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The Baltimore program, titled Success for All, began in a single school and soon spread. Although Baltimore eventually withdrew for political reasons, the pilot phase gave Slavin and Madden a solid research base. Producing strong results from the start, Success for All has remained almost identical conceptually to that early prototype, “although the curriculum is much more refined now,” Madden says. The approach is basically phonetic, but with an emphasis on context, not drills. Schools that buy into the program--and they can’t do so unless 80 percent of their teachers give the OK--get a complete set of student materials and training in precisely how to use them.

A student works at his desk

Every student spends 90 minutes a day on reading, which is taught by the entire staff (including art, music, and gym teachers) to keep class sizes down.

Students are grouped by ability, not age, and tested every eight weeks to determine if they’re ready to move to the next level; those who need it receive intensive tutoring. The program also incorporates team learning and a family support program. From its inception, Success for All generated sparks. A phonetics-based program at the height of the whole-language movement? “We’re determinedly not politically correct, but we had no bias going in,” Slavin says. “It was a matter of statistical evidence of what works.”

Another major complaint, often heard from university professors, is the lockstep structure Success for All imposes on teachers.

He compares the experience with Disneyland: “extremely structured for the employees but great for the kids.”

It’s true, Madden says, that the first-grade curriculum is highly repetitive; research shows that is what beginning readers need. But activity choices loosen up in the upper grades. “The program really is not a straitjacket; most teachers enjoy it,” she says. “The best classrooms are those where teachers are fully engaged with their entire personality and creativity in making things work.” The key point, Slavin adds, is that the program is “a blast for kids. They’re moving at a very fast pace, singing, chanting--they’ve having a wonderful time.”He compares the experience with Disneyland: “extremely structured for the employees but great for the kids because you’ve created an environment where they don’t notice the structure, they notice the fun.”

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Reed Magazine Feb. 2001

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