kitchen table math, the sequel: Bleg: Curriculum Ratings or reviews for elementary math or reading?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bleg: Curriculum Ratings or reviews for elementary math or reading?

I've probably even asked this question before, and I know that some of this was on oldKTM, but, here goes again.

We know about TERC Investigations and Everyday Mathematics, but what about the lesser known curricula, especially for elementary and middle school (the stuff before algebra 1)? Have there be good write ups for the various products of McGraw Hill or Houghton Mifflin? Anyone with personal experience with any other curricula?

What about reading products? Are all products claiming to be balanced literacy the same? How about McGraw Hill's treasures? Other than SRA, who does reasonable phonics based instruction?


ElizabethB said...

Reasonable phonics instruction:

Phonics Pathways (used in a few schools, although mainly by homeschoolers and by parents for remedial instruction)
School Phonics by Didax (although the colored vowels distracts a few students, it's excellent overall.)
Free online:
Blend Phonics
Pollard's Synthetic Series
Webster's Speller

The last time a good phonics program was used in more than a few schools was the old Open Court program. (The new Open Court program has too many sight words and not as high quality stories as the old Open Court.) The "I See Sam" books are good, but used by a small percentage of schools. They were used in my kindergarten class! They are mainly used by homeschoolers and as remedial books by parents today.

Whatever the Catholic schools I've lived near seems to be a good program, I never figured out its name, but I saw good phonics worksheets, sight words lists were not sent home, and I never found a student who was not reading at or above grade level from these schools. (I thought I found one, but later discovered she had transferred in from a school that taught with a mix of phonics and sight words.)

ElizabethB said...

There are a lot more good homeschool phonics products out there, too many to list, really, there are at least a half dozen that I've personally seen, and others that people who seem to know what they're talking about and like solid math and grammar programs say are good.

Sing, Spell, Read, Write is used for a few schools and many homeschoolers. It's good but a bit expensive. It has some fun games, though.

My favorite is still Webster's Speller!

Anonymous said...

I taught my 2 older kids using an old laminated set of Lipincott readers the private school had taken care of over the years. Sadly they recommended the children "memorize" the books. I introduced the teachers to Diane MacGuiness' work after they asked how my kids learned to read so fast and thoroughly.

Child No 3 was in a different school but I recognized how much easier it was to teach reading from a series that gradually and systematically introduces sounds in cute stories.

I found the Primary Phonics Readers from Educators Publishing Service in Cambridge which remain in print after 30 years. If you buy all six sets you will end up with 80 decodable readers that are systematic for about $150.

Go to, click Decodable Readers, and then Primary Phonics Readers.

EPS is probably best known as the publisher of Wordly Wise. I also think their Stewart grammar product is great for teaching writing and grammar in middle school.

Anonymous said...

The Diane McGuinness book, with a foreword by Steven Pinker, is called Why Our Children Can't Read and What We Can Do About It.

The Stewart English Program has 3 books that are workbooks with exercise following extensive explication. Book 1 is "Principles Plus", Book 2 is "Grammar Plus", and Book 3 is "Writing Plus".

Finally you can undo a good bit of the damage from Investigations or Everyday Math by getting Mathematics Structure and Method Courses 1 and 2 by Mary Dolciani, Robert H Sorgenfrey and John A Graham. These are available new or used and are designed for Grades 6 and 7.

Anonymous said...


Illinois Loop has a lot of critiques on various curriculums being used in IL schools. The writer, Ken, does have strong opinions, but he at least writes about some of the lesser known ones used throughout IL, and why they are considered effective or not.

He also has a lot of helpful links.

The Well-Trained Mind site also has reviews for homeschoolers, but some of that covers curriculums that might be used in a classroom.


palisadesk said...

Other than SRA, who does reasonable phonics based instruction

For core programs, check out Project Read and Read Well.

The new basal, Reading Street (published by Scott Foresman if I recall correctly) is highly recommended by some knowledgeable people on the DI list as possibly the best of the basal series... Better than Harcourt Trophies, Houghton-Mifflin,etc.

Good phonics programs that can be used in conjunction with other materials in K-1 include Jolly Phonics (developed in the UK, but has an American edition), Animated Literacy, Phono-Visual (an oldie but goodie), Headsprout Early Reading and Funnix ( both computer-based).

Good supplemental materials that can be used for small groups in 1-3 include Phonics for Reading and Abecedarian.

Open Court Reading can still be used in an entirely synthetic phonics way, but it is packaged with a lot of additional "balanced literacy" components . Teachers would need assistance sorting out what materials to use and what to ignore.

It's sad but unfortunately true that the Webster's materials and much more from the early days can no longer be used in public school because of the religious content. However, homeschoolers and tutors can use them.

Sopris West and Curriculum Associates are two publishing companies that produce a lot of empirically-validated explicit instructional materials in several curriculum areas as well as resources for teachers, parents and administrators.

palisadesk said...

Here are two sites with a variety of reviews of reading curricula:

U. of Oregon site

Florida Center for Reading Research

These are by no means exhaustive but may be informative.

Diane McGuinness' book is a must-read; however, her information on U.S. reading curricula is very inaccurate (also, being ten years old, it is out of date). Her expertise is in language development, linguistics and writing systems and the introductory chapters are brilliant.

topsytechie said...

We've used Time4Learning homeschool curriculum for both math and phonics and have been thoroughly impressed. Time4Learning is especially beneficial to visual learners, because the lessons are presented in an animated, multimedia format that helps students "get it." The concepts that are introduced are always repeated, reviewed, and summarized, which I really appreciate. My son's standardized math scores have gone up 15 points in the last three years since he began using Time4Learning! The T4L phonics curriculum is comprehensive as well. It progresses from sounding out single-syllable words to multi-syllable words, to decoding and spelling, and then to understanding root words, prefixes and suffixes. The curriculum uses a combination of interactive activities and games to reinforce the lessons being taught. Very cool overall curriculum! I can highly recommend it.

Crimson Wife said...

Here is a useful comparison of various 3rd grade math programs.

palisadesk said...

Not sure why, but the link I posted to the Oregon site with the curriculum reviews didn't work, so I'll try again:

Oregon Curriculum Reviews

There's some good information there.

Allison said...

Thanks to everyone for the pointers.

I was asking because I'm undertaking a (in no way comprehensive) review of the Catholic schools in my area, and I'm trying to find out what they use for reading and math, and often they are things no one has ever mentioned before, so I need some help finding evualations.

Elizabeth, the idea that Catholic schools use phonics has long since been deprecated. Nearly all of the ones in our area use balanced literacy. The advertisement for Kindergarten include such fabulous explanations as
"we teach sight words for the non-phonetic words such as star, the, and that."


But a common phonics program in catholic schools used to be A Beka. That may be what you have seen.

Thanks for telling me that Open Court is no longer the Open Court of my childhood. I still remember the story about the girl eating the ice cream cone (m) and the flat tire (s). I already knew how to read, but I loved being explicitly taught all of the rules for vowels.

Thanks to everyone for the math pointers. I'd forgotten about the review on Illinois Loop and Mathematically Correct.

I'm going to update the tags for this post to point to all of these places as well. Thanks again!

MichelleM said...

My son is in kindergarten and they use "Imagine That" which I think is the new version of Open Court.

So far he's brought home little books with one word on each page they put together in class.

They also teach vocabulary words each week.

I'm not sure about this program yet - we are only 4 weeks into school.

We do Hooked on Phonics at home and have really enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

MichelleM -

The McGuinness book discussed upthread has an excellent discussion of why she believes Hooked on Phonics may call attention to sounds but it doesn't explain the logic of the English alphabetic code. It can leave some kids quite confused and only takes you so far. Not far enough to become a fluent reader.

English is an amalgamation language which is reflected in the odd spellings and pronunciations. She explains that well and shows you just how many so called sight words are actually following phonetic patterns that can be taught directly by a teacher or a parent.

ElizabethB said...

Don Potter has made a version of Webster's Speller for use in the public schools with all the stories and sentences taken out.

The Catholic school that used the good phonics program didn't use A Beka, I've seen that, I'm not sure what it was, though.

A great book about the demise of the old Open Court program is "Let's Kill Dick and Jane" by Harold Henderson.

I only recently saw a copy of some pages from the old Open Court program, it's very sad that it's no longer being produced. School Phonics is based on the same method of long vowels first, but without the cute sound explanation like the flat tire for s, and the stories are not as good.

MichelleM said...

Thanks for the info on the McGuinness book. I will look into that.

Anonymous said...

If someone wants to try to locate some of the old Open Court series, they were called the Headway Readers. My copies date back to 1982 and I found them in a used book sale in about 2000.

There were 8 volumes in the series:

On a Blue Hill
A Flint Holds Fire
From Sea to Sea
The Place Called Morning
Cities All About
Burning Bright
The Spirit of the Wind
Close to the Sun

The Place called Morning was originally published as A Magic World and Cities All Around as A Trip Around the World.

Maybe this info will make some of these volumes easier to track down.

Catherine Johnson said...

Oh boy, lots of good stuff here - and I don't have time to read just now!

Lately, I'm very interested in Jolly Phonics, so I'm happy to see that on palisadesk's list.

(I've never been able to look at Reading Mastery directly....)

I have one of the main Jolly Phonics books parents (& schools) can use.