JESSICA BRICE, Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, September 25, 2002
©2002 Associated Press
(09-25) 15:20 PDT SACRAMENTO (AP) --
Although more than 90 percent of its students come from low-income families, many teachers have emergency credentials and many students speak little or no English, Inglewood's Kelso Elementary School is beating the odds.
The school scored a 9 on the Academic Performance Index last year, ranking it as one of the highest performing schools in the state.
A report released Thursday by the Pacific Research Institute's Center for School Reform found that many of California lowest-income schools receiving an API score of seven or higher use direct-instruction teaching methods. The top API score a school can get is a 10.
"When we first started, we had no idea what kind of curriculum was being used at these schools," said Lance Izumi, the center's director and an author of the program. "But when we found out they were all using teacher-centered methods, I wasn't surprised because those programs have been shown to be successful."
Direct-instruction or teacher-centered programs, in which teachers follow scripted lesson plans, have never been very popular among teachers, who call it "drill and kill" teaching.
However, more and more schools are switching to direct-instruction teaching programs, like the Open Court phonics-based reading program, as California moves toward tougher education standards. School officials say they like the program because the structured lesson plans mean every kid in every class learns the same material at the same time.
"I get new kids from other schools all the time," said Kelso principal Jacqueline Moore. "If they come from another Inglewood school, I know exactly what they have been exposed to. It makes it much easier for us."
But critics say the program is too structured and stifles creativity. Steve Kirby, a teacher at Castro Elementary School in the West Contra Costa Unified School District, said teachers and kids miss out on "teachable moments" when they are forced to stick to "military-style lesson plans."
"My experience tells me that when I have some flexibility in how I teach, I can be creative and use teachable moments to get ideas from students and use those ideas in the lesson," Kirby said. "When you use a one-size-fits-all lesson plan, you run the risk of losing the low kids and the high kids because you are always trying to teach to the middle."
Ronni Ephraim, assistant superintendent at the Los Angeles Unified School District, said the majority of teachers resisted when her district implemented the Open Court reading program, which requires hours of additional training for teachers.
"In our early years, we would receive many, many, many letters of concern from teachers," she said. "But commitment follows confidence, and now that they feel more confident using the program and they are seeing how well students are doing, we're not getting those kinds of letters anymore."
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