One year after announcing a pilot program to test a new Core Knowledge Early Literacy program in ten New York City Schools, Joel Klein Tuesday announced very strong early results. As a news release from the New York City Department of Ed puts it:
The progress of students in the ten participating schools was more than five times greater than the also-significant performance of students at ten peer schools with comparable student populations, and was reflected among students at all levels of literacy. Additionally, teachers surveyed as part of the pilot rated the program highly, and nine of the ten participating schools have selected to use the Core Knowledge program with their new kindergarten classes in addition to continuing the program with their first graders, who remain in the pilot.
Speaking at a press conference at a South Bronx elementary school — one of the pilot schools – E.D. Hirsch noted thatwhile the initial results were gratifying, the bigger payoff could come later, since the program is designed to build broad background knowledge across the curriculum, which pays off in improved reading comprehension in the years ahead:
Kindergarten is just a start. There is always the danger of fade out in later years, as we know from Headstart research. Elsewhere in the nation, and right here in New York, schools have made noticeable progress in raising reading scores in the early grades according to NAEP, the Nations Report Card. These improvements reflect better teaching of decoding. But the improvements in scores are still confined to the early grades. Verbal scores in the later grades of NAEP have stayed unacceptably low. Yet these later verbal scores are the ones that predict a student’s ultimate success in life.
The program consists of two strands: a phonics-heavy decoding strand, and a “listening and learning” strand to build content knowledge. “Assuming that we will get funding to develop materials for the later grades,” Hirsch noted, “I am predicting that even more dramatic results will show up further on. Instead of the current flat or even declining verbal scores among middle and high school students we will see in students who follow a program like this significantly higher scores, and we will see a narrowing of the language gap between races and ethnic groups. ”