- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

New York City and the Bush administration are on an apparent collision course over a city-mandated reading program for most city schoolchildren that federal officials say isn't a research-based phonics program and probably won't qualify for $250 million in federal grants to the city over the next six years.
New York City Schools Commissioner Joel I. Klein ordered last month that all but 208 of the city's 1,000 public schools use a commercial reading program called Month by Month Phonics and a math program called Everyday Mathematics.
Mr. Klein exempted 208 of the city's borough school districts from centralized citywide curriculum mandates because their test results showed students already exceeding grade proficiency in reading and mathematics.
A group of seven leading New York reading research professors promptly wrote to Mr. Klein and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg with detailed evidence that Month by Month Phonics (MM) was not a true phonics program. The professors warned that the program's adoption could place the city at risk of losing hundreds of millions of federal dollars under the No Child Left Behind Act's subsidy programs for reading instruction for prekindergarten through third-grade children.
"Despite its claims, the MM program does not teach essential ingredients of a phonics program comprehensively or systematically. This puts beginning readers at risk of failure in acquiring the foundation they need at the outset in learning to read," said the Feb. 4 letter from Linnea C. Ehri of the City University of New York graduate center, a member of President Bush's National Reading Panel, and six other scholars from Yale, Cornell, Columbia and Fordham universities.
Mr. Bush's chief reading research adviser, G. Reid Lyon of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, earlier said that Month by Month Phonics was not a research-tested program and should not qualify for federal funds.
"We can find no published research indicating that this program has been tested with well-defined groups of kids and shown to be effective," Mr. Lyon told the New York Times in January. "And clearly one would want to know those kinds of details before incorporating any program into use."
Despite the criticism, and concerns expressed by New York State Education Commissioner Richard Mills that Mr. Klein's decision could sabotage millions in federal funds, the city school commissioner stuck by his order.
"We believe the curriculum we will implement this September will meet the needs of the students and the federal guidelines," Klein spokesman David Chai told the New York Daily News. "We have no plans to abandon the curriculum."
Patricia M. Cunningham of Wake Forest University in North Carolina, a co-author of Month by Month Phonics, told the New York Times that studies showed "little difference between phonics programs, and that what was important was doing phonics instruction systematically as part of a broader program."
Diana Lam, deputy school chancellor for teaching and learning in New York City, said she chose the program because she did not want a "rigid" approach that she said characterizes many better-known phonics programs.
But the seven research professors called Month by Month a watered-down approach that is flawed and ineffective.
Under the new federal law enacted last year, school districts can receive federal funds only for reading instruction curriculum programs that are scientifically proven to improve children's reading skills.
Administration officials say research favors phonics programs that begin by teaching children the relationship between letters and their sounds and allowing them to apply what they have learned with reading content of increasing challenge.
By contrast, so-called "whole-language" reading instruction, a popular method in many public schools in recent decades, emphasizes teaching children to memorize words rather than to learn letter sounds and decoding techniques.
Critics of the whole-language approach say many children taught with that method never master complete reading skills and encounter learning problems after elementary school as reading content becomes difficult.

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