Charlotte Allen had a terrific piece in last week’s Standard (I’m late because it was a long piece that was best read in hard copy). It is about one aspect of the No Child Left Behind program that is a resounding success (and the most threatened). Demonstrating the truth that education trendies reject-that learning to read has nothing to do with race of economic status-Charlotte visited a school in Richmond that is doing an excellent job of teaching children to read:
“In a classroom at Ginter Park Elementary School, a century-old brick schoolhouse on a dreary, zoned-commercial truck route that bisects a largely African-American neighborhood in Richmond, a third-grade teacher, Laverne Johnson, is doing something that flies in the face of more than three decades of the most advanced pedagogical principles taught at America’s top-rated education schools. Seated on a chair in a corner of her classroom surrounded by a dozen youngsters sitting cross-legged on the floor at her feet, Johnson is teaching reading–as just plain reading. Two and a half hours every morning, systematically going over such basics as phonics, vocabulary words, and a crucial skill known as ‘phonemic awareness’ that entails recognizing the separate sound components of individual words–that the word ‘happy,’ for example, contains five letters but only four sounds, or phonemes.”
As Charlotte points out, Ms. Johnson’s tool is something spurned by the education “experts:” a reader:
“The education establishment may sneer at the techniques Johnson uses, but they are part of a small-scale miracle: Ginter Park, despite an unpromising location and a high-poverty-level student body, now ranks in the top third of more than 1,100 public elementary schools in the state of Virginia, holding its own against schools in the ultra-affluent, highly educated suburban counties of northern Virginia just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. Until only five years ago, Ginter Park, located in a once-upscale trolley-car suburb that has seen better days, was near the bottom of the state’s academic barrel, the second-worst-performing elementary school in the Richmond Public Schools district–which was itself the second-worst-performing school district in the state.”
Despite demonstrable success, the program is imperiled because of a quasi scandal in Washington. The headline: Read it and Weep.