CLOVIS -- The California State School Board adopted a new
textbook this year to help teachers teach reading. The State may have
made a big mistake.
Open Court is a textbook series that uses a radical
approach to teaching that has most members of the teaching profession concerned.
To implement the Open Court text material in classes, teachers must follow
a very inflexible lesson plan. Worse yet, every teacher in the school is held
accountable for specific learning activities that are taking place simultaneously
in all of the school's classrooms.
In its favor, teachers told the Free Press, Open Court
has a very strong phonics emphasis. But teachers say that Open Court has
no published research data showing any significant long term gains of the technique.
Teachers are openly questioning textbook publishers' interference with the role
of the classroom teacher in planning the public school's classroom learning activities.
Typical of the authoritarian dedication of some school administrators
are the remarks of the former Sacramento Unified Schools administrator in charge
of Open Court's program there. ``There's still a mentality, the idea that
a teacher should be able to teach a class and make all the decisions,'' Sharon
VanVleck told reporters.``But that was an ideal. It failed. I think we have to
have a more systematic system.''
The over crowded 300,000-student Los Angeles Unified has also
bought into the Open Court ideology for the past four years. It seemed
to be the right thing to do. After all, The State School Board had included the
Open Court publisher's textbooks among those approved for funding. Sacramento,
Inglewood and Fremont, Fresno, Clovis all are using the program and Oakland has
signed on for Fall 2000.
Now published by SRA/McGraw Hill, Open Court is a phonics-based
reading and writing program for students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
Most California school district curriculum specialists rejected it years ago.
But in 1996 California legislators were pushing school district to use intensive
phonics instruction as a way of dramatically improving reading test scores. The
price tag was a mere $50 to $70 per student. What could they lose?
The Fremont School District quickly adopted the questionable
textbooks in 1997 in grades Kindergarten through Third. Since then, Fremont First
and Second Grade haves gained a few percentile points on District administered
standardized reading tests. Sacramento Unified adopted the program two years ago
and it has gained a few percentile points on its District administered reading
These school districts, however, have not undertaken an independent
statistical analysis on the Open Court publisher's real effectiveness as
compared to tradition non-Open Court classrooms
The absence of independent educational research in California
on the claims of the Open Court publisher's is revealing.
After years of experimentation by the California School Board
in California schools the only report cited in the record is a flawed study of
schools in which the Open Court and a literature-based program known as
whole language were compared for test score results only. The study's authors,
headed by prof. Barbara Forman of the University of Texa Houston, concluded
that Open Court students ``had significantly higher scores'' than students
in the other two types of programs. Yet, in stark contrast with that finding was
the unexplained conclusion of the researcher that "spelling was comparable
across the groups." Shaking Open Court's case to its foundation was
the earth-moving finding that students taught in whole language ``had more
positive attitudes toward reading.''
Letter to the Editor
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