Total Pageviews

Search This Blog

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Steve Wise gives Jacksonville another black eye, supports friends not kids

From the Orlando Sentinel, by Leslie Postal

Joe Lockavitch promises that in 30 minutes he can take the "worst kids in the building" — even high-school students still stumbling over simple texts — and teach them to read a passage full of words they didn't know half an hour earlier.

"I teach nonreaders to read," says the founder and president of Failure Free Reading.

Lockavitch holds up his scripted reading program as a unique way to help students who haven't learned to read with traditional phonics-based instruction.

"Let's go to any damn school you want to and pull out any kid they want," he says. "I'm not a charlatan because it's all based on solid research."

Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, is convinced.

Since watching some of Lockavitch's 30-minute demonstrations , Wise, a veteran legislator and chairman of the Senate's education committee, has used his influence to insert millions of dollars for Lockavitch's program into the state budget since 2000. The 2012-13 budget the Legislature just approved includes an additional $750,000 meant for the North Carolina company.

But the program's central premise — that phonics skills won't help the "worst-performing" students — runs counter to decades of reading research and to Florida's blueprint for reading instruction.

More significantly, Florida students who took part in Failure Free Reading last school year did worse, as a group, on the reading section of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test than similar, struggling readers not enrolled in the program, data obtained by the Orlando Sentinel shows.

The data, contained in emails from the Florida Department of Education and the Panhandle Area Education Consortium, also showed:

•Most Duval County summer-school students enrolled in Failure Free in 2011 scored worse on the Stanford Achievement Test, a commonly used standardized reading exam, after the lessons than they did before they started.

Florida students gained fewer new reading skills in 2010-11, when they were enrolled in Failure Free, than in the prior school year, when they did not take part, the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading showed.

Florida schools face a tough job educating poor readers, but the Education Department determined Failure Free didn't provide them worthwhile help — though it cost extra money.

"The use of Failure Free Reading with our most at-risk readers did not yield dramatic or cost effective results," the department concluded in the summer of 2011.

By then, the state had spent $852,000 to implement Failure Free in 46 North Florida schools during the 2010-11 school year. Nearly $48,000 more had been spent on the Duval summer program. And the Legislature had earmarked an additional $750,000 for Failure Free to be used this school year in some North Florida and Panhandle districts.

Wise and Lockavitch, at a meeting last summer, urged the department not share its data about the program, according to the emails and interviews obtained by the Sentinel.

"I was asked not to disseminate the results of the Failure Free Reading intervention because the data was negative," wrote Stuart Greenberg, executive director of Just Read, Florida!, the Education Department's reading office, in an Aug. 5 email.

Lockavitch, however, told the Sentinel he didn't want the information released because he didn't think it was accurate. He challenges both the Education Department's conclusions and methods. And both he and Wise say the department is hostile to Failure Free's nonphonics approach.

"All I am trying to do is present Florida with a viable, low-cost, fast-acting non-phonic reading alternative to help save the lives" of chronically poor readers, he wrote in an email to the Sentinel.

Failure Free, Lockavitch said, was successful with some of the state's worst readers, but he says that was not reflected in the DOE report.

But DOE says that's not good enough. Overall, 49 percent of the Failure Free students made learning gains on FCAT reading. That compares with 51 percent of a control group — made up of students with similar reading struggles — in Broward County and 50 percent of a statewide group that didn't use Failure Free, Greenberg said.

Those results aren't surprising because Failure Free "doesn't make any scientific sense," said Joseph Torgesen, the retired director of the state reading center at Florida State University and one of the country's leading reading researchers.

In a 2006 national study, researchers found it had the weakest results of the four reading programs studied. There is "no justification" for Florida giving it special treatment in its budget, Torgesen said.

Failure Free, he said, discounts 25 years of research when it argues that the worst readers don't need, or can't absorb, instruction in how to sound out unfamiliar words.

"I've never met a kid … that you can't teach good phonics skills to if you do it right," Torgesen said.

No comments:

Post a Comment