November 5, 2019

Members of the School Board,

The “whole language/balanced literacy” philosophy Lindbergh adheres to has had devastating results on our literacy rates.  Reading proficiently and expressing ideas in written form are the core components of a child’s education.  When we fail to provide basic reading skills to over 40% of our children, we are failing at our mission to educate.  

Poor literacy skills impact our children well beyond grade school.  When we allow students who are struggling readers to slip between the cracks and get pushed through the system, we are not creating productive members of society. We are not setting them up for success, only failure, which impacts everyone in the community[1].  We all need to have the same zeal for our literacy program as we do for the new building and field improvements.  Keeping our students safe and secure includes securing their future ability to communicate, collaborate, and be future ready in a society that requires literacy to be meaningfully involved.  

Our Curriculum cycle is finally turning back to ELA.  Given our District’s reading screen results[2], MAP results,[3] and the drop in rankings, our District’s Literacy Coach should be acknowledging our Lucy Calkins’ curriculum is ineffective, not devising ways to “better utilize” it.  When will we embrace the science of reading and all the data that supports it?  We can no longer spin our wheels “rebalancing” our literacy curriculum which has proven incapable of reaching all of our emerging readers.

The research is out there.  Neuroscientists have shown what all kids need to learn to read.  It is NOT either Lucy Calkins[4] or Fountas and Pinnell.[5]  In virtually every school that embraces these programs, they leave at least 40% of kids behind.  That should not be acceptable to our Board nor our administrators.  It’s time to recognize the insanity of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  

For several years, a group of concerned parents have been advocating for needed changes only to be met with polite smiles and nods.  The numbers of concerned parents are growing exponentially, and we want action, not accolades for our advocacy.  We have spent countless hours researching reading science.  In addition to investing time, many of us have invested thousands of dollars in testing and tutoring.  We have 832 kids “at risk” for reading failure in our K-3rd grades.[6]  Those numbers are only explained by wide-spread curriculum failure.  Our Tier 2 interventions are in triage mode because we can’t help every child failing to learn to read with our Tier 1 curriculum.  We are missing the opportunity to provide needed instruction to our most vulnerable students during a time science shows is a critical period for reading acquisition, K-2.[7]         

The curriculum we are currently using reflects the same “success” rate as the number of students who would learn to read regardless of the instruction type provided.  Our current methods are not direct, explicit, systematic, or structured.  We have patched together a hodge-podge of whole language and phonics, calling it “balanced.”  This methodology has proven ineffective for too many kids. None of this should be surprising if you understand the science.  You need to look no further than Misssouri’s current ELA performance compared to Nancy Young's Ladder of Reading (image used with Nancy Young’s permission) to realize that the only kids learning to read are the ones who require little to no specific instruction.  Everyone else, the majority, are left to fend for themselves.

Science explains why our results are subpar.  Nearly 60% of our emerging readers require an approach that is both structured and explicit.  Both our reading and writing curriculum must be taught in a multi-modal manner.  There is absolutely no place for guessing or three-cueing methods in any part of early reading or spelling instruction.  Any method that takes a child’s eyes off the word to be decoded to look for “clues” in a picture or elsewhere is a method that will fail our struggling readers.[8]  We are creating a permanent subclass of students who will never have full access to all the benefits of a literate society because we wish to cling to a failed reading philosophy and our sunk costs in a balanced literacy curriculum.  

Thanks to a recent change in Federal Law, the First Step Act, our Federal inmates now have access to not only evidence based screening, but effective evidence based reading interventions with regular progress monitoring.[9]  Our children should not have to wait to be incarcerated to be taught to read proficiently.  Our prisons are filled with individuals who were once in schools, just like ours, that failed to teach them to read and drastically reduced their life options.  Literacy frees us to learn and gives us the basic building blocks we need to pursue any career path.  

Although not all of our struggling readers will end up in prison, the vast majority will unnecessarily suffer from the tremendous shame, anxiety, and humiliation that accompanies reading failure.[10]  When a bright student fails at his first job, learning to read, it invokes a wide range of negative emotions that impact them in multiple areas.  Low literacy rates are linked to increased behavior problems, increased drug use, self-harm, higher teen pregnancy rates, higher suicide rates, and limited employment rates.[11]  All of these unfortunate realities can be minimized by focusing on effective literacy practices, providing appropriate training, and letting go of the ineffective curriculum and practices currently embedded in our classrooms.  

In a district like Lindbergh, we have no excuses for these failure rates.  We have high quality, caring teachers, and dedicated, involved parents.  Yet, every single day way too many of our children leave school and head to private tutors, not so they can get a leg up, but so they can learn to read.  Several of our families have left for Churchill or other schools in search of help Lindbergh is not providing.  Those who will be harmed the most are the hundreds of children who are at risk for reading failure and their parents remain in the dark.  They do not even know their children are being left behind in Lindbergh classrooms and need outside help.

Please do not bother to say you are “working on it” or “Sonday is the solution” or “it takes time to fix.”  No one in Central Office is effectively responding to our concerns.  The rates of kids struggling to read in this district have been consistent for over a decade; the only difference, we are no longer willing to tolerate it quietly.  We are tired of hearing this is being addressed by “the professionals and/or educators” and parents do not have a say in curriculum choices or that our concerns are being addressed.

Our administration should be fully knowledgeable and concerned about the exact number of students at risk in our district.[12] We are very aware - they are our kids. These results are not something that can be fixed with a little phonics patch or a few phonemic awareness activities.[13]  We can’t train one teacher per building in LETRS and think we have solved the problem.  We can’t even train all our reading specialists in OG and pat ourselves on the back unless those specialists have room in their day to help all 832 kids.  

We can not rely on a piecemeal approach to “rebalancing” our curriculum to teach ALL kids to read.  Patching together bits and pieces of the science and weaving it into a contradictory balanced literacy curriculum will not work.  To be successful, we need to invest entirely in Structured Literacy[14] and writing curriculum and training.  If we choose only programs that use direct, explicit, multi-sensory, and structured approaches to our code based language we benefit ALL of our readers: struggling readers will become proficient readers, and good readers will become advanced readers.

As parents, taxpayers, and voters, we believe it is imperative for the Board to allow parental insight and community collaboration with our administration and our educators to help make sure we get it right.  Specifically, we ask that several parents are allowed to sit on the curriculum review committee and that they are provided access to all curriculum being considered in our district, and the research and data on the programs.  We are equally capable of reviewing  scientific research and we are committed to selecting an evidenced based Structured Literacy program because it is our children being left at risk by the current balanced literacy curriculum. As both concerned and informed parents, we want to be part of the process and look out for the best interest of all of our children.  The curriculum review process should be completed with full transparency, unlike the screening process.  The procedure being used in Arkansas should be our model.  They require curriculum companies to apply for consideration after submitting data and evidence of effectiveness.  Programs that incorporate cueing are banned from consideration. Arkansas Literacy Application Review (See From page 4:  DISQUALIFIER: If the theoretical basis of any submitted program utilizes the Three Cueing Systems Model of Reading or Visual Memory as the primary basis for teaching word recognition, it shall be disqualified because cognitive science refutes use in foundational reading.) 

We acknowledge that an appropriate curriculum alone will not solve our reading crisis.  Retraining our teachers in reading science is also necessary.  All elementary teachers, including elementary and middle school teachers who are employed by St Louis Special School district, must be provided training in the science of reading.  DESE is currently offering an excellent program called LETRS.  Our kids can not wait for a few teachers a year to be trained.  It is of the utmost urgency that these teachers are enrolled in this program or an equally comprehensive program in the science of reading by the conclusion of the 2020-2021 school year.

This Board also needs to step up for all of our children with IEP’s.  What is happening to our children in SSD’s care is absolutely unacceptable.  Exceptionally few of the SSD teachers have training in reading science or effective evidence based interventions for code based reading difficulties. This results in too many of our children warehoused in classrooms where the teachers have neither the time nor training to provide the needed multi-sensory, explicit and direct instruction required to effectively remediate a reading disability.  SSD has left us completely lacking in certified Dyslexia specialists in Lindbergh.  

SSD has admitted on multiple occasions that they do not track the effectiveness of any of their interventions nor do they track which intervention a child is receiving.  They have no data on the success or failure rate of the programs they have in our schools.  When a parent request information on the methodology or programming to be used, they are denied that basic information.  Often, the goals set for our children, even if achieved, are not designed to actually close the reading and writing gaps. Additionally, SSD denies too many of our kids services they are entitled to by law.  No one is holding them accountable.  This lack of oversight is hurting too many of our most vulnerable students.  

In an attempt to help you better understand the type of changes that must be made, we have embedded links throughout this letter, attached footnotes, and included the following videos, which are essential to understanding the science behind reading. We ask that you take the time to understand reading science so that you can make well-informed decisions during the curriculum review process. These resources are a small sampling of what our decision makers need to understand to positively impact our current literacy rates.  

Being a School Board Member means asking the hard questions in the areas we are failing our students.  It also means reevaluating whether we have the right team of people in place to substantially increase our school’s literacy rate.  Any decision maker who believes we can continue using a balanced literacy curriculum with phonemic awareness and phonics patches, should take a hard look at our 40+% reading failure rate and recognize this as a high priority issue in need of substantial change.  The National Reading Panel made it clear for 20 years these were essential components of reading.  Nothing we are asking for Lindbergh to do is “new” or “untested.”  The science has been ignored for too long causing devastating impacts on our children’s literacy and our community as a whole.  The decisions this Board makes on the upcoming ELA curriculum can change our children’s futures and make Lindbergh a true leader in literacy.    

How Your Brain Learns to Read: Professor Stanislaus Dehaene

The Brain Prize Presents: Stanislas Dehaene (short version) 

The Science of Reading: An Overview (Dr. Jan Hasbrouck)

Sincerely the parents, taxpayers, and voters of Lindbergh School District,

Dr. Ed, Michelle and Nathaniel Yepez

Nick, Diane, Samantha, Nathanial, Nicholas, Damian and Katherine Dragan

Dr. Sarah Beth Snell and Christopher, Katherine and Charlie Potts

Dr. Jennalie and David Blackwood

Drs David and Karen Hart

Delmar and Gloria Gottschalk

Aaron and Lindsey Ackland

Joe and Amy Sweitzer

Julie Finley

Jennifer Fletcher

Steve and Emily Hayes

Michael and Gina Kachadorian

Mike, Marcella, Raph, Colin and Heidi Rolwes

 

Rebecca Nanna

Ryan, Tina, James Reid, Callan and Emmett McMillan

Ramona Gau and Sara Marler

Kevin Gau

Bob, Megan and Madyson Boyd

Don and Trisha Schmidt

Dan and Jennifer Parmeley

Natalie Brown

Dawn Schneider

Jennifer Moon

Amy Skrien

Rizwan and Aisha Hasan

Lisa Salvati

Vasiliki Fitzmaurice

Ray and Lisa Soto

C Grant and Hannah Smith

Renee McDonell

Christa Rosas

Edward and Cassie Rickard

Todd, Andrea and Maggie Blunt

Robert and Barbara Vogel

Jill Moorman

Lisa Kemp

Drew and Emilee Stitz

Emily, Jeff, Kate and Sarah Hughes

Nathan and Hannah Albro

Angela Mullins

Phil and Stephanie Burkemper

Dan and Maggie Huffman

Amy Willett

Kitty Lohrum

Anna Marie Blumenkemper

Brian and Julie Ferretti

Michael, Shelly, Claire, Colin, and Caroline Coulter

Todd and Sarah Gerrein

Jimmie Barton

Carrie and Tom Yarbrough

Bill and Joan Hawkins

Hillary Stout

The McRae family

Brian and Joan Fisher

Ismaine Ayouaz

Emily Hotard

Adam Fitzgerald

Rachel Basler

Jackie Worth

Lisa Jahncke

Erin Orr

Rachel Basler

Brian and Kelly Pence

Cathy Patti

Scott and Laura Goddard

Ken and Mary Conley

Shaloo Gill

Matt, Heather, Landon, Addison and Colton Licata

Maggie Klonski

Steve and Julie Stutko

Matt and Stacy Nelson

Linda-Lind Marshall

Caron Taff

William and Brook Foust

Sharon Sebaugh

Mary Cook

Mary E. Bouse

Christa Burke

Mellissa L. Wickenhouser

Nathaniel and Elizabeth Rakel

Renee Devereaux-Jamison

Bryan and Sarah Erwin

Shellie Holaway

Stacy Nelson

Shannon Detering

Jake and Robin Matheny

Christopher and Tania Rakel

Travis and Cori Radetic

Dave and Karin Pennington

Avram and Jessica Hoemann

Josh Evans

Jim, Denise, Luke, Jayna, Isaac and Katy Morrow

Mike and Rachel King

Jane Middlesworth

Heather Baldes

Carl and Lisa Bellers

Sylvia Marino

Kim Butzin

Michelle Forrest

Jeff, Monica, John Daniel, Jackson, Lauren and Jane Masson

Mary Kim Ojile

Jonathan and Sandy Bergt

John and Kristin Gardner

Rebecca Connor

Shannon and Richelle Owens

Scott and Heather Marquis

Kelly Risse

Tara Evans

Ann Barton

Amanda Wells

Tim and Erica Leeper

Alison and Timothy Mercado

Aggie Nichols

Janet and Richard Zolezzi

Norma Rammaha

Alethea Eller

Karen Malle

John and Kristin Gardner

Michele Ruggeri

Laurie Briscoe

Justin Minnich

Bill and Liz Layton

To further educate yourselves, there are troves of information and articles on Lindbergh:    Leaders in Literacy, excellent reporting by Emily Hanford, or you can read the book Language at the Speed of Sight or follow The Reading League .  


[1] https://proliteracy.org/Adult-Literacy-Facts 

[2] Pursuant to state law, all Missouri School Districts were required to screen for Dyslexia starting in 2018-2019.  The DESE guidance can be found here:https://dese.mo.gov/sites/default/files/curr-dyslexia-serving-students-at-risk-lea-guidance.pdf 

[3] https://dese.mo.gov/sites/default/files/MAPandEOCReportELAandMath2019.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2Q7fWnZHUKv2BD31nE-VIcasw8RKFPFPUgDsbOZMaWlKLyzzsV823Ikv8 

[4] https://fordhaminstitute.org/ohio/commentary/misdirection-and-self-interest-how-heinemann-and-lucy-calkins-are-rewriting-common

[5]Leveling Charges at Fountas and Pinnell; https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00220272.2019.1616116  https://www.spelfabet.com.au/2014/12/fountas-and-pinnell-leveled-literacy-intervention/;

[6] Lindbergh reported to DESE in June 2019 pursuant to the mandated screening law the following numbers: Exempt from screening: 36; Not screened: 108; Screened “At Risk”: 832; Screened Not At Risk: 1146. These numbers indicate 42% of the children screened are “at risk” for reading failure.

[7] https://nj.dyslexiaida.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/18/2017/10/Universal-Screening-10-4-17.pdf 

[8] https://www.nifdi.org/news-latest-2/blog-hempenstall/402-the-three-cueing-system-in-reading-will-it-ever-go-away 

[9] https://www.cassidy.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/cassidy-announces-dyslexia-screening-provision-included-in-new-criminal-justice-reform-bill 

[10] https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/dyslexia/dyslexia-and-anxiety-in-children; https://dyslexiaida.org/the-dyslexia-stress-anxiety-connection/ 

[11] https://www.begintoread.com/research/literacystatistics.html 

[12] https://www.timesnewspapers.com/southcountytimes/teaching-students-to-read/article_3cac4da6-fbfa-11e9-8fac-2381520babaf.html 

[13]https://www.spelfabet.com.au/2017/08/balanced-literacy-phonics-lipstick-is-not-enough/  

[14] http://effectivereading.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/KPS.pdf