Columbia School Board approves new language arts materials

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 | 12:16 a.m. CDT; updated 4:02 p.m. CST, Tuesday, November 9, 2010

COLUMBIA — Columbia Public Schools will get new language arts materials for the first time in 18 years.

The Columbia School Board approved the purchase of new language arts materials after a lengthy discussion Monday night in a packed room of teachers, parents and concerned citizens. While there was little dispute about the need for new course materials, there was concern about the selection.

After the change to the language arts curriculum in June 2010, the Elementary Language Arts Program Evaluation Committee accelerated its search for instructional materials. According to Janet Tilley, language arts coordinator with the district, six sets of materials were selected, three of those were moved forward, and two of those were later eliminated because of studies that showed poor efficacy.

The last reading program standing was "Good Habits, Great Readers" by Pearson Education Inc.

Tilley said one of the reasons it was selected was because of the results of studies suggesting its success in other counties similar to Columbia.

"Good Habits, Great Readers" had been used in Cobb County, Ga.; Columbia County, Ga.; and Bucks County, Pa. According to Tilley, Columbia County and Bucks County have similar demographics to Columbia. She said the instructional materials were implemented in all of these counties in 2008, and all reported increased achievement for minority students.

Although the committee decided it was sufficient, some board members and community members voiced doubts about the materials' success rates with minority students.

Board member Ines Segert said she found the Pearson studies did not provide results that were different enough from the results in control groups that did not use the materials.

"Minorities do not perform as well as the white students," she said about the study. "This is the status quo, and the status quo is not good enough."

In the end, the board voted 4-3 to use "Good Habits, Great Readers" for K-3 levels.

"Our scores for African-Americans are abysmal, especially at lower levels," Superintendent Chris Belcher said. "We have to have some sort of action, and we have to push this forward."

The supplemental materials "Ladders to Literacy" from Brookes Publishing for kindergartners and "StartUp, BuildUp, SpiralUp" from Benchmark Literacy for K-3 students were also part of the proposal.

Board members Segert, Michelle Pruitt and James Whitt opposed the motion. The materials will be purchased for $620,000 with funds from the 2010-11 operating budget and from the Title I American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

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Ray Shapiro October 12, 2010 | 11:55 a.m.

("Our scores for African-Americans are abysmal, especially at lower levels," Superintendent Chris Belcher said.")

Here's an interesting article:
Improve Schools? Pay Parents to Read to Children

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith October 12, 2010 | 3:07 p.m.

Thanks for the URL, Ray. I find the "paying" part a bit repulsive, as did one person who posted a reply to the article.

There's little doubt that reading to a pre-school child on a regular basis subsequently helps the child in school. It also serves as a family bond. If you read to a child on a regular basis you're telling him/her they're important and that reading is important.

American Society for Quality (ASQ) has programs in several public and private grade schools called "Koality Kid." The program supplies books (approved by the school) for use by students as "take home" reading. Students who read books receive inexpensive prizes and certificates. Emphasis is also placed on good manners and behavior in class.

The program costs the school nothing: Koality Kid buys the books, which then become school property.

The biggest problem Koality Kid has had is getting in the door. School superintendents are boards have to be convinced that the program isn't some form of RIGHT WING propaganda.

Why would an organization that leans heavily on math be interested in reading? Because everyone needs to be a competent reader whether they work with math or not.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro October 12, 2010 | 4:21 p.m.

@Ellis Smith:
Of course the government should not have to pay parents to be good parents. I think even the author of the article would agree to that. But the title of the piece does pique one's interest and illustrates why CPS might be having disparities among certain early elementary-aged school children.
Probably has little to do with how much they spend on curriculum guides and materials.
If children are not nurtured by their parent(s) to be "reading ready" or emotionally mature enough to be receptive and responsive to teaching, then the school's not really to blame.
Although, perhaps more Parenting Education Workshops for these parents of the young, would be beneficial.
I'd volunteer to teach a few parents how to read to their kids, providing that the parents know how to read, or have the patience, in the first place.
Of course, they also have to care enough to participate and not place unreasonable demands or restraints on CPS.
For instance, suspension "disparities" for bad behaviors almost reeks of the "racial profiling" angle to shift responsibilities. And, some students need to redo a year from time to time.
No child left behind should not mean every child advances to the next grade if they're not competent. Parents should not get in an uproar if their child is left back. Better children get a second chance to redo a year then be passed through the system.
We all suffer when these kind of kids come out at the end.

(Report Comment)
Julie Melnyk November 9, 2010 | 1:44 p.m.

It was revealed at last night's school board meeting (Nov. 8) that the information presented by Janet Tilley about Cobb County, GA, Columbia County, BA, and Bucks County, PA, and quoted in this article was incorrect -- and, in fact, that no evidence about the success of the Pearson materials in these districts was even available at the time Tilley made her presentation. The schools did not adopt these programs until 2009-2010, and results had not been published in October 2010, although Tilley's slide claimed that they showed an increase in achievement among minority students for all three districts.

There are still no results for two of the three counties, but results are in for Bucks County -- decrease in reading scores for all students, with dramatically larger decreases for black students.

How can our School Board make good decisions for our students when they are presented with this kind of misinformation?

(Report Comment)

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