Sunday, April 22, 2018
Education

Pinellas school officials reject FAST's direct instruction reading proposal

No. No. And, furthermore, no.

Pinellas County's school administrators have given what they hope is that final answer to a faith-based group seeking educators' buy-in to change the way core reading instruction is delivered in high-poverty schools.

Members of Faith and Action for Strength Together (FAST) have been lobbying the School Board and superintendent to pilot a program known as "direct instruction" as the core curriculum in at least one struggling school.

But superintendent John Stewart and his staff say the approach, which revolves around highly prescribed lessons and intense review, is a good phonic-based instruction but doesn't work for every child, especially when it comes to reading comprehension.

"Any school that wants to continue the use of direct instruction as a supplemental tool to the teaching of reading in their school, they are perfectly welcome to do so," Stewart told board members during a workshop Tuesday. "But we will not recommend to those schools or to the entire county that we would mandate that it become the core curriculum."

Stewart asked one principal and three district administrators to describe at a board workshop some details as to why they don't feel direct instruction would provide the solution for all readers.

Bill Lawrence, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said much of the research presented by FAST members as proof of the program's effectiveness, was done prior to Florida's 2010 adoption of standards that emphasize reading comprehension and critical thinking more heavily.

He said studies indicate direct instruction is especially helpful with establishing students' oral reading fluency, but those are not skills that are required for success on the FCAT.

Members of FAST packed the small School Board workshop meeting room. Because workshops, unlike formal School Board meetings, do not allow for public comment, they did not speak.

But afterward, the group, which is composed of members of 38 religious congregations from throughout Pinellas County, said disappointment continues.

"The few things they've said, it's not the truth," said Florette Young, a volunteer organizer with the group, who still wants board members to visit schools they say are using the program.

They had hoped the board would dedicate more time to the discussion and that they would have allowed an expert from the National Institute for Direct Instruction to address them.

Motivated by poor reading scores and low graduation rates especially among Pinellas' low-income, black students, FAST has brought dozens of members to speak at one board meeting after another in the past few months and called on School Board members to publicly support direct instruction.

Tuesday's workshop discussion came after members complained in April that administrators gave inaccurate information to board members about the approach.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8707.

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