Academic journal article International Journal of Education

A Comparative Study of Reading Instruction in Differentially Successful Elementary Schools

Academic journal article International Journal of Education

A Comparative Study of Reading Instruction in Differentially Successful Elementary Schools

Article excerpt


Elementary schools are positioned to be the epicenter for literacy formation and development, yet many students fail to reach minimum literacy standards. This multiple-case qualitative inquiry focuses on the inner workings of schools that experienced various levels of reading success to determine which programmatic aspects led towards effective reading planning and instruction. Findings revealed that literacy performance is affected by the following causes: the utilization of instructionally appropriate materials to facilitate independent work; scheduling and monitoring of support personnel; management and use of time; assessment practices inform instruction; and continuity within instructional frameworks. This study can assist in setting up professional development, serving as a guide for providing warranted support for student learning and teacher knowledge, and fostering considerations for including teachers in the important stages regarding the planning and implementation of classroom literacy instruction.

Keywords: successful schools; literacy; reading; instruction; elementary education

1. Introduction

Only 23% of Louisiana's public school fourth-graders scored at or above the proficient level on the reading portion of the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, 2011), and 60% of the state's fourth graders performed below the basic level on that test. Consequently, a large proportion of children in Louisiana schools are not prepared to become productive citizens in society. Teale et al. (2013) describe these as "students placed at risk," a label intended to make the distinction that the fault lies not within the students but within a system that exacerbates their problems. Many of these students live below the poverty threshold; they are confronted with cultural and language differences, race differences, family and community differences; and attend schools that do not consistently impact their learning (Ainsworth, Ortlieb, Cheek, Pate, & Fetters, 2011; Ortlieb, 2013).

The failure of schools to educate students in basic literacy skills is alarming considering the resources that are available to them (Ortlieb & Cheek, 2008). For the past 40+ years, schools with enrollments of large numbers of disadvantaged children have been granted supplemental financial assistance under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA, 2008) to subsidize educational programming for low-achieving, impoverished children. The Title I federal compensatory education program, initially funded in 1965, was renamed Chapter 1 in the 1980s, and reverted to the name Title I in 1994. Yet some schools continue to fail, even with additional resources designated for these high-poverty schools to remediate students and accelerate learning.

Theodore Sizer (1996) studied schools and school reform for years. In Horace's Hope: What Works for the American High School, he lambasts schools and policymakers for failing to address the needs of students. "Kids are not on conveyer belts, with teachers hanging knowledge on them as they pass by. Schools do not 'deliver instructional services,' pumping up intellectual tires and delivering pedagogical pizza. Children-blessedly-are more complicated and thus more interesting than that" (p. xiii).

1.1 Significance of the Study

Over 50 years ago, Rudolph Flesch (1955) emerged as an advocate for the use of phonics in reading instruction in his book, Why Johnny Can't Read and What You Can Do About It, which he wrote specifically for parents. Though professionals in the field of reading did not take him seriously, other stakeholders shared his disenchantment with the state of reading instruction. Time has passed, phonics has resurfaced (Adams, 1990), and the outcry from stakeholders has grown louder. The Public Affairs Research Council (1997) strongly recommended solutions to break the cycle of placing the children of Louisiana at risk, including focusing on the elementary level and targeting its resources to guarantee that every child will learn to read by the end of the third grade. …

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