- from The Columbus Dispatch - "More class time helps at-risk kids"
July 11, 2003
By William L. Bainbridge
One can hardly pick up a newspaper, turn on television,
review a magazine, view a Web portal or attend a social function without
learning about the perceptions of failure in our public schools and the
many suggestions of reform by instant experts. The research, however, on
school improvement is clear: Children need additional time and resources
to enhance the learning process. |
Research has demonstrated that
time, in the form of an extended school year or day, can make a
difference. Likewise, resources covering a wide range of educational
assets, including parents reading to their children, more and better
qualified teachers, computers in the home, exposure to classical music and
stimulating learning exercises of many types have proved effective in
increasing students’ learning, as measured by scores on standardized
|Most reform advocates focus on the resource component either by
advocating better teacher training, parent involvement, vouchers, charter
schools, high staff salaries, accountability measures, technological
advances and program improvements. |
Recently, the Philadelphia
school system was in the national spotlight for focusing on the time
component. Superintendent Paul G. Vallas, who made his mark in Chicago,
has enrolled more than 30,000 students in the largest summer school in the
City of Brotherly Love’s history. Test scores in that urban center, like
others, are in the ditch, and Vallas is attempting to turn around the
200,000-student system by offering children additional support.
One need not focus on urban centers to see the impact that
additional time has on increasing learning, especially for young children.
A recent meeting with Whitehall school Superintendent Judyth Dobbert-Meloy
and her chief academic officer, Susie J. Carr, yielded data to validate
what researchers have been reporting.
Dobbert-Meloy’s arrival on the scene, the Whitehall Board of Education
approved a limited all-day kindergarten program. Although there were some
problems associated with concerns for budget, staffing and space, the
district moved forward.
In the fall of 2000, an appointed study
team led by Carr collected data and assembled research to convince the
board and public that all-day kindergarten could make a difference. They
were also charged with developing a program model.
interpretation of the research indicated that simply stretching the
current kindergarten program out over a full day for all students might
not make the positive differences they hoped to achieve. They did believe,
after careful study, the research supported all-day programs for children
who were identified as "at risk" of educational failure.
Whitehall’s population includes many students from families low on
the socioeconomic ladder. District test scores revealed that 25 percent of
the students were consistently not at grade level in terms of reading
skills at the end of second grade. The answer was to develop a program of
early intervention with the lowest performing students to see if a boost
in literacy could be achieved.
Whitehall’s model identifies
students coming into kindergarten who are lagging in literacy-skill
development and provides them with intensive intervention. The new model
also includes more parent involvement and weekly reports helping parents
and teachers understand each child’s progress. Parents, who provide the
school with anecdotal data about the program’s effectiveness, are also
given the opportunity to participate in hands-on instruction on the use of
magnetic letters, small books and writing strategies.
The good news
is, Whitehall was not only right, but the district pulled it off by
realigning federally funded Title I personnel and literacy coordinators
without spending additional money. SchoolMatch Chief Information Officer
Kathy B. Bleimes, a Whitehall alumnus, said the data "was incredible," and
Bleimes, having examined school achievement data for more than 15,000
school systems since 1985, is not easily impressed.
Kindergarten Intervention Program in Whitehall not only closed the gap for
atrisk students, it eliminated the gap altogether based on two years’
data. Enrollees in the program have demonstrated great gains in letter
identification, hearing sounds in words and concepts about print, all key
factors in the reading-readiness process. When asked, "Has the KIP program
met the needs of your child?" 71 percent of parents said it was very
helpful and 23 percent said it was mostly helpful.
their children have made major improvements in letter recognition, reading
and writing. Perhaps more important, they indicate children are excited to
read, more interested in reading, like reading more, have more
self-confidence and enjoy school more as a result of the program.
Kudos to Whitehall City Schools for implementing a research-based
initiative to improve schools and help make the learning process
is Distinguished Research Professor at the
University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer
of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data