Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Caution: Experts at work

In The Schools Our Kids Deserve, Alfie Kohn quotes an article describing Success For All, a program for elementary school instruction. Kohn reminds us that the article was written "by a journalist who supports the program, at least for poor schools."

Success For All, designed by Robert Slavin and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, "tells schools precisely what to teach and how to teach it--to the point of scripting, nearly minute by minute, every teacher's activity in every classroom every day of the year. . . . Teachers must use a series of catch phrases and hand signals developed by Success For All. In kindergarten and first grade every piece of classroom material (readers, posters, tapes, videos, lesson plans, books--everything) is provided by the program. . . . Success For All . . . teaches reading primarily through phonics. . . . Students are tested, put into groups based upon their skills levels, drilled in reading skills, regrouped, and drilled some more. . . . [A first-grade teacher] stands at the blackboard and says, 'Okay, let's get ready for our shared story. Ready, read!' The students read the first page of the story loudly, in unison. . . . 'Okay, do your first word,' she says. The students call out together, 'Only! O [clap] N [clap] L [clap] Y [clap]. Only!' . . . 'If you work right, you'll earn points for your work team! You clear?' Twenty voices call out, 'Yes!'"

At the time the article appeared, Success For All had already been adopted in 1,100 schools across the country, largely in an attempt to raise reading scores. I'm not sure whom I feel sorrier for, the teachers or the kids.

I will concede that Success For All is different in degree from our reward tickets program. But is it different in kind?

..How can I comment?