The Gangs of New York II: The Reading Wars

Few wonky education articles make good movie scripts, but this excellent New York Magazine piece by Robert Kolker might be the exception. It details the battle over the Big Apple's reading program; the stakes are high. In one corner is Lucy Calkins and her Balanced Literacy program, a whole language approach in sheep's clothing. In the other corner is the "scientifically-based reading research" camp, which looks to thirty years of data showing how most children learn to read. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein backed Calkins when he mandated Balanced Literacy in nearly all of the city's 743 elementary schools in 2003, and he declares it a success. Not so fast, counters Diane Ravitch, who notes that Gotham's leap in fourth grade reading achievement occurred between 2002 and 2003-before Klein's reforms were put in place. Furthermore, to appease critics of Balanced Literacy and qualify for federal Reading First grants, Klein instituted small, supplemental phonics programs in 49 schools that, lo and behold, raised fourth-grade literacy scores for students in those schools by about 20 percent (double the increase in the rest of the school system). See, Mr. Commissioner, curricular choices do matter-and phonics-based reading programs are a knock-out.

"A Is for Apple, B Is for Brawl," by Robert Kolker, New York Magazine, May 1, 2006