San Francisco Chronicle, December 11, 1998, P. A29
Schools Given New Direction on 3 R's
More math earlier, switch to phonics
by Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Staff Writer Friday,
The California Board of Education approved new curriculum guidelines yesterday for reading, writing and math -- the first extensive changes in several years for all grade levels.
In math, the biggest difference will be harder-hitting instruction in the earlier years, intended to prepare students for taking algebra by the eighth grade. Use of calculators in elementary school is discouraged.
In reading, the greatest change will be replacing the "whole language" method of instruction with a phonics-based curriculum.
"I think it's going to go a long way in assuring California has a literate population," said board President Yvonne Larsen. "Reading is the basis of all education."
Since 1987, California children have been taught to read mainly through "whole language," in which words are deciphered through clues from story illustrations and context. Unlike phonics, there is little emphasis on correct spelling and sounding out words.
Proponents say the whole-language method inspires children to love reading without bogging them down with its mechanics.
Critics blame the whole-language approach for California's abysmal test scores -- including a last-place showing by fourth-graders on a national reading exam in 1994.
Bill Lucia, the board's executive director, called whole language "a heinous experiment."
State Superintendent Delaine Eastin likes the new elementary and middle-school guidelines -- known as frameworks -- but said they offer too little literature and writing instruction in the upper grades. Her department will tell school districts how to improve their offerings, she said.
Meanwhile, supporters of the new math curriculum sent out an e-mail titled "Great News! Rejoice!" In it, Mike McKeown, founder of the back-to-basics lobbying group Mathematically Correct, called the change a "great step forward for quality education of California's children."
McKeown and others blame the previous frameworks, adopted in 1992, for California's low math scores.
The new frameworks are based on the new "academic standards" in reading, writing and math adopted by the state board earlier this year.
The standards describe what students should know by the end of each grade. The frameworks describe the curriculum needed to meet those standards.
If all goes as the educators hope, teachers will soon begin teaching according to the new guidelines, and state exams will be adjusted next year to reflect the changes. Publishers have already begun developing new textbooks for the California market, the nation's largest.
****************************************************** * * Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618)453-4244 Phone: (618)453-4241 (office) E-mail: JBECKER@SIU.EDU