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Betsy Combier

Help Us to Continue to Help Others »

The E-Accountability Foundation announces the

'A for Accountability' Award

to those who are willing to whistleblow unjust, misleading, or false actions and claims of the politico-educational complex in order to bring about educational reform in favor of children of all races, intellectual ability and economic status. They ask questions that need to be asked, such as "where is the money?" and "Why does it have to be this way?" and they never give up. These people have withstood adversity and have held those who seem not to believe in honesty, integrity and compassion accountable for their actions. The winners of our "A" work to expose wrong-doing not for themselves, but for others - total strangers - for the "Greater Good"of the community and, by their actions, exemplify courage and self-less passion. They are parent advocates. We salute you.

Winners of the "A":

Johnnie Mae Allen
David Possner
Dee Alpert
Aaron Carr
Harris Lirtzman
Hipolito Colon
Larry Fisher
The Giraffe Project and Giraffe Heroes' Program
Jimmy Kilpatrick and George Scott
Zach Kopplin
Matthew LaClair
Wangari Maathai
Erich Martel
Steve Orel, in memoriam, Interversity, and The World of Opportunity
Marla Ruzicka, in Memoriam
Nancy Swan
Bob Witanek
Peyton Wolcott
[ More Details » ]
Why Fix Something If It Ain't Broke?'
Tiffany Parker, Principal of Lemon Lewis in Rockford Illinois, started a program to teach reading. She was extremely successful. Then she was fired for this.
The Rockford Files


Samuel G. Freedman of the New York Times, among others, has recently reported on a heart-breaking turn of events in Rockford, IL. That this story was published in the hard-left New York Times gives you an indication of just how tragic it is.

To make a long story short, Rockford is an under-performing school district with more than half of its schools falling in the state's "warning," "watch" or "corrective action" categories. "One of the only bright spots appeared to be the Lewis Lemon elementary school," Freedman writes. Despite having a student body that's "80 percent non-white and 85 percent poor, the school recorded some of the highest scores in Rockford on statewide tests." In fact, when if came to reading "Lemon's third graders trailed only those from a school for the gifted."

Wow. How was such a feat accomplished?

Well, according to Freedman and others, the school principal, Tiffany Parker, embraced and pushed what is referred to in education circles as "direct instruction," the old-fashioned approach to reading which is "heavy on drilling and repetition" and emphasizes phonics - "that is, learning words by sounding them out." Go figure, huh?

So far so good. Now...enter "Darth Vader".

Dr. Dennis Thompson took over the Rockford school district last May as its new superintendent. Dr. Thompson decided that Principal Parker's focus on direct instruction was an impediment to progress and demanded she drop the method. Principal Parker disagreed. Dr. Thompson is a retired Army colonel who isn't used to having his orders questioned by an underling. Dr. Thompson, therefore, transferred Ms. Parker out of Lewis Lemon "and has begun phasing out direct instruction in favor of an approach known as balanced literacy."

You might remember that approach by another name: "whole language".

Robin Paschal is the new reading coordinator at Lewis Lemon who was brought in to replace Principal Parker. She rejects the direct instruction approach. Instead, Paschal implementing the balanced literacy approach. Freedman describes the essence of this method as carried out in another Rockford elementary school, where students were found discussing a chapter in a children's novel. The Conklin Elementary School teacher asked the kids "about the traits and actions of the main characters, and reminded them to write in their 'Reader's Journal' notebook about 'someone you know well and what qualities that person has.'"

Well, isn't that special? Makes you feel warm and fuzzy all over, doesn't it?

Except, feeling warm and fuzzy isn't going to help these kids rise above their current circumstances, which is why Principal Parker refused to drop direct instruction for balanced literacy. "Basically, what you're going to do is sentence a child to a life of poverty," she said, "because you're never going to give some of the most vulnerable kids the tools to become self-reliant."

Lewis Lemon parents appear to agree with their former principal and aren't very happy about losing her or adopting the new teaching scheme. "I'm shocked," one parent told Freedman. "It's like now all these kids are going to be lost. I can't understand why they would take a program that was working and get rid of it. Why fix something if it ain't broke?"

Why, indeed? Perhaps we should ask Dr. Thompson's boss.

Below is the story from Kevin Killion, of the excellent website

the Rescue! -- The Rockford Success Story!


NIU Reading Project Flourishes In Rockford Schools by Mark McGowan, Northern Today, Northern Illinois University, November 5, 2001.


"More than 300 kindergartners and first-graders in three Rockford inner-city schools are participating in 'Project Pride,' an NIU-operated project to improve reading ability. ...

'Our school systems don't have a great track record of catching kids up once they're behind,' said Bill Bursuck, a professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning who, along with Dennis Munk, also from Teaching and Learning, co-directs the project, one of only three in the country funded in 1999.

'We're trying to prevent problems before they occur through early identification and continuum of support based on need. A kid in middle school or high school who can't read is dead in the water,' he added. 'The goal of any reading program is that kids will read silently and comprehend. Accurate and fluent word reading, for these at-risk kids, is one of the key component.' ...

Project Coordinator Mary Damer, also from the Department of Teaching and Learning, is in the Rockford schools daily. Damer tests the children to learn how they are progressing and what problems they still have.

'The test scores are very promising. These children have so much potential,' Damer said. 'This is truly a university and school district cooperative partnership. We are there. We are part of their lives. They are part of our lives.'"

Lewis Lemon 3rd-Graders Ranked No. 2 in Rockford Tests
Math and Reading Scores of Black Students at the School Surpass Those of Whites Statewide
by Carrie Watters, Rockford Register Star, December 14, 2003.


"Nearly eight in 10 children who enter Lewis Lemon Global Studies Academy in prim blue uniforms are black. All but 15 percent of the school's 412 pupils are poor. Don't dare tell these children that, statistically speaking, they should be struggling in school. Lewis Lemon's third-grade students ranked No. 2 out of 35 Rockford elementary schools that administered the Illinois Standards Achievement Test in reading and math. ... At Lewis Lemon ... black third-graders outperformed white counterparts in reading and math in last spring's tests; 97 percent of black students met state standards, compared with 92.3 percent of white students. And 95.3 percent of students classified as poor met math standards. Compare that to scores around the district: 41.1 percent of black third-graders, compared to 73.7 percent of whites, met state math standards. And 51.9 percent of poor students met third-grade math standards against 74.9 percent of their peers who aren't poor."

The Empire Strikes Back
Approach to Reading Argued
by Carrie Watters, Rockford Register Star, January 16, 2005


Lewis Lemon Principal Tiffany Parker was relieved of instructional duties last week for not implementing an approach to reading that new administrators ushered in this school year. Parker's removal was the flash point in a brewing battle over how children are taught to read, one of the most critical skills and also one of the most emotional parts of teaching. Parents gathered at the school on Thursday to strategize how to protect a reading program they say works. "If the mountain needs to be moved, move it. But if it's working, keep it," said parent Tamara Watkins. Lewis Lemon's third-grade students did move a mountain of statistics that show a national scourge: minority and poor students persistently performing below their classmates. The west-side students, 80 percent black and nearly as many poor, came in second in the district behind King gifted students on the state reading test in 2003.

Lewis Lemon, along with Nelson and Kishwaukee -- three of the district's most impoverished elementary schools -- began its academic climb in 2001. ... By 2003, third grade reading scores were up dramatically.

Which Reading Program Is Right?
by Laura Gibbs, WIFR Channel 23, Rockford

January 21, 2005:
This Rockford situation continues to deteriorate quickly with the poor principal skewered and roasted. When she went to conduct a PTO meeting last night, the superintendent and curriculum director were already there to run the meeting (and present misinformation about why their balanced literacy "innovations" were a change in the right direction).

When we wonder why teachers and principals keep quiet when parents try to bring about change, we only have to think about what Ms. Parker is going through. The system is as nasty to renegades as it is to outspoken parents.

A Lesson From The Heartland
BY Andrew Wolf
January 21, 2005


Tiffany Parker has been relieved of her instructional duties as principal of the Lewis Lemon Elementary School in Rockford, Ill. Since we're here in New York, you're probably asking why we should care. However, there is good reason for us to look at Rockford: The events there are pertinent to our children and our schools.

Ms. Parker, who will now shuffle papers, was not demoted because she is incompetent, nor as the unfortunate result of an incident that she might have mishandled. Nor was she disciplined because the school's reading scores went down.

In fact, under her leadership, the school's scores improved dramatically. So why did the district administration abruptly take her out of the instructional loop?

The answer is that Ms. Parker put the children of her school ahead of pedagogical theology.

According to a dispatch in the Rockford Register Star, penned by its education reporter, Carrie Watters, Ms. Parker's background, like most educators today, is in the predominant "progressive" educational ideology. But when she got to the classroom, she found that this approach wouldn't work.

"I was trained in balanced literacy. I got so frustrated over not meeting the needs of my kids ... I had training, reading coaches, high levels of support, and I work. Yet I still felt inadequate, and it showed within the scores," she said.

"Balanced literacy" is a revisionist term for the increasingly unpopular whole-language programs that research has proven don't work for the lowest performing children - those most at risk - typically minority children.

When a federal grant obtained by a former professor at Northern Illinois University, William Bursuck, gave her school and others in the district the opportunity to use the more traditional approaches of phonics and direct instruction, Ms. Parker signed on.

The results were so impressive in the lower grades - the program was designed for grades K-3 - that the principal expanded the use of the teaching methods into the upper grades.

The reading program that Ms. Parker champions is similar to the one that was used in the Chancellor District in New York, established by former Chancellor Rudolph Crew. This was, perhaps, the most successful program ever put in place here to help the most at-risk students.

Just as balanced literacy failed in Rockford, there is evidence that the uniform imposition of "balanced literacy" in New York has not been successful with the students most at risk. Already we see declines in fourth-grade reading scores in districts where the most vulnerable children reside. The abandonment of the successful experiment in the chancellor's district is an indication that ideology is more important than results.

Like her counterparts here in New York, Ms. Parker's success has fallen victim to regime change. Under the Bloomberg/Klein restructuring, the Chancellor's District is now history, and the schools that thrived using traditional methods must conform to the city's "uniform curriculum" mandating the use of "balanced literacy."

In Rockford, a new superintendent came on board, and brought on a deputy for instruction who is a believer in "progressive" programs, like the former deputy chancellor for teaching and learning in New York, Diana K. Lam, and her successor, Carmen Farina.

The new district leadership ordered the Rockford schools to return to the balanced literacy program that had been abandoned as a failure at the Lewis Lemon School years earlier. This was too much for Ms. Parker, who, citing a "moral obligation" to her students, refused to give up the instructional methods that had lifted scores at her school.

So the Rockford district administration has stripped her of her instructional authority, giving those powers to a reading coordinator. This does not sit well with parents at the school or some of the school board members.

One unhappy board member is Michael Williams, who said, "We need to support those administrators who are getting results. Why mess with success?"

This is an example of the pervasiveness of the true monopoly in public education. Far more powerful than the teachers unions or the bureaucrats is the university-institutional complex, the schools of education and nonprofit foundations. They dictate the instructional methodology even when their strategies defy logic.

This is why it is essential that in the revisions expected in the No Child Left Behind law, provisions that require scientifically validated teaching methods be strengthened.

Meanwhile, unless the school board acts when it meets next week, Ms. Parker will remain another casualty in the reading wars. Research demonstrates that Ms. Parker is right and the administration is wrong. But when we allow ideology to trump science, the best principals and teachers inevitably join the students as victims.

bold]Messing With Success
by Joanne Jacobs, January 23, 2005.


"Third graders at a mostly black, mostly poor school in Rockford, Illinois aced the state reading tests, coming in second behind a school for gifted students, a few years after their school adopted scripted, teacher-directed instruction in phonics in the early grades.

Comment from Phillip E. Paeltz, Headmaster and CEO, Governor French Academy, Belleville, IL, January 25, 2005:

"The Rockford School District is behaving in a normal public school manner. It is embracing 'the solution of the moment.' It is following one of the diagnostic prognostications that college professors emit like radiowave messages from deep space, prognostications that are built on research studies that have used graduate students as subjects rather than six-year-old children.

Nearly everyone involved in our state-sponsored education has forgotten the basic principles:
1. Language starts with sounds, 2. Language is then codified by means of structure and grammar, 3. Structure and grammar lead to literary forms.
Students whose study is aligned to this progression can learn. Students whose study has been forced by 'experts' to start on the third stage of the basic principles are victims of educational malpractice.

There is little hope that these state-sponsored schools will recognize their errors. Such introspection requires honesty. There is precious little of that."

The Inevitable Happens in Rockford, January 25, 2005

"We found out the sad news last night that Tiffany Parker, the principal in Rockford who stuck her neck out for intensive phonics was told to pack up her office by the next day and report to her new job as the assistant principal at the most challenging middle school in the city. ... In three years, one will look at the test results of the city's highest achieving minority, high poverty school and see a steady pattern of decline when it takes it place with all of the other failing city high poverty schools."

Debate Lingers on Teaching Reading: Philosophies On Instruction Go National As Lewis Lemon's Principal Gets Demoted
by Carrie Watters, Rockford Register Star, January 30, 2005

A Fight Over Reading Instruction in a District Weary of Change
by Samuel G. Freedman, NEW YORK TIMES, February 2, 2005

"One of the only bright spots [in Rockford] appeared to be the Lewis Lemon elementary school. With a student body that was 80 percent nonwhite and 85 percent poor, the school recorded some of highest scores in Rockford on statewide tests. On a reading test, Lemon's third graders trailed only those from a school for the gifted. Lemon's principal, Tiffany Parker, had accomplished all this by embracing a method of teaching reading known as 'direct instruction.' ... In the last several months, however, Ms. Parker and Lewis Lemon have collided with [the new superintendent] ... Instead of serving as beacons for what is possible, the school and its principal have been portrayed as impediments to progress. The superintendent recently transferred Ms. Parker to a middle school, and has begun phasing out direct instruction in favor of an approach known as balanced literacy. ... 'I'm shocked,' [parent] Ericton Lewis said. 'It's like now all these kids are going to be lost. I can't understand why they would take a program that was working and get rid of it. Why fix something if it ain't broke?'"

What keeps getting obfuscated (despite repeated emphasis from those concerned) is that the fifth graders at Lewis Lemon only had Direct Instruction for one full year before they took the test. Before that they had two or three years of Open Court taught as whole language by teachers who had never had formal training in teaching phonics. Before that they had straight Whole Language. They were so far behind at the beginning of last year that had had to start in Direct Instruction Corrective Reading, which is an intensive intent to try and develop decoding skills of older learners as quickly as possible. This principal knew they were that far behind which is why she started Direct Instruction. She didn't want to do as the others had and be glad that the younger ones were better prepared and resigned about the older students.

When these fifth graders were in kindergarten the teachers spent the year on "food alphabet," eating their way through the alphabet with incidental learning of sounds. Open Court, Houghton Mifflin, and Harcourt can easily be converted to whole language programs if 3-cueing strategy, sounds with schwas, and no added practice on key skills accompany them. This situation showed that only too well.

Educrats Leave Black Kids Illiterate
by Onkar Ghate,, February 8, 2005

"The educational tragedy in Rockford, Illinois, now making national headlines, echoes a larger tragedy. ... In discarding success, Rockford is following the demands of the still-dominant voices in the nation's schools of education. ... What our schools need is not 'moderation,' but phonics instruction. We would consider it child abuse to add contaminated food to a child's diet for the sake of 'balance.' We should consider it the same when educators add whole language to reading instruction."

Poor Leadership in School Systems
by Dave Shearon

Comments [excerpted] from Bruno Behrend, host, WIND Radio, February 11, 2005:
The Rockford story needs to get out ... the world NEEDs the [principal Tiffany] Parker's ... I also hope that the reporters on this list are starting to see the true nature of the "governmental/education complex". At the very least, the old "Military/Industrial Complex" gave us the infrastructure to defend a nation. The "governmental/education complex" isn't serving the country. We don't ask that you "take our side." We just ask that you report the truth. This isn't just happening in Rockford. It is happening everywhere.

The Rockford massacre is rerun in Chicago!
City Schools To Ax Scripted Reading Program Despite Gains
by Kate N. Grossman, Education Reporter, Chicago Sun-Times February 21, 2005

Excerpts: "The Woodlawn Community School boosted reading scores by 20 percentage points in one year after rededicating itself to a controversial, scripted reading program called Direct Instruction, the principal proudly explained. Now, the board says DI must go. ... It can be repetitive, teachers admit, but it works. 'By the end of the year they are reading, much more than with any other program I've used in 30 plus years,' [teacher Althelia] Strong said. ... DI proponents think DI died for one reason: Several top board officials just don't like it. ... Ben Ditkowsky, a former DI coach [said,] 'There is a tendency for people to focus on the teacher being creative and on feel-good activities that seem to ought to work rather than determining what really works.'"

Rockford Principal Gets Smeared!

Principal's Test Scores Probed, Ex-Lewis Lemon Chief Cites Retaliation
by Carrie Watters, Rockford Register Star, February 22, 2005

Letter to the Rockford Register Star, Mary Damer, February 24, 2005

"The testing integrity I observed at Lewis Lemon was consistent with Tiffany Parker's commitment to objective analysis of test scores. 'Give me the hard facts,' was always her approach ... Recall the charges brought against Jaime Escalante who taught calculus to his students in Stand and Deliver! Not only is this type of charge based on assumptions that children from poverty can not succeed, it also has the effect of permanently ruining the reputation of the accused person. The damage is done as soon as the charges are printed in the paper."

Not only is the Rockford school district committed to failure in its grade schools, but it will evidently fight to keep kids from getting a second chance in high school (if that means they would have to give up absolute control)!
The Illinois Network of Charter Schools filed an amicus curiae brief in the State Supreme Court earlier this month in support of Comprehensive Community Solutions, Inc. (CCS). CCS is a charter school applicant in Rockford that wants to open a high school combining academic instruction with on-the-job training for students who are "at risk" of dropping out of high school. The Rockford school district has twice rejected CCS' application, stating the charter school would be a financial drain on the school district. It's an age-old argument with no merit. Providing public school options is not a financial burden for the community -- but sending high school dropouts out into the world unprepared for the workforce certainly is. It's time for Rockford to rally behind its kids and say yes to new public schools that will provide them the help they need to succeed.

Rockford school board elections:
Rockford has a seven-person school board, with three seats up for election April 2005. Incumbents Mike Williams and Jay Nellis are in uncontested races. One seat is being contested, between incumbent Nancy Kalchbrenner and challengers Barb Dent and Mark Thompson. The first public forum will be held March 1st.

Rockford Parents Want to Keep Successful Reading Program
by George A. Clowes, School Reform News, March 2005

"The parent organization of the Lewis Lemon public school in Rockford, Illinois is asking the local school board not to drop a three-year-old reading program that has raised the school's test scores well above the district average. The school's student body is 80 percent minority, and almost 90 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
'We believe that changing the reading program will harm our students and that this is a social justice issue that requires all of us to rise up and speak out,' wrote 10 parents from the school's executive Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) board in a letter to the Rockford Register Star that was not printed. 'Our children deserve instruction that has been proven to work with African-American students. Not only is there research to support it, but we've seen it with our own eyes with Lewis Lemon's test scores.'"

NOTE: This article includes several helpful charts reporting on Lewis Lemon's successes.

Local News: Rockford
Principal's test scores probed
Ex-Lewis Lemon chief cites retaliation.

By CARRIE WATTERS, Rockford Register Star

ROCKFORD -- Lewis Lemon Elementary School's former principal is being investigated for allegedly manipulating the school's celebrated test scores in 2003.

Tiffany Parker, lauded at the time for improving reading scores but booted out of the school this year, counters that Superintendent Dennis Thompson is retaliating against her for squawking to the state about the district potentially misusing a federal reading grant.

Thompson confirms only that he hired Chicago attorneys to conduct an independent investigation into allegations against Parker, now assistant principal at Lincoln Middle School. He said the allegations came from a credible source, a superintendent in a neighboring district.

Dec. 17: Chief Academic Officer Martha Hayes issues an e-mail to all elementary teachers and reading staff, saying they can change the way they teach reading. Specifically, Hayes says teachers can stop using direct instruction in favor of a balanced literacy approach to reading. "Balanced literacy" uses small-group, student-centered reading activities, while "direct instruction" is characterized by teacher-directed and scripted lessons.

Early January: Then-Principal Tiffany Parker, at Lewis Lemon school, e-mails Superintendent Dennis Thompson with concerns that if teachers stop using direct instruction, Lewis Lemon would be out of compliance with its Reading First grant. The $845,930 grant supplied money to schools across the district for reading programs. Parker maintains that the portion for Lewis Lemon was written to support direct instruction, and therefore, changing to a different reading method violated the terms of the grant.

Jan. 10: Thompson removes Parker as instructional leader at Lewis Lemon because she did not follow the chain of command and failed to use "balanced literacy."

Jan. 18: The New York Times calls with interest in the story.

Jan. 24: Thompson demotes Parker to assistant principal at a middle school, in part because allegations of professional misconduct are made by a superintendent of a neighboring district. Thompson won't detail the nature of the allegations, but Parker says it's about her alleged testing improprieties, which she denies.

Feb. 15: Reading First grant investigators from Springfield arrive in Rockford to look at the district's use of the grant. Thompson asks them to reschedule what he calls a surprise visit. The state says there was a scheduling miscommunication. The date of the return visit has not been set.

Last week: Attorneys, retained by Thompson, talk with teachers about possible cheating on state tests at Lewis Lemon.

Demoted principal sues school chief
Tiffany Parker says she was demoted for whistle-blowing

By CARRIE WATTERS, Rockford Star Ledger, March 15, 2005


ROCKFORD -- A Rockford ex-principal is suing Superintendent Dennis Thompson, charging she was demoted for blowing the whistle on changes in the reading program at Lewis Lemon Global Studies Academy that may violate federal grants.

Attorneys for Tiffany Parker filed eight counts against Thompson in U.S. District Court on Thursday. Two counts relate to state and federal protection for whistle-blowers. She also charges that Thompson placed her in a false light before the public and denied her freedom of speech and due process.

Parker was demoted two months ago after she and Thompson disagreed about how to teach students to read. Thompson has said Parker was removed from Lewis Lemon and made an assistant principal at Lincoln Middle School because of allegations of "professional misconduct" that a superintendent in a neighboring district brought to light, not as a result of reading disagreements.
Thompson hired Chicago attorneys in January to investigate the allegations. Parker previously told the Rockford Register Star that the allegations against her are that she manipulated the school'Äôs celebrated test scores in 2003; Thompson has not advised her of those charges.

Parker wants her job back at Lewis Lemon and compensation, according to the court document filed by Parker's attorneys from Penny Nathan Kahan and Associates of Chicago.

Thompson said Monday, "I cannot comment on pending litigation."
The reading scuffle at Lewis Lemon came to light in December, when Thompson's chief academic officer sent an e-mail to principals and reading coaches that said teachers could switch to a "balanced literacy" approach to reading that uses various techniques, including phonics.

Lewis Lemon teachers were using a heavily scripted and phonics-driven program called "direct instruction," which Parker said the federal Reading First Grant endorsed.

Parker called federal grant authorities to report proposed changes and told Thompson she feared her school would lose its Reading First Grant. Parker'Äôs call to authorities grants her whistle-blower status and protection, her attorneys argue.

Thompson said any time problems are found with grants, the district takes steps to resolve them.

Grant investigators have offered no determination. Grant monitors arrived in the district last month, but Thompson told them they must schedule a visit.

Thompson previously said that the removal of Parker is only about investigating the allegations of misconduct against her. "In absolutely no way, shape or form is this retaliation," Thompson said.


Debate lingers on teaching reading
Philosophies on instruction go national as Lewis Lemon's principal gets demoted
By CARRIE WATTERS, Rockford Register Star


ROCKFORD -- Enough drama is swirling around the debate on how best to teach reading at Lewis Lemon Elementary School to make for a pretty good book.

The principal, Tiffany Parker, was demoted last week. The state, which gave Rockford money to improve reading, is investigating. New York reporters are asking questions. Experts around the nation, including a reading adviser to President Bush, are chiming in. At the heart of it, parents at the west-side school want to ensure that their children do not lose in a battle over how children are taught to read.

Lewis Lemon has been a Rockford success story. The school's third-grade students, in 2003, scored second in the district on state reading tests, behind only King Gifted Elementary.

Conflict came when two reading philosophies collided.

As principal, Parker used teacher-led direct reading instruction with a heavy dose of phonics. Chief Instructional Officer Martha Hayes, who arrived with Superintendent Dennis Thompson in May, wants more student-centered reading called "balanced literacy."

Hayes said Lewis Lemon's success did not translate to higher fifth-grade reading scores. Parker said direct reading instruction was new to the upper elementary grades and was not given time to show results.

A chief instructional officer trumps a principal.

"This district will use balanced literacy," a determined Hayes said.

Thompson stripped Parker of instructional authority Jan. 10, then removed her entirely from the school last week. Parker now is an assistant principal at Lincoln Middle School.

The superintendent declined details on the move, citing "personnel matters," which by law are private. He did say, however, that "it does not have to do with the reading program."

Parker also declined comment.

The Rockford dispute made its way to Springfield and the Illinois State Board of Education, which gave the district $845,930 in Reading First Grants.

The money pipeline started in Washington. Since 2002, the federal government has sent $32.8 million to Illinois to improve reading.

The federal government designed these Reading First Grants as the primary method for paying for schools to improve how they teach reading, part of the sweeping federal law called No Child Left Behind that holds schools accountable for student achievement.

Schools and districts competed for grants by agreeing to use scientifically proven reading programs. As part of the deal, states must monitor that schools are loyal to the reading program outlined in the grant proposal.

Ultimately, a school that is out of compliance with the Reading First Grant could lose funding. No Illinois school has faced that extreme.

In the case of Lewis Lemon, direct instruction -- explicit, teacher-led reading classes-- was the chosen approach when the grant started in 2002.

Parker said Hayes' balanced literacy approach takes time away from the program that the school committed to in the grant.

Hayes wants, in part, for teachers to use guided reading. This approach places students in small groups selected by ability to read books and do other reading activities. As a teacher works with one small group of students, other students learn through self-direction.

Hayes sent a memo in December that said teachers could opt out of direct instruction if they wanted to use guided reading.

The superintendent said Lewis Lemon was out of compliance before Hayes stepped in. Third-grade teachers used direct instruction without any other type of intervention for struggling readers as the grant requires.

Thompson said he assured the state that direct instruction, which was the basis for getting the federal money, still was being used.

"The state said, 'oh, OK,' " he said.

"We're very interested in what's going on there," State Board of Education spokeswoman Becky Watts said. "I don't have any finding. ... At this point, we are examining it."

Watts said it is unlikely that the district would lose the grant money because the state wants to work to get schools in compliance.

The conflict stretches beyond Rockford.

Phonics versus whole-language debates have raged for decades, with the latest research showing that students do not just naturally pick up the ability to read as whole-language proponents said. Indeed, children need systematic phonics instruction early on.

Some criticize balanced literacy for not clearly attacking the skill of sounding out words, which research shows children need as a foundation to read.

Critics fear that the push is away from phonics and clear, systematic instruction that the National Reading Panel 2000 touted as best.

New York Times education columnist Samuel Freeman flew to Rockford last week and met with Parker and administrators. Freeman's piece should appear soon in The New York Times.

The New York Sun, in a column by Andrew Wolf published Jan. 21, decried balanced literacy as unsubstantiated and referred to Parker as a "casualty in the reading wars."

Experts agree that children's needs vary and teachers must have a bag of tricks to meet those needs. Hayes' balanced literacy requires teachers to test students three times each school year in five key reading areas: sounding out letters, blending letter sounds, vocabulary, reading fluency and understanding text.

Teachers do not work from a specific program, but Hayes said students will learn phonics. "Believe me, there is systematic phonics instruction."

Teachers in about 15 of the district's elementary schools, those with Reading First Grants, use Harcourt Trophies readers. The text is among five that were approved for the competitive grant.

Teachers in the district's other elementary schools use a slightly older Harcourt series that is not on the list. Although only one of the texts met government approval, Hayes said, there is little difference in the systematic phonics.

Northern Illinois University professor of literacy Pamela Farris supports the balanced approach but cautions that it requires skilled teachers.

Farris teaches future teachers to use direct instruction sometimes, like when learning math facts or with struggling readers. She says guided reading keeps children motivated to read and that the self-directed learning helps average and above-average readers.

Reid Lyon, an adviser to Bush on reading and the branch chief at the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, has a different take on guided reading, saying it has little scientific support.

Lyon said guided reading does not work with struggling students and is potentially counter-productive because students without a strong phonics foundation are taught to guess at words based on pictures or context.

Lyon's agency provided research to the Reading Panel 2000, which issued a report on the five reading hurdles and how students jump them. The panel concluded that the best instruction is direct and systematic for all students at every hurdle, "not the guide on the side, but teacher-led," Lyon said.

Children from poor homes typically have fewer literacy skills. One 1995 Hart and Risley study showed that a child from an affluent home has 48 million words spoken to him or her by age 2, while a child from a welfare home has 12 million words spoken to him or her by the same age.

About 92 percent of Lewis Lemon's students come from homes classified as poor. Hayes says it is stereotypical to assume that they will struggle and to assume that direct instruction is the only answer.

"That they're disadvantaged is the key. The poverty cuts across Hispanic, white, African-American or Native Americans," Lyon said. "Kids from disadvantage, who have limited vocabulary, do not respond well to programs that are child-guided, rather than teacher-guided."

Balanced literacy is getting under way at Lewis Lemon. Students already are being shuffled to new reading groups for the new approach. Future reading test results should shed light on who was right or wrong.

Rockford Illinois Throws Out a Winning Reading Program in Favor of Balanced Literacy

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