Friday, September 03, 2004


No matter what your politics are, you have to admit that the Republicans have delivered big bucks to local school districts for much-needed improvements in reading instruction.

Nearly a year ago, it was announced that Nebraska would receive $23.8 million in Reading First funds. The money was to come over six years in U.S. Department of Education grants through No Child Left Behind reforms. The money is targeted at pupils in kindergarten through 3rd grade.

Federal education funds have flowed into public schools for years for reading remediation. The difference is, these GOP-directed funds have to be scientifically-based.

Reading First requires that the teacher training the money provides has to be based on methods that have been proven effective by scientific research. Translation: phonics, like schools USED to use to teach reading, not the whole-language mush that’s been pumped through teachers’ colleges and in classrooms for the past generation or so.

Now the training has begun across Nebraska, under the skilled direction of Lynette Block, a reading consultant from Educational Service Unit #6. She has a strong background in the proper instruction of systematic, intensive, explicit phonics.

The first targets for teacher training are those schools across the state whose pupils scored lowest on standardized reading tests and have the most families in poverty.

According to the State Department of Education, the following public-school districts received Reading First grants so far under the six-year program:

Omaha Public Schools, $745,000
Gering, $330,000
Anselmo-Merna and Broken Bow Consortium, $227,670
McCook, $220,000
Sidney, $180,000
North Platte, $176,011
Bancroft-Rosalie and Allen Consortium, $147,790
Chadron, $116,657
Ainsworth, $91,895
Beemer, $90,000
Elkhorn Valley, $90,000
Lakeview, $87,000

The money pays for instructional materials, assessment materials, supplemental texts, evaluation activities and trainers. Besides teaching the proper methods, the grant money will go for teaching teachers how to diagnose reading problems early, on a preventative basis. That’s important because research shows that the older children get, and the longer they struggle to read using the wrong approaches, the less hope there is that they will ever become good readers.

Early reports are highly enthusiastic. Ann Mactier, member of the State Board of Education, visited a training session in Omaha and said she was ‘’amazed” to see how happy the teachers were about the methods they were learning, and that the presentation was ‘’terrific.’’

Mrs. Mactier, a former member of the Omaha Public Schools board, said that teachers from OPS grade schools Lothrop, Miller Park, Belvedere, Kellom, and Mount View were receiving the training.

Although it isn’t exactly like the Spalding Phonics method that Mrs. Mactier and other reading leaders, including former Omahan Linda Weinmaster of Lawrence, Kan., have espoused before the State Board of Education, it’s very close, Mrs. Mactier said. The complete Orton code made up a page in the materials, she said, which is an excellent indication of quality.

There aren’t many features of the No Child Left Behind act that most Republicans like, since it represents federal involvement in local education. That’s a constitutional no-no. Most in the GOP would like to do away with the U.S. Department of Education entirely.

But at least No Child Left Behind is finally focusing our tax dollars on methods that actually work instead of the ineffective whole-language methods most schools have been using for years.

Maybe the best thing about No Child Left Behind is that, once our teachers know how to teach our kids how to read, we can leave federal education intervention and interference behind, once and for all.

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