Email to Chancellor Klein following a University Club luncheon talk

From: Elizabeth Carson
Sent: Saturday, September 27, 2003 2:09 AM
To: 'Klein Joel I.'
Subject: your talk at the University Club luncheon and our exchange afterward.

Chancellor Klein,

It was interesting to finally have the chance to meet you and speak with you briefly. I was surprised to learn you had in fact read and responded yourself to my recent emails, and were able to recall some of the content. I had assumed you delegated email reading and response to others. Perhaps you do, and my emails were flagged as worthy of your attention. I appreciate your time. There are many points and some questions in my email communications, which you did not address in your short response and our brief chat after the University Club luncheon raise more.

I'd like to discuss several topics: (1) your reference to Sacramento data in the context of a question about your choice of reading program at the NY Law School breakfast and your response to the Sacramento school examples and district wide data I sent to you (2) the reference in your email response to me to the results of the NAEP Trial Urban Assessment, to compare the relative success of "balanced literacy" in NYC vs Open Court in LA (3) remarks at the University Club luncheon (4) San Diego progress (5) request for meeting with local mathematicians.

(1) I take very seriously any reference you make to data or research as explanation for your choice of reading and math programs. You remarked at the NY Law School breakfast that your reason for not choosing a scripted phonics based reading program was because research shows that programs of this type lead to short term gains followed by a quick leveling off and you specifically cited the case of Sacramento. As the articles and subsequent information and tables I sent to you show, Elk Grove Unified (comprising fully one half of Sacramento) had shown steady and impressive gains using Open Court from 1995-2002, and three schools in Sacramento Unified had shown steady and impressive gains using Open Court over several years. Sacramento Unified as a whole showed impressive gains with Open Court over the first three years of the new test, with slight declines in the fourth. I don't have ready access to the progress of all individual schools in Sacramento Unified, but such a thorough accounting is not necessary to make my point, which was not to use Sacramento to prove the merits of Open Court to you, but rather to show that there was considerable data that conflicted with your public assertion that Sacramento was a good example of research findings on the use of scripted phonics based instruction that indicate short term gains only.

If you're interested in hearing a case made for Open Court, Success for All or scripted phonics based reading instruction more generally, I could arrange for that. You could as well. I suggest you invite presentations by Reid Lyon, Marion Joseph or Sally Shaywitz. (you may wish to peruse some references I've attached below)

Of course presentations or at minimum the advisories of such luminaries should have been heard by the Children First literacy working group last year.

Jean Chall's writing should have swayed the working group's decisions, but quite evidently did not.

We agree that other important factors, such as the quality of instructors, professional development, student demographics and outside parental support and tutoring all influence student achievement and must be fully integrated into an evaluation of the relative merit of one program over another based on test scores. This is why quality education research (ie longitudinal, proper controls, independent reviews, replicable findings, etc) is so very important to sound education policy. It is widely recognized that we have precious little of either - quality research or sound policy. What you should feel responsible for providing the public is evidence that your choice of one universal reading and math series has merit, on two fronts: (1) the selection of programs was informed by (a) sound research (b) selection deliberations that included the substantive involvement of education experts, classroom teachers and subject area experts (2) instituting one program and attending professional development is a better design, than for example provision of choice in program and teaching approach within the context of a unified K-12 curriculum, providing a coherent and explicit framework of what students should know and be able to do at points within a year and at the end of each grade. Opening up the secretive Children First deliberations would be a nice starting point in provision of evidence

(2) You wrote in your email to me: "More broadly, if you get a chance to look at the NAEP scores in reading and writing, you will see that NYC significantly outperformed LA, even though LA was on open court and NYC was predominantly using balanced literacy." I have previously explained that NYC's extremely low participation on the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) (NYC: 76 percent, while no other participating city had less than a 95 percent participation) compromises the integrity if TUDA comparisons between NYC results and those of the other participating cities. It is important to note too that close to half of the 4th graders in LA are English language learners, whereas the percentage is much lower among NYC 4th graders. But most important for you to know is that LAUSD began implementing Open Court in the 2000-2001 school year. In the first year of implementation, Open Court was used only in grades K through 2. In the 2001-2002 school year, the district began implementing Open Court in grades 3-5. The NAEP TUDA data was collected in winter 2002. It does not seem reasonable to attribute scores from an assessment that measure learning through grade 4, to a program that was only used for a few months prior to the assessment.

(3) I agree completely with many of your remarks at the University Club luncheon, particularly your focus on changing the climate of education in NYC. For you to do so to the benefit of NYC school children would require, prior to a well designed and orchestrated administrative reorganization and decisions on instructional change, the establishment of a system for the meaningful involvement of senior classroom teachers in research and decision making on instructional reforms and at several levels. It would also require engaging subject experts specifically in the areas of program review, the subject training component of professional development, and testing instruments. You have not yet developed these important foundation components. Consider the make-up of your Children First working groups, and the scope of their research and deliberations. I submit you would have been far better served by adopting aspects of California's system for program adoptions and state standards reform. Many of the NYC HOLD members and advisor responses to the Children First survey included suggestions on improvements to your emerging system for deciding education reform and policy.


Your luncheon talk mentioned higher performing countries and Singapore in particular. Singapore consistently ranks highest in international comparisons of mathematics achievement. Singapore math texts are in English. The Singapore math series is distributed in the US and is being used in public and private schools across the country. It is a favorite recommendation among mathematicians who have become interested in K-12 mathematics education. If you'd like, I could provide contact information for several very successful pilots in the US. I am aware that the NYC school, NEST+M in District 1/Region 9 currently uses the elementary portion of the Singapore program much to the delight of parents and teachers alike (the school is high performing and exempted form the universal programs. The administrator has a distinguished record of establishing highly successful schools)

(4) I will forward in a separate email several pieces of writing and test data indicating the San Diego reforms initiated by Alan Bersin and Tony Alvarado have, contrary to your public assertions, not produced impressive results. San Diego improvements, where they occur, lag far behind the gains of similar districts. Unfortunately, your Children First reforms bear a striking resemblance to San Diego's.

(5) During our brief chat after the University Club luncheon, I urged you to meet personally with local mathematicians, to which you responded you'd communicated with Bas Braams. I believe you exchanged a few emails with Bas. While Bas is extremely knowledgeable, and his emails are generally full of excellent commentary and references, I think you'd find a meeting with a group of NYU and CUNY mathematicians most informative and illuminating. You were urged last winter by NYU president John Sexton to meet personally with NYU mathematicians who had over the past several years become uniquely involved in local mathematics education reform issues, primarily but not exclusively, in Manhattan District 2. We were quite disappointed with your decision to ignore their interest in speaking with you directly, and instead arrange a meeting with Diana Lam. The meeting was unproductive. Diana Lam holds a particular set of values and convictions regarding instruction, that predispose her to hold immutable positions. She was entirely unresponsive to the mathematician's concerns with the content and rigor of so-called reform mathematics programs under consideration.

As you must know, while NYC HOLD members were asked to respond to a Children First questionnaire intended for district math coordinators, professionals with far different areas of expertise, we were not privileged to a meeting with, or even knowledge of the identity of the members of the CF numeracy working group. Evan Rudall, with whom we all were quite impressed, was our sole contact on the committee. This experience is but one example of your unfortunate policy of secrecy and calculated exclusion, which in combination with key appointments, comprised mostly of those with a so-called progressive orientation, has led to implementation of ideologically driven unproven instructional reforms, and has fast inspired extreme distrust and cynicism in the education community.

Perhaps you will at some point choose to honor the good intentions of the NYU and CUNY mathematics professors with a fair hearing, and in so doing avail yourself of their invaluable knowledge and insights on college preparatory K-12 mathematics programs and preservice and inservice teacher training.

I still hold hope you may come to understand before it is too late, the fatal flaws in an otherwise meritous urban reform initiative.

Elizabeth Carson

Addendum: reading references []

1. National Reading Panel Publications and Materials

In April 2000, the National Reading Panel (NRP) released its research-based findings in two reports and a video entitled, "Teaching Children to Read." Written materials may be viewed online in HTML format or downloaded in PDF format.

2. Overview of Reading and Literacy Initiatives

Statement of Dr. G. Reid Lyon, Chief Child Development and Behavior Branch, National Institue of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health

3. Topics in Reading Coherence

Southwest Education Development Laboratory (SEDL) presents a series of short papers on topics in early reading issues

4. A Synthesis of Research on Reading from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

5. A Roadmap for the Literature on Reading Acquisition and Reading Disability: An Annotated Bibliography by Susan Brady

6. Beginning Reading Instruction: Components and Features of a Research-Based Reading Program

7. Teaching Reading IS Rocket Science: What Expert Teachers of Reading Should Know and Be Able To Do

Thanks to new scientific research - plus a long-awaited scientific and political consensus around reading research - the knowledge exists to teach all but a handful of severely disabled children to read well. This report discusses the current state of teacher preparation in reading. It reviews the reading research and describes the knowledge base that is essential for teacher candidates and practicing teachers to master if they are to be successful in teaching all children to read well. Finally, the report makes recommendations for improving the system of teacher education and professional development.

8. National Reading Panel Reports Combination of Teaching Phonics, Word Sounds, Giving Feedback on Oral Reading Most Effective Way to Teach Reading In the largest, most comprehensive evidenced-based review ever conducted of research on how children learn reading, a Congressionally mandated independent panel has concluded that the most effective way to teach children to read is through instruction that includes a combination of methods.

9. NCITE Research Synthesis: Reading and Diverse Learners

NCITE staff reviewed reading research on the design of instructional materials for diverse learners in six general areas - vocabulary acquisition, word recognition, text organization, emergent literacy, phonological awareness, and metacognitive strategies. These technical reports are early draft versions of book chapters that were later published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates in What Reading Research Tells Us About Children with Diverse Learning Needs

10. Phonological Awareness:

Instructional and Assessment Guidelines by David J. Chard and Shirley V. Dickson

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