So what’s a school to do?

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Reading Elizabeth Duffrin’s explanation and descriptions of Direct Instruction, we found ourselves nodding: Well, yes, a lot of that makes sense. Then, as we read her explanation and descriptions of the progressive approach to teaching reading, we again found ourselves nodding: Well, yes, a lot of that makes sense, too. Our conclusion: Schools need more time, especially in the early grades, so that DI can be part of a varied instructional program.

Educators of every pedagogical persuasion agree that the fundamental educational hurdle for disadvantaged youngsters is that they come to school with smaller vocabularies and less developed language skillsùvis vis school tasksùthan middle-class kids. With 30, 25 or even 20 kids in a class, it is a rare teacher who can catch them up through the kind of coaching that middle-class parents provide. The realities of classroom life auger for intensive intervention of some sort. Is DI appropriate for every child? Unlikely. But that can be said for anything a teacher is doing at any particular time.

DI advocates like to view their program as technology. You wouldn’t ask a physician to create his or her own X-ray machine, they say, suggesting that teachers shouldn’t be expected to create their own curricula. No, but it takes more skill to implement a reading program well than to operate a machine. To reach children, teachers have to believe in what they’re doing, which is why the new school administration did itself a favor when it reined in its desire to force low-scoring schools to adopt DI.

It may seem tedious, but setting standards, highlighting program options, letting schools choose, giving them time to make their choices work and, finally, holding them accountable for results is the surest way to get the most improvement from the greatest number of schools. Then, if rewards are to be given, they should be for academic progress, not simply scoring above national averages regardless of the level students were at when they enrolled in a school—which is what CEO Paul Vallas did with the Exemplary Schools Program.

ABOUT US Catalyst has had a number of staff changes over the summer. Circulation Manager Marvlun Reed resigned to take a job closer to home. And Regina Powell, office manager for four years, moved on as well. We’ve drafted intern Jason Grotto to fill in for the time being. … After figuring the time it takes to round up and mail back issues, we’ve also changed the price for putting one in the mailùto $3. If you stop by our offices to pick up a back issue, the price is still $1.

Catalyst also welcomes five new Editorial Board members: Helen Chang, until recently an instructor at the Teachers Academy for Mathematics and Science; James Hammonds, parent member of the Goldblatt Local School Council; Natavida Hernandez, parent member of the LSCs at Orozco and Saucedo academies; Clara Pate, director of education programs for Executive Service Corps.; and Charmayne Posey, a teacher at Hubbard High and co-chair of the Teachers Task Force.

And we thank outgoing members for their ideas and comments over the years: Ava Belisle-Chatterjee, Nancy H. Brandt, Adrian Capehart, Carlos Heredia, Leon Jackson, Linda Logan, Lynn Stinnette and Janis Todd. They have been a great sounding board.