The following is the opinion of Rose Potvin, the elementary principal of the Hannahville Indian School in Michigan.
I was surprised and disappointed to read the recent opinion page, "BIE Leading Indian Students to Failure." I have been working full-time at Hannahville Indian School since January of 1986, and substitute taught there for several years before that. I have seen many different approaches tried, "Writing to Read", Whole Language, etc. We thought what we were doing was the best for our kids, and still they struggled. Some succeeded, but many continued to struggle and nothing we did seemed to get the results we expected.
Then we received a Reading First grant. There was some resistance from staff initially, because it was a different way of doing things. Teachers couldn't just choose what they thought would work best; they were required to attend professional development to learn research-based strategies, the reading coach and principal were in their classrooms on a daily basis, and they had to be accountable for what they were teaching, making sure that the research-based strategies were being used. We heard that Reading First would take away the teacher´s creativity and the kids would be bored.
That began to change as the Progress Monitoring became a reality and teachers saw that what they were doing was working. By the end of the year, ALL kindergarten students were reading! This had never happened in the 20 years that I had been there, but it has been repeated every year since.
Another interesting thing has happened since we began Reading First. Hannahville Indian School has gained the respect of the surrounding public school community. Instead of hearing comments like "Why would you want to work there?", "Why would anyone want to send their kids there?", we began having requests for teachers to come and observe, to see what we were doing that was making such a difference in student achievement. When students transferred to a public school, they were at the top of their class in the receiving school. If they returned to Hannahville the following year, they had lost ground in reading and were not at the level of their peers. When one of our teachers was hired by an area school, the main question asked was if she could duplicate there what she had been doing at Hannahville. Our reading coach is regularly asked to present to other teachers in schools that have not had the Reading First trainings.
I could go on and on about the positive changes that have happened with our students since we began Reading First, but instead I would like to invite anyone who has any doubts about the program to come and visit our school and see for yourself. Look up our test scores; compare the data to before we received the Reading First grant. Look at our science test scores in 5th grade. Yes, we cut back on the amount of time devoted to science and social studies because we do believe that if a child can´t read in reading class, he won´t be able to read science or social students either. But guess what? When they learn how to read, and read well, (and, yes, comprehend!) in the early grades, they can do well in science and social studies also. (For the record, we continue to have daily Potawatomi Language instruction in grades K-8!)
It is very disappointing that some people have taken the Reading First Impact Study, which had major limitations and was not carried out how it was designed or funded, and have used it to try to undermine and destroy the first program that I have seen to have such positive results in reading, not only on Indian reservations but at other Reading First schools also!
There is an official "Response to the Reading First Impact Study Interim Report" that was issued in August of 2008. I would strongly recommend that anyone who is using the Reading First Impact Study to draw conclusions should also scrutinize the response!
Opinion: BIE leading Indian students to failure