
“This report looks closely at New York City’s schools and documents the risk factors that plague struggling schools. …. The report went beyond student data to identify 130 schools were more than a third of students were chronically absent for five straight years. These schools had a few things in common: Scores on standardized tests for reading and math were far below the city averages. And many of the students lived in deep poverty with high rates of homelessness, child abuse reports and male unemployment”.
The Report (Read Report here) created a Poverty Risk Load Factor, 18 metrics, half in school and half outside of school, and recommended the factors be a key component of school funding. The current Fair Student Funding formula is seriously flawed.
The Department of Education, under the radar, has upgraded the attendance gathering information data. By 4 pm on any school day the Department can identify every tidbit of attendance data, actually down to the individual student, the site is called “Insight;” for example, every school by percentage of chronic absentees, students approaching chronic absentee status. Most districts have Directors of Attendance; schools are required to have detailed attendance plans, the Directors of Attendance monitor compliance, schools are required to attempt to contact absent students/families at the beginning of the school day, with a consistent school contact person, a family worker, school aid, counselor.
Chronically Absent: Students are considered chronically absent for the year once they have missed 10% or more of the entire school year with 10 days on register and one day present.
At Risk of Being Chronically Absent: Students are considered at risk of being chronically absent when they have missed more than 10% of the school year to date, but not yet 10% of the entire school year with 10 days on register and one day present
With a few clicks Insight locates the individual student
Not surprisingly poor attendance, low standardized test scores, poverty risk load factors, Comstat Crime data all align.
Attendance varies among schools in the same neighborhood with comparable student bodies, the difference: implementing consistently attendance plans, plans based on rewards, plans utilizing all community resources.
Would be interesting if the Research Alliance for NYC Schools used its resources to track the impact of attendance policies.
I usually taught a first period class, 8 am, and kids tended to trickle in throughout the period, threats of failing were ineffective. A light bulb flashed: a few mornings a week I stopped at a Dunkin Donuts and purchased fifteen day-old donut holes, enough for half the class, first come, first served, the first fifteen kids got to nibble a day-old donut hole; kids raced up the five flights to my classroom. My principal was impressed: “How do you get the kids to come on time?” I couldn’t resist, “My innovative ‘do-now,’ the quality of my lessons,” In reality one of the oldest techniques: bribery.