Academic journal article Childhood Education

Scripted Curriculum: Is It a Prescription for Success?

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Scripted Curriculum: Is It a Prescription for Success?

Article excerpt

Imagine walking down the halls of your school and hearing the same sentences read, the same questions asked, and the same teacher comments coming from each classroom. "Impossible," you say to yourself. "This could not possibly be happening." But it is. This scenario is becoming more and more commonplace throughout schools in the United States as scripted curriculum materials are implemented more widely. In 2001, one in every eight schools in California used Open Court, a scripted reading program (Posnick-Goodwin, 2002). Nationwide, 1,551 elementary schools in 48 states use Success for All, another scripted reading program (Dudley-Marling & Murphy, 2001). Scripted curriculum materials are instructional materials that have been commercially prepared and require the teacher to read from a script while delivering the lesson (Moustafa & Land, 2002). Scripted materials reflect a focus on explicit, direct, systematic skills instruction and are touted as a method to boost sagging standardized test scores and narrow the achievement gap between children growing up in poverty and those who are more affluent (Coles, 2002).

It is important for teachers to understand the politics of the scripted curriculum, as well as who profits, its basic structure, current research as to its effectiveness, and concerns about its effect on students as well as teachers.


The goal of the education system in the United States has long been to provide an effective public education for all children in order that they may realize their full potential. Precisely how this is to be achieved, however, is the subject of a great deal of debate.

In April 1999, the National Reading Panel (NRP), based on its review of 100,000 studies of how children learn to read, provided a guide for scientifically based reading instruction (cited in Coles, 2002). Those numbers are a little misleading, however. The NRP began by looking at 100,000 studies on reading that had been conducted since 1966. It then established criteria that limited the studies to those relating to instructional material that the panel decided, ahead of time, represented key areas of good reading instruction. The field was further narrowed to studies that had been conducted "scientifically"; that is, using only quantitative data. When all was said and done, the 100,000 studies had been pruned to 52 studies of phonemic awareness, 38 studies of phonics, 14 studies of reading fluency, and 203 studies related to comprehension instruction (Coles, 2002). After examination of the aforementioned 307 studies, the NRP concluded that the most effective course of reading instruction included explicit and systematic instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics (Metcalf, 2002)--that is, the scripted curriculum.

One week after becoming president, George W. Bush sent Congress an education reform bill that referred to the NRP's research findings; he promised to eliminate reading inequalities and ensure that all children would read at grade level by the time they reached the 3rd grade. This would be achieved through the use of scientifically based reading instruction. These education reforms became law when the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was passed in 2002.

The Reading First initiative, the portion of NCLB that applies to reading instruction, provides funding to schools on the condition that they adopt "scientifically based" reading programs. The "scientifically based" (quantitative) research by the NRP that resulted in the funding for "scientifically based" reading programs by Reading First is the basis for the scripted reading curriculum. Programs qualifying as scientifically based are those that incorporate explicit and systematic instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Two such highly scripted and very profitable curriculum programs are Open Court and Success for All (SFA). …

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