Education Letter to the Editor

Richmond’s Reading Gains Didn’t Come From a Script

August 28, 2007 1 min read

To the Editor:

Referring to student reading gains, Walt Gardner, in his Aug. 1, 2007, letter to the editor, claims that Richmond, Va., is trading teachers for “any adults” who can follow a “script.” In fact, Richmond has turned adults into skilled teachers.

Since the 1980s, most schools of education have taught teachers not to teach reading skills, but to let children “discover” how to read. Starting in 2002, Richmond adopted an alternative strategy: using science-based methods later funded by the federal Reading First program.

Richmond’s schools are 75 percent Title I (high-poverty) and 90 percent African-American. After the district’s teachers were trained in science-based methods, between 2002 and 2005, Richmond’s 3rd grade reading scores rose from the bottom 5 percent to the top 40 percent of the state.

Richmond cut its black-white achievement gap in 3rd grade reading from 30 percent in 2003 to 13 percent in 2005. In 5th grade, on social studies, math, and science tests in which comprehension is critical, Richmond had the highest scores for black students of the state’s 10 largest districts.

Richmond’s gains did not result from following a script. Science-based research suggests multiple proven strategies. Teachers must choose methods for group and individual instruction, decisions requiring considerable professional judgment.

Mr. Gardner asserts that evidence-based instruction drives creative talent out of classrooms. I, however, believe that the Kozols, Conroys, and McCourts he cites would rejoice in Richmond’s success. They would also understand that while trial and error is essential in artistic creativity, error must be controlled in bridge building, surgery, and teaching children to read.

Rick Nelson

Falls Church, Va.

A version of this article appeared in the August 29, 2007 edition of Education Week