To the Editor:
While your coverage captured the salient elements of the MDRC research group’s federally funded study of First Things First (“Reform Model Found to Spur Gains in Kansas,” July 13, 2005), two key points need clarification.
The first concerns the reported lack of improvement on reading tests in Kansas City, Kan., elementary schools. The MDRC study looked at the implementation of First Things First in middle and high schools only, and did not consider elementary schools. Other research conducted by Youth Development Strategies links First Things First to improvement among Kansas City students on state reading assessments at all levels, elementary through high school.
Everyone in the Kansas City elementary schools, starting with the students, worked hard for these improvements, and we address this inaccuracy on their behalf.
Second, the article’s assertion that only a few schools in districts other than Kansas City were using First Things First during the study misrepresents the reform’s presence. Three of the four other sites—Riverview Gardens, Mo., and Greenville and Shaw, Miss.—were implementing First Things First in all their high schools. These school districts are simply much smaller than those in Kansas City and in Houston, the fifth district in the study. Our intent was to keep First Things First evolving, through experience in varied districts, including an inner-ring suburb and rural districts, as well as those serving inner cities.
The article is correct that true, long-lasting, and meaningful change takes time and commitment over the long haul. We’ve seen this point driven home again and again over 10 years of work that now encompasses some 90 schools. This hard truth and the MDRC research have strengthened our resolve to continue to improve the odds for our nation’s most at-risk students.
James P. Connell
Institute for Research and
Reform in Education
A version of this article appeared in the August 10, 2005 edition of Education Week as Clarifying Report on Reform-Model Study