Report Roundup

December 13, 2000 8 min read
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Report Criticizes Whole Language

Early reading instruction is ineffective in many American schools, and teachers’ stubborn loyalty to whole-language instruction is perpetuating the problem, contends a report sponsored by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

“Although most state education agencies, school districts, and federal agencies claim to embrace ‘balanced’ reading instruction—implying that worthy ideas and practices from both whole-language and code-emphasis [or phonics-based] approaches have been successfully integrated—many who pledge allegiance to balanced reading continue to misunderstand reading development and to deliver poorly conceived, ineffective instruction,” the report maintains.

The report’s author, Louisa Cook Moats, the director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Intervention Project, argues that combining whole-language instruction with some phonics-based teaching is ineffective. Whole-language advocates believe children learn the sounds and structure of language in the context of reading rich literature, while proponents of phonics-based instruction argue that basic reading skills must be taught explicitly. “A marriage of these perspectives is neither possible nor desirable,” Ms. Moats writes.

She urges educators to challenge the “legacy of whole language” through state policies that emphasize the importance of teaching basic reading skills and revamped teacher-preparation programs that provide graduates with knowledge of reading research and effective instructional practices.

“Whole Language Lives On: The Illusion of ‘Balanced’ Reading Instruction” is available for free by calling (888) TBF-7484.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

School Data Shortage

Attempts to uncover why some schools educate more effectively than others are hampered by a lack of good national data on teaching techniques, educational leadership, and school goals, according to a report released by the National Center for Educational Statistics, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education.

For More Information

Monitoring School Quality: An Indicators Report is available from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Only “poor quality” data are available in those areas, in part because those factors are complex and hard to isolate, researchers found. But the report also says researchers and data gatherers have not given such factors as much attention as others.

Those areas where high-quality information is available include teacher assignments and experience, students’ academic skills, and class sizes, according to the 59-page report. The report also says data of “moderate quality” are available for assessing professional development, technology, course content, student discipline, and the academic environment.

“Monitoring School Quality: An Indicators Report,” which includes recommendations for how some indicators and data-collection methods could be improved, is available online at

—Andrew Trotter

Breakfast Boosts Learning

Schools that offered free breakfasts to all children reported improved attendance, better behavior, and higher math performance, according to a study of 16 Boston elementary schools.

For More Information

An executive summary of the Boston Public Schools Universal Breakfast Program: Final Evaluation Report is available from Project Bread.

The two year study—a collaboration between Boston-based Project Bread, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Boston school district—found that the student-absence rate dropped from 9.2 to 6.3 days per year for schools that participated in the study. What’s more, schools reported improved mathematics grades during the two years of the universal breakfast program. And 63 percent of school staff members reported improvements in student attentiveness during that time.

—Kevin Bushweller

Helping Troubled Teens

“Profoundly troubled” teenagers who participated in a residential program for foster-care youths that emphasizes work-related skills were far more likely to complete a high school education than other poor urban youngsters, according to a recent report.

The Child Welfare League of America and the Children’s Village, a residential facility for foster children in New York City, conducted a 15-year study of 93 foster-care teenagers from impoverished families who were also identified for special education services. The youths, who were 14 to 16 years old when the study began, are now adults.

Teenagers who participated in the Work Appreciation for Youth, or WAY program, at Children’s Village completed high school at rates more than 50 percent higher than those for youths living below the poverty level nationally and 20 percent higher than for the general population of African-American and Latino students in New York City.

For an executive summary of the study, call the CWLA at (202) 638-2952. To obtain a copy of the report, “The WAY to Work: An Independent Living/Aftercare Program for High-Risk Youth, A 15-Year Longitudinal Study,” call (800) 407-6273 and specify stock #8048PR. The cost is $16.95.

—Kevin Bushweller

Keys to Achievement

For More Information

“What Should We Do? A Practical Guide to Assessment and Accountability in Schools,” is available from the Center for School Change.

To understand what leads to higher student achievement, researchers at the Minneapolis-based Center for School Change spent two years examining 10 charter schools and 11 regular public schools. The study included elementary, middle, and high schools from rural, suburban, and urban communities.

Among other conclusions, the report recommends that every school have an “explicit” contract between itself and a local school board or other supervising agency, spelling out how it plans to raise student achievement.

Beyond that, the report suggests six “vital” components of success: establishing measurable outcomes; setting goals that students, parents, and educators understand; relying on multiple assessments of students’ skills; measuring the academic work of all students; designing special assessments for students who don’t speak English at home; and using assessment information to drive school improvement.

Kevin Bushweller

Inside Community Schools

The first question usually asked about community schools is: “What are they?” And the second is: “Do they work?”

For More Information

Read Evaluation of Community Schools: Findings to Date, from the Coalition for Community Schools.

A 41-page report commissioned by the Washington-based Coalition for Community Schools describes what a community school looks like, summarizes what is known about the impact of such schools on a range of factors, and highlights three recent evaluations of community school initiatives.

Generally, a community school is a hub where many local groups come together to offer support and enrichment to students and families before, during, and after school, seven days a week, according to the coalition.

“At this stage, we know that community school initiatives are beginning to produce positive results, and increasing numbers of principals and teachers are testifying to their value in helping to improve student learning and strengthen families and communities,” the report says.

The report also includes profiles and school data from 49 community school initiatives.

—Adrienne D.Coles

High Achievers’ Attitudes

Nearly four of every 10 high- achieving high school students responding to a recent survey said they were biased against homosexuals, far more than said they were prejudiced against Hispanics or blacks. The 2000 Who’s Who Among American High School Students surveyed 2,804 students age 16 to 18 years with a B average or higher about their attitudes and habits. About 15 percent admitted being prejudiced against Hispanics and 13 percent against blacks. Students surveyed are part of the Who’s Who database of high-achieving students.

For More Information

Read the Who’s Who Among American High School Students“30th Annual Survey of High Achievers.”

Despite the relatively high percentage of students reporting feelings of prejudice against gays, a large majority of the students surveyed, 78 percent, said that gays should be allowed to serve in the military, and 74 percent said they should be allowed to teach school.

The 30th annual report, which also asked students about a range of topics from drug use to sex and violence at school, found that education programs might be having an impact on teenage drinking habits. Almost 96 percent of the respondents said they never drive a car after drinking.

Jessica Portner

Environmental Education

Students taught using an environmental-based curriculum score better on state and national tests and gain a deeper understanding of subject matter than those who follow a traditional academic program, according to a report by the National Environmental Education & Training Foundation.

Learning about the environment also helps reduce discipline problems and increases motivation to learn, the report argues. It bases its findings on case studies of 10 schools in Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin—as well as a statewide program in Kentucky—that organize the curriculum around environmental concepts and issues.

For more information on “Environment-based Education: Creating High Performance Schools and Students,” call (202) 833- 2933.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Child-Care Accreditation

Offering child-care centers financial incentives to seek accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children “is a good strategy,” according to a recent working paper from the New York City-based Foundation for Child Development.

For More Information

The working paper “Money, Accreditation, and Child-Care Center Quality,” is available from the Foundation for Child Development. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

In a study, researchers examined several state programs that offer higher child- care-subsidy reimbursement rates to accredited centers that serve low-income children. That policy produced results in Florida, New Jersey, and Ohio, where applications for accreditation rose by 54 per year, 114 per year, and 38 per year, respectively.

The authors suggest that reimbursement rates should be at least 15 percent higher than those received by centers that are not accredited.

—Linda Jacobson

A version of this article appeared in the December 13, 2000 edition of Education Week as Report Roundup


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