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October 1999 | Volume 57 | Number 2
Craig Wheaton and Stephen Kay
Faced with low literacy levels, four schools issued a written guarantee: every entering kindergartner would be a competent reader by the end of 2nd grade.
There's a new watchword on the front lines of teaching reading: "1,000 Days."
A growing network of schools, 1,000 Days to Success, is committed to ensuring 100 percent literacy in elementary schools. Every school in the network promises—in writing—that every child entering kindergarten will learn to read by the end of 2nd grade. No excuses.
Each school spells out its commitment on a printed warranty card. The fine print details the responsibilities that the school, the teachers, and the parents must fulfill to avoid nullifying the warranty.
Seems simple enough. After all, aren't schools supposed to teach kids to read? Yet the 1,000 Days to Success School Network is reaching for 100 percent literacy—a goal never achieved before.
The founder of the 1,000 Days program and principal of Scott Lane Elementary School remembers when the idea first dawned on him:
One morning 1997, as I was driving to work, I heard the radio DJ announce that there were only 1,000 days left in the century. It struck me that our incoming kindergarten students would also have only 1,000 days between the time they entered Scott Lane and their "graduation" from 2nd grade in June 2000. What was the most important thing we could do for those children in that time period? Teach them to read!
That same week, I bought a new set of tires for my car. The transaction included a review of the tire warranty. By the time the salesman and I finished reviewing the fine print, I realized that the tire manufacturer was not the only party responsible for my tires. As an owner, I had to rotate them regularly. I had to keep them properly inflated. And I'd better not drive them over nails!
In my mind's eye, I saw Scott Lane's little kindergartners and all the nails along their path to reading success. I combined the two images—the tire warranty and the urgency of the 1,000 days—into the Reading Warranty program, which I proposed to my staff. Their response? For the first time in my career as a principal, I received a standing ovation. Challenged and inspired by the warranty metaphor, my staff unanimously committed to guarantee literacy for all our students.
Throughout fall 1997, the staff defined the terms of the warranty and informed the parents of 115 kindergartners of this new, serious commitment to their children's success in reading. On Thanksgiving Sunday, the commitment became public when the San Jose Mercury News ran a front-page story about the program.
In spring 1998, four California schools joined to establish the 1,000 Days to Success School Network:
These are not schools where fortunate children enter kindergarten already knowing how to read. Many of these children come to school not knowing how to hold a book, never having been read to, not speaking English.
At the time that the network schools made the commitment to early literacy, a tidal wave of change was on the horizon. California was near the bottom in reading scores, the state had mandated reduced class sizes, and the California Reading Initiative provided funds for teacher retraining.
Our schools had two choices: Drown or, to use a California metaphor, grab a board and surf the wave. The 1,000 Days to Success Network schools chose to jump on the reading warranty "board." So far, the ride has been both exhilarating and exhausting and is not only a reinforcement of why we all chose education as a career but also, to be honest, a test of our stamina and nerves.
The teaching profession faces a dire situation: 40 percent of 4th graders nationwide are not reading at grade level. Increasingly, only one fate awaits these students: failure. The public is tired of excuses. Politicians blame educators. Everyone demands results. At 1,000 Days schools, we embrace accountability. We track and report student progress in short intervals and keep parents and the community informed.
Administrators and teachers discuss effective instruction and intervention on the basis of regularly collected data. Through on-site action research (Sagor, 1992), teachers collect data, make adjustments in teaching, measure results, make re-adjustments, and again measure results. While collecting student data, teachers also document successful pedagogical strategies and add them to a locally developed knowledge base for teaching. And as teachers increasingly take charge of quality control, they feel empowered to improve student learning (Schmoker, 1996).
Network schools have adopted a Language Observation Survey that provides administrators, teachers, and parents with ongoing measures of progress. Adapted from Reading Recovery founder Marie Clay's work, the survey includes assessing letter identification, concepts about print, and "leveled text" mastery (Clay, 1993).
All schools have implemented an uninterrupted morning literacy block. No assemblies. No principal announcements over the PA system. Just literacy experiences tailored to meet the needs of every child.
Teachers focus on maximizing instructional time. Time efficiency is a crucial factor in school improvement (Allington & Cunningham, 1995). We calculated reading instructional time and found that teachers have only 30 minutes a week of direct literacy instruction with each student (fig. 1). The urgency of the 1,000 days countdown is a great motivator.
1,000 days. This is the number of calendar days from the start of kindergarten to the end of 2nd grade.
180 days x 3 years = 540 days. Children are in school only 180 days a year for 3 years, or 540 actual days.
540 days x 2-hour literacy block = 1,080 hours. We devote 2 hours a day to literacy. The 540 days times 2 hours a day equals 1,080 hours of instruction.
1,080 hours ÷ 4 guided reading groups = 270 hours. In our classrooms, we expect each teacher to have a guided reading lesson with each student each day. In the two-hour block, each teacher meets with each group every half-hour. Dividing the 1,080 hours that students are working directly on literacy by the 4 groups that are actually working with their teacher equals 270 hours.
270 hours ÷ 5 students = 54 hours. Each teacher works in guided reading groups with an average of 5 students in each group. Dividing the 270 hours that a child is actually with the teacher by the 5 students in the group means that each student gets individual attention for only 54 hours.
54 hours ÷ 3 years = 18 hours a year. The 54 hours are spread over 3 years! When we divide the 54 hours by 3 years,we see that a child receives only 18 hours of direct instruction a year.
18 hours ÷ 36 weeks = 1/2 hour a week. An average school year has 36 weeks. When we divide the 18 hours by the number of weeks, we see that a student may have only 30 minutes a week of individual instruction.
We have not found one curriculum or program that magically teaches every child to read. Our approach is to employ every available resource that demonstrates potential usefulness. We use all the weapons in our pedagogical arsenal—and continually look for better ones—to win the battle against illiteracy.
Many of our instructional techniques and strategies have evolved from early literacy learning initiatives, such as Ohio State University's Literacy Collaborative and the California Early Literacy Learning (National Research Council, 1998; California State Board of Education, 1999). As many as 20 percent of our students have one-on-one intervention from a Reading Recovery–trained teacher.
The Network supports schools as they build capacity. A key factor for success is the on-site literacy coordinator. When teachers need assistance, the literacy coordinator is available and models strategies within the classroom. We refer to this as "just-in-time" staff development.
Schools use cross-age tutors to help improve reading. In Corcoran, high school students trained in early reading intervention strategies tutor 1st graders. At Scott Lane, upper elementary students learn to work with 1st and 2nd graders in reading. Both programs demonstrate how a school system can use existing resources—even students—to promote early success in reading.
The need to reach every student has changed the traditional student-study team. In the past, to help a child who was not making adequate academic progress, a team comprising the child's teacher, a resource specialist, the principal, and occasionally the child's parents met monthly. Today, because teachers feel the urgency to succeed, Scott Lane School finds it necessary to have study team meetings every week. The team meetings encourage parents, often recommending family counseling or parenting classes. We intervene early to address learning disabilities, poor attendance patterns, vision and hearing problems, and other obstacles to learning.
The school, teachers, parents, community members, and businesses all do their part. Each of our schools has instituted volunteer reading programs. Hitachi Data Systems employees spend 25 hours a week as volunteers in an adopt-a-kid-to-read program at Scott Lane. Center Street School has more than 50 retired community members reading to K–2 students every week. Business leaders from Corcoran's local Rotary Club visit Fremont School to read to classes every other Friday. Additionally, many of our schools have had significant financial support from business and community partners.
Scott Lane School has adopted the Waterford Early Literacy program to support students with rich technology. Plans are now developing to expand the Waterford system throughout the Network.
Scott Lane School has improved dramatically over the first two years of the 1,000 Days program. The school moved from the bottom of the district ranking on reading-text level to fourth in the first year. That was a great improvement, but not good enough. Second-year urgency intensified efforts by all. At this time, 82 percent of the first class is on target for June 2000.
In Corcoran, the first group of kindergarten students fell below expectations: Only 65 percent of the students were on target. This disappointment quickly prompted action. Corcoran developed a summer reading academy for kindergarten students who did not meet the exit benchmarks.
In the fall, Center Street School had 47 percent of its kindergarten and 1st grade students reading below the benchmark. After the winter assessment, 72 percent of those students were reading at or above grade level.
Perhaps the most significant results are the intensive efforts made for those who need extra help. In the past, students were sent on to the next grade with a hope and a prayer. Now, the schools implement individual plans to follow students into special summer programs, before- and after-school programs, and beyond—to the next grade-level teacher.
At the start of the program, we saw the 1,000 Days timeline in terms of a deadline for 100 percent literacy. As we continued the commitment to making all our students better readers, we found the reform spreading throughout other aspects of our schools as well. It is not just about early literacy. It is about school reform.
As we began the process of doing whatever it takes to ensure that our students become readers, we found that we were also reforming our schools from the ground up. Our schools began the 1,000 Days journey with the first guaranteed class. Though we have made changes at all levels, we have focused on building capacity in our system as the first class progresses from kindergarten to 2nd grade. This process is doable, but the pressure builds each year. Doing whatever it takes became the mantra of every teacher, the promise to every student. It became the heart of the school culture.
Although our program focuses on children in kindergarten through 2nd grade, we do not neglect our older students. Teachers are implementing strategies in the upper grades that build on the successes of the K–2 program. Cross-age tutoring and collaborative programs provide additional support for older and younger students alike. Intensive summer- and after-school programs are available to our students who need extra help.
Network schools are instituting a new era of site-based management based on results. Results-based management is a practical blend of accountability and collaborative participation in school decision making.
The 1,000 Days Network is establishing a road map to a new professionalism for teaching. Schwahn suggests that teaching must address client needs, embrace accountability, and systematically work toward improving practice. The Network defines four components for the new professionalism: career path, collaboration, community of practice, and participatory management in its future scenario of education (Schwahn & Spady, 1998; Schwartz, 1996).
Past attempts to implement site-based management failed because of time issues. Schools did not drastically alter the structure of the day. Without fundamental restructuring, teachers do not have enough time for widespread involvement. The 1,000 Days Network uses advanced communication tools to bridge the time gap. The 1,000 Days Web site provides schools with electronic discussion capabilities. Teachers can participate on committees to offer input and leadership without actually attending meetings. All staff members can keep up with all committees by reading postings. They can give input and reactions by replying. This virtual committee structure is accessible on the Web any time on a password-protected site. This management approach includes e-mail, e-discussions, listservs, and online meetings.
A monthly newsletter, 1,000 Days Network News, is sent to all teachers in the Network, as well as to those who are interested in early literacy issues. An e-mail discussion moderated by teachers to support the 1,000 Days to Success program is also online. Literacy resources and information are organized on the Network Web site (http://1000-days.org).
The mission of the 1,000 Days to Success School Network seems almost pedestrian: Teaching reading is, after all, no more than schools are supposed to do. The reality, of course, is quite different, and the goal is hardly a minor fix. We are focusing our efforts on making sure that every child learns to read: no excuses.
We know the challenges that we face with our students; we see it in their eyes. We've also seen the sparkle in the eyes of students who, finishing good books, proudly announce: "I can read!" Every child deserves that chance to succeed. Schools must join together, sharing successful practices, staff development, and resources to create an environment where success is the norm—for every child.
Allington, R. L., & Cunningham, P. M. (1995). Schools that work: Where all children read and write: Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
California State Board of Education. (1999). Read all about it! Readings to inform the profession. Sacramento, CA: Author.
Clay, M. M. (1993). An observation survey of early literacy achievement: Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann
National Research Council. (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: Author.
Sagor, R. (1992). How to conduct collaborative action research. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Schmoker, M. (1996). Results: The key to continuous school improvement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Schwahn, C. J., & Spady, W. G. (1998). Total leaders: Applying the best future-focused change strategies to education. Arlington, VA: American Association of School Administrators.
Schwartz, P. (1996). The art of the long view: Planning for the future in an uncertain world. New York: Currency Doubleday.
Craig Wheaton is Principal, John C. Fremont Elementary School, 1520 Patterson Ave., Corcoran, CA 93212 (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). Stephen Kay is Principal, Scott Lane Elementary School, 1925 Scott Blvd., Santa Clara, CA 95050 (e-mail: email@example.com).
Copyright © 1999 by
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
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