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Speaker: Just like to say that I thought everyone was pleased that the State did
not adopt the (Inaudible). But you are saying that did not cause wonderful things
to happen. Fortunately to have such a great panel. Now Richard Colvin. You all know
that he is the premier education writer for the LA Times. But I am told -- I travel
a lot all over the country and need to share, when people say to me, you know you
have the best education writer in the country (Applause) -- I take that as a sort
of compliment and an insult -- as if I didn't know it? Of course I know it (Laughter).
Mr. Colvin: Hey, just ruin my reputation. Thank you very much, Marion , and thank
you to Dr. Klein to ask me to appear here. It is unusual for a reporter to appear
on this side of a panel. I'm supposed to listen and write and translate what people
say to the public. But I find myself in this role increasingly. I think it is because
people come to gatherings like this and talk about policies, standards and all of
these things that have been done. And it is very hard to get a sense of what's happening
out there in the classroom -- what is really out there on the land. I'm fortunate
that as a reporter and as a parent of a kindergartner and third grader in public
schools, I get an opportunity to be in schools all the time and see what this discussion
at this level looks like at the ground level.
I've got to say that I think the news is really remarkably good. A few years ago,
I was on a similar panel in Chicago -- at the American Educational Research Association,
and I think my comments there about where we were at were pretty negative. And
I think, looking back, the reason was impatience. I had the attitude that, okay,
we had already done the hard work. We had standards, we had a framework. We had
a reading panel that had made its decree about what reading instruction looked like.
Now get to it. What's all this waiting around business? Let's see some results.
And, you know, I was guilty of that in my writing too. I wrote stories that said,
hey, 6 months ago, the state said said reading instruction had changed in California.
Come on, let's go. Let's see it. I wrote the somewhat accommodating remark, and appropriately
so, that turning, you know, an educational system as large and as complex as California
around is like turning around an ocean liner. I think even that is an analogy, maybe,
that's too optimistic. But the point is, that's the nature of the system. And we
need to think back to what was said this morning by Janet -- stick to this for a
long time and be real clear about the fact that we are making progress.
Four or almost five years ago when I started writing about this stuff, before I met
Marion or many of the people in this room, it was impossible to go around -- virtually
impossible to go around this State and to find anybody who was willing to question
the orthodoxy of absolute extreme whole language, essentially that kids learned to
read the same way they learned how to speak. In '92, we often speak of the scores
of '94 as being influential of waking people up to the issue of reading instruction.
But in fact, the NAEP scores of 1992, the first year that reading scores were compared
by state, showed California almost in the same position as it was a few years later.
California was at the very bottom in '92, and then again at the very bottom in 1994.
Instead of being tied with Mississippi and ahead of Louisiana, if I remember, we
were no longer tied with Mississippi, because Mississippi had made great gains. We
were below Louisiana because we were the only State in the Nation that had gone down
in the two years. Suddenly people began to worry that maybe there was something going
You know, just to reflect again on that period... At that time the response was that
what we needed was essentially more training for teachers, which, you know, is true
at all times. Any of us get better with reflecting on what we do. We needed more
money. Our class sizes were huge. We needed more books. We didn't have enough books
in many schools. But you know, I think we ought to think about what's happened in
the last few years. It's not only that back then we didn't have standards or a framework
aligned with those standards. We didn't have the huge amount of money going into
books that we have now. We had huge class sizes.
We have changed in this state -- you know, it's an enormous shift, if you think about
it, over the last few years. And again, that only argues for the fact that we need
to continue to work on what we're working on.
So I say the news is good. You know, we now know that students have to read fluently
in order to understand. They have to read well in order to enjoy literature. And
furthermore, I think we understand in this state that students have to be taught
to read. That was not true five years ago -- that was not true five years ago. We
still have the debate about how exactly, precisely that instruction ought to occur,
but I think we all know now, students must be taught to read.
I just have to share a real quick story. I had an opportunity to go to New Zealand
to look at the reading instruction programs there. And I was standing in the parking
lot of a school of education that is -- that was the school of education in Auckland
where Reading Recovery started. And I was speaking to a person on the faculty there.
She said, oh, you are from California, that's great. The New Zealanders are very
sweet, hospitable people. She said, "It's great you came to see us. What are
you doing?" I said, "Well, I'm going to write an article about reading
instruction in New Zealand." And she turned to me and smiled in a way that those
of us who were students remember, only teachers could smile at you that way -- as
if, "my dearest child..." (Laughter)
"Instruction" -- talking with a New Zealand accent -- "instruction,
why, that's so medieval!" And I was so taken aback. And later I realized --
I'm very slow on the up take on these things, very slow -- I realized I should have
said, "Gee, I thought instruction was quite renaissance." (Laughter).
Unfortunately, I didn't think of that (Laughter). But we've changed. I think we believe
now that, just for the types of things Carol was talking about, we have to teach
kids. It won't just soak up through the skin.
Now, it's also true what Janet said about reform passing so quickly that nothing
has been changed. And I think in many schools, you know, whatever has happened here
has passed through schools as sort of a cool and gentle wind that barely disturbed
the papers on the desk. Kind of floating there, kind of flowing past but not making
any difference. I was up in Palo Alto last week and had occasion to have lunch with
a member of the Board of Trustees in Palo Alto. She showed me a memo or newsletter
from her daughter's class. And it had a lot of information about what was going on
in class, but had a section on reading instruction -- "When you are helping
your child learn to read at home and they come to a word that they don't know, the
first thing to do is go to the end of the sentence and see if they can guess what
that word was. Then they should look at the picture and see if that works out. They
should look at the first letter and make their mouths ready to say the rest of the
word." You know, I don't understand that. If you look at a word and get your
mouth ready (Laughter), how does that help you continue with the rest of the word?
I don't get that. I'm sorry. I need some help there, some remediation, I think.
Remember this was a two columns on each page, single spaced a lot of type, three
pages long. The only part of that entire thing that went home that was capitalized
were these words that came right after all these others -- this other advice -- again,
this is the biggest emphasis, the only part that was capitalized -- "do not
tell your children to sound out words!" -- this was in Palo Alto.
I suppose those kids are going to learn to read anyway. That's fine. And I'm sure
they don't need any instruction. That's fine. But you know what, my kid needs to
be taught. My kid's in kindergarten and he needs to be taught. And I've read to him
since he was an infant because he has an older sister, and every night we read to
them. There's books stacked up everywhere. I have to tell you, one of the things
about being a reading -- reporter -- sometimes I think that's what I am -- an education
reporter is that publishers are my best friends. And that's great for my kids because
they have tons of books. But the point is that, you know, my kid, my kindergartner
needs to be taught. My daughter didn't need to be taught, but my kindergartner does.
And I would rather have both of them taught to read rather than neither of them taught
because one of them might not need to be taught. Again, instruction is not medieval.
So as a parent, I react rather strongly to that advice.
I want to tell you about another school I visited recently and then on to the good
news. I was at a school not too long ago in Berkeley. And the Principal there told
me that, you know, the good news is that she said all of our teachers have been trained
in our program consistent with the A to H requirements. Now, that is incredible.
The A to H requirements are the evidence of a professional development program
that have to be in there in order to get funding from the State under one of the
bills that Marion was instrumental in getting through the legislature. The fact that
a principal would say to me and expect me to understand and know what she meant,
a shorthand for what should be in a professional development program, is pretty remarkable.
Because those A to Hrequirements -- they have to have phonemic awareness, importance
of phonics, instruction in comprehension strategies. In other words, she knew what
a good reading program must consist of because of the hard work of Marion and the
Legislature and the State Board of Education as a whole and the government.
So some of it is getting out there. But at the same time, it's not always a clear
message. The same Principal could say to me. "We have a literature based curriculum"
-- great, fine, that's the way it ought to be, every curriculum in every school ought
to be literature based. But she could -- as long as there's instruction so the kids
can use that literature, of course. But she could also say to me, "You know,
I have this problem because when we get to the 4th grade, everything that we do in
class has to be read to the students, because if I ask them to read it on their own,
they will not understand it, they will not be able to talk about it. They will not
discuss it. And I want them to operate up here with the ideas of the things that
they are reading, with the content, with the knowledge so that we can have the discussion.
And when I want that to occur, I have to read that to them."
To me, there's a connection that's missing. You know the elements of professional
development. You know they want kids to be able to discuss things at a very high
level. And yet the instructional strategies that they were using were not producing
their results, which in my mind, being rather simple minded about this stuff, I would
think you have to think about whether you are doing the right things in order to
have -- in order to achieve this.
Now, I'd say the news is good because I've recently had the opportunity to write
an article about the California Reading and Literature Projects results program,
which is going to form the basis for the Governor's summer reading institute -- 600
schools, 6,000 teachers are going to be given training and support during the school
And it is a remarkable thing to go to a school that is using this kind of approach,
that focused on results. Janet spoke this morning about the importance of focusing
on results. There are schools all around the State, a thousand of them, that are
now focusing on results. There's going to be 600 more after this summer, and if we
keep continuing it, I think there will be many more. The point is, you look at what
kids can do -- you decide what you want kids to do based on the Standards. Then you
keep track of whether they are doing it or not. And you train and teach them -- training
really truly is a medieval word, I'm sorry to use that word (Laughter). You teach
them so that they can achieve what you want them to achieve.
What do we all want kids to achieve? We want them to first and foremost be able to
read the newspaper and understand it (Laughter). You know, that sounds like a joke,
but it's not. I mean, if you could read the newspaper, you are engaged in it and
are understanding it and can talk about it at the water cooler or when you are punching
a time clock, you are going to be reading other things. And you know, we get into
this silly, silly debate about phonics and so on. I don't care how kids are taught,
as long as they are taught. And we know from research there are things that work
better than other things. So let's do those things.
Anyway, my overall feeling is that things are really going quite well. But we do
need to stick with it. We do need to use these Standards in a positive way. We, you
know, I think we all should realize though that -- you know, we look at our realities
through a very narrow window. And we might think, you know, things are -- oh, my,
you know, the test scores next month are going to be terrible, and wring our hands
and think that we're a few steps from Hell's gate. But we need to recognize that
-- I tell this to Marion all the time because she wrings her hands -- we have made
an enormous amount of progress in this state, and we need to feel good about it and
keep working on it. Thank you. (Applause)
Question and answer session
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