Table of Contents

    Cover Theme
  • "Rewriting the Script"

    Together, the following eight articles outline how the standards-tests-punishment machine has subverted public schools from their democratic promise. With action, we can write a future where education isn't a soulless profit machine for the few.
  • Think Less Benchmarks

    A flawed test does more harm than good

    Authored By Amy Gutowski

    "Thanks to the folks at the Discovery Channel, that TV channel with the nifty little logo of the earth spinning, my 8-year-old students have four more opportunities to stop learning and fill in the bubbles."

  • Cover Story
  • Beyond NCLB

    Authored By Monty Neill

    A new era requires new thinking

  • Teaching in Dystopia

    Testing’s stranglehold on education

    Authored By Wayne Au

    "The problem is this: Testing is killing education. Not only is it narrowing the curriculum generally, it promotes bad pedagogy, while making some private companies very rich in the process."

  • Reading First, Libraries Last

    Scripted programs undermine teaching and children's love of books

    Authored By Rachel Cloues

    "In these bleak NCLB days of regimented, scripted reading programs and financially drained school districts, I am deeply worried about the future of elementary school libraries."

  • The Scripted Prescription

    A cure for childhood

    Authored By Peter Campbell, Peter Campbell

    Testing mania reaches the pre-K classroom.  "It saddened me to think that my daughter's first impression of school was based on taking a test and failing it."

  • Bogus Claims About Reading First

    Authored By Stephen Krashen

    When it comes to Reading First, don’t believe the hype

  • Textbook Scripts, Student Lives

    A math teacher goes beyond the standardized curriculum

    Authored By Jana Dean

    "Textbooks, published by corporations that have much to gain by maintaining business as usual, aren't likely to press students to envision a future any different from the past and present."

  • Bonfire of the Disney Princesses

    Authored By Barbara Ehrenreich

    Contrary to their spin machine, Disney’s princesses are far from role models

  • Underfunded Schools Cut Past Tense from Language Programs

    By The Onion

    "A part of American school curricula for more than 200 years, the past tense was deemed by school administrators to be too expensive to keep in primary and secondary education."
  • TV Selfishness and Violence Explode During 'War On Terror

    2nd graders discover new trends in TV since 9/11

    Authored By Margot Pepper

    "Six years into the 'War on Terror,' my 2nd-grade Spanish immersion students found that aggression, selfishness, and insults have exploded on national television."

  • Queer Matters

    Educating educators about Homophobia

    Authored By William DeJean, Anne Rene Elsebree

    "While we were excited to support the opening of the educational closet, unintentionally we became seen as the 'residential experts' for all things queer."

  • Feeding Two Birds With One Hand

    Why educators should demand a national health care plan

    Authored By Bob Peterson

    "I can't imagine any teacher union leader or local school board member who wouldn't welcome a new federal program that would make the issue of healthcare benefits a moot point in bargaining."

  • Building Teacher Solidarity

    Larry Kuehn talks about building ties between teachers in Canada, Mexico, and the United States

    translation missing: en.articles.interviewers Bob Peterson

    “I would really like to see a new movement that gives the kind of hope
    for change that there was when I came into teaching in the late 1960s.”

  • Cover Stories
  • The Power of Words

    Authored By Linda Christensen

    Top-down mandates masquerade as social justice reforms

  • Departments Free
  • Short Stuff
  • Resources
  • Review
  • Letters to the Editors
  • Good Stuff

    Authored By Herb Kohl

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Reading First, Libraries Last

Scripted programs undermine teaching and children's love of books
Reading First, Libraries Last

When I was student teaching in Denver nine years ago, in the pre-No Child Left Behind years, I visited a talented bilingual literacy teacher at a low-income public school. The teacher and her students inspired me, but what I most remember is the school's library. As I walked through the front door, right in front of me in fact, spilling out into the hallway was the entrance to a beautiful space full of books and plants, tanks of tropical fish, and cozy, pillow-filled spaces to read (including an old English phone booth). I was drawn in. Natural light filtered in through open windows, and lamps and tiny lights strung around the room cast a warm, welcoming glow. Bright kites hung from the rafters over the shelves of science books; near the fairy tales, a potted tree arched over a puppet theater, next to it a row of pillows and a basket of puppets. All of the bookshelves were child-sized, arranged to create intimate spaces for browsing or reading. Interesting objects, like rocks and bones, graced the tops of the bookshelves alongside carefully selected books highlighting each genre. If I was this captivated by the library, what must it be like for the students at this school?

I wandered through this lovely library, enchanted, and noticed it was full of children some with teachers, others clearly on their own all engaged in reading, browsing the shelves, and checking out books. When I spoke with the librarian, I learned he had a previous career as a costume designer in New York. His artistic expression and enthusiasm for stories were gloriously married in this wonderful space. The children, he explained, loved being in the library, and they often spent their lunch recess there. The classroom teacher with whom I spent the day confirmed this: the children at their school loved to read. They also performed well on state reading exams.

I have always carried the memory of that day tucked carefully away, to remind me of the potential of a school library. Stephen Krashen, the preeminent scholar of second language acquisition, has researched and written about the correlation between communities' access to books and the reading proficiency levels of children in schools. In a 2002 Phi Delta Kappan article, Krashen explains, "Research on the impact of libraries over the last decade has shown that better school libraries those with more books and better staffing are associated with greater literacy development." I think now of the Denver school I visited and hope that library is still open, and that the librarian has managed to keep his job. In these bleak NCLB days of regimented, scripted reading programs and financially drained school districts, I am deeply worried about the future of elementary school libraries.

Reading First, the NCLB initiative that ostensibly aims to ensure that all children will read by the end of 3rd grade, certainly does not support the library at my own school in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). Authorized by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 2001, Reading First provides schools with money to improve K-3 classroom reading instruction but only through approved "scientific research and standards-based" language arts programs. Reading First grants were awarded to schools that applied. Districts around the country identified schools at risk of not making federally mandated Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and asked these schools to apply for the funds. Some schools democratically voted to seek and then accept the Reading First money; others were forced to accept Reading First by concerned administrators.

When I arrived to teach three years ago at one of San Francisco's so-called "Dream Schools," I noticed a sign on the front of the school boldly proclaiming College Preparatory School, but once inside, I couldn't find the library. Finally, someone unlocked the door for me, and I discovered a small, book-filled space, cluttered and neglected. There was no librarian, nor any system to check books in or out. In fact, the shelves of picture books had been pushed against the wall to make space for parent meetings, groups of children taking tests, or after-school classes. Last year, a voter-approved measure, Proposition H, paid for us to have a librarian one day each week, but it was nearly impossible to check out books because the computer was always broken. Happily, this year we have an enthusiastic new librarian for half of every week, and he is reviving the library space and beginning to teach the children some library skills. For most of this year he used his personal laptop to check out books, but he recently acquired a donated desktop computer.

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