- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2002

BALTIMORE City Springs Elementary, which went from single-digit test scores six years ago to one of the top-scoring schools in Baltimore, had an early morning visit yesterday from Lynne Cheney, a strong supporter of the phonics-based reading program responsible for the students' achievement.
"City Springs is a model. It shows how a program with real focus can work," said Mrs. Cheney, a proponent of Direct Instruction, a structured method of learning that teaches basic skills and relies on memorization. She said it can help low-achieving schools achieve a dramatic turnaround.
The celebration continued yesterday for the school's 403 students, who plied Mrs. Cheney with questions and repeated in a ringing chorus that they are the "best in the world." She, in turn, read poems to the excited children about insects and told them about her three granddaughters, two dogs and life with the vice president.
The school adopted Direct Instruction in 1996, after posting very low test scores and being placed on a list making it eligible for a state takeover. Under this method, teachers read out scripted lessons to groups of students and break down concepts that are hard for them to understand.
Children are asked many questions, and encouraged to repeat answers to better remember. The program teaches reading, writing, spelling and math.
"Children learn phonetic analysis and learn to blend sounds into words, words into sentences and sentences into stories," said Principal Bernice Whelchel.
At City Springs the program has proved so successful, the scores on the Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills last year rocketed to more than 50 percent in reading and math in almost all grades. Scores for first-grade reading rose as high as 82 percent in 2001. Scores on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program showed dramatic increases as well.
"We have proved wrong the people who believe that children like these cannot be brought up to succeed," said one teacher.
Mrs. Cheney, who has visited several schools around the country that employ Direct Instruction, says, "it is almost a tragedy" that conventional wisdom is against memorization.
"Direct instruction is not looked upon with a great deal of favor in schools. Teachers don't hear about it, or if they do, they hear about it in a critical way," she said
At City Springs, the attitude is quite different. Here 85 percent of the school's teachers voted to put the Direct Instruction program in place after observing its success at a school in Trenton, N.J., Mrs. Whelchel said.
Although the students do not have extended hours, teachers start their day as early as 6:30 a.m. and often finish past 7 at night, she said. They also go through a training program before they can start teaching in the Direct Instruction method.
"My teachers are greedy to make their children learn," Mrs. Whelchel said.
The success has come at no extra cost.
"The school has the same budget as every Baltimore city public school," she said.
A strong sense of oneness runs through the school.
Students and teachers recite their school's pledge together, and even teachers wear uniforms blue trousers and white shirts from Monday through Thursday.
"We try to be models for our students and show them that we are committed, too," Mrs. Whelchel said.
The success is not just in scores. One student in the audience stood up to tell Mrs. Cheney she has read 90 books this school year.

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