Project Improves Poor Students' Reading Skills

CLEVELAND (AP) - An experimental reading project in a handful of schools has produced startling jumps in the reading levels of poor children, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

The project involves about 2,600 kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders in nine low-performing schools in Cleveland, New Orleans and Washington, D.C.

Researchers found many of the children have gone from reading a grade level or two behind to reading at, or beyond, their grade level.

"What we have seen, I think, is nothing short of a miracle," said Darion Griffin, the project's national coordinator.

The project blends research-tested elements of phonics and whole-language instruction. Teachers in kindergarten through second grade receive intensive summer training, and each school has an onsite teacher "coach" to make sure that training is applied daily in the classroom.

The project aims to get all but the most severely disabled students to read fluently by third grade.

"This has not been a student problem -- it's been an instructional problem," said Sharon Hughes, the project's Cleveland coordinator.

Students at George Washington Carver Elementary School, a weather-beaten yellow-brick building across from an abandoned junk yard, are proving that.

Carver is one of Cleveland's poorest schools and statistics say the black children who go there, mostly from single-parent homes and public housing, will not succeed.

But last year, Mary Ellen O'Shea's entire first-grade class passed the state reading test. By spring break, 14 of 16 kindergartners already had learned to read.

More than 73 percent of Carver's fourth-graders passed the state reading test -- more than double the district's average.

The project was started by the American Federation of Teachers during the 2000-2001 school year.

The combination of research-based methods and intensive teacher training mirrors the reading initiative in President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001.

Last month, the president pledged to work with the American Federation of Teachers to expand efforts to provide teachers with effective ways to teach reading.

The program also shows policy-makers a viable alternative to vouchers for poor children, said Cleveland Teachers Union professional issues director Michael Charney.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)