With my tiny district's per pupil spending now somewhere north of $30K and rising, and a new law requiring Response to Intervention, I'm getting desperate.
So this morning I wrote this plea for adopting programs that work and unadopting programs that don't work:
Response to Intervention wouldn't break the bank if we used evidence-based decision making: if we rigorously evaluated curricula and teaching methods for evidence of effectiveness -- and had a Plan B in place for abandoning curricula and teaching methods that aren't working sooner rather than later.
Example: we use 'balanced literacy' to teach reading.
Scientists who study reading instruction, and the National Reading Panel of 2000, tell us that children should be taught to read using "systematic synthetic phonics instruction." Balanced literacy is far less effective than phonics.
Exactly as the science predicts, here in Irvington we have a very large number of struggling readers. I believe the number is currently 18 or 19%, but I will check my notes. We currently have 5.5 "literacy specialists" remediating all of our struggling readers K-8, and after Response to Intervention kicks in I assume we'll have to hire more.
If we were using the program "Jolly Phonics," a field-tested British (pdf file) synthetic phonics curriculum, we would have only 5% of our students struggling to read. That 5% would include kids like my two children with autism.
We can easily afford to teach the 'bottom' 5% of our students in a 1:5 or 1:3 ratio. We're pretty much doing it now.
Moreover, because fluent reading is the core skill underlying all future academic achievement, we would likely have fewer special education students. That is the goal of Response to Intervention law: to reduce the number of students needing special education.
For me, the most important path out of our financial crisis is to ardently embrace evidence-based decision making: do what works, stop doing what doesn't.
In the run-up to the first fields vote, when people were putting up hand-lettered signs overnight, someone put up a sign that said:
That should be our principle. Remediation is fantastically expensive: it costs the taxpayer who must fund remedial teachers, and, more importantly, it costs the child who is struggling to learn.
Our district-wide goal should be to reduce to the absolute minimum the number of children needing remediation. We should adopt curricula and teaching methods that give our kids success.
I can no longer locate the Johnston & Watson PowerPoint that gave the 5% figure (I can email a copy if you'd like to see it). Palisadesk cites 10%.