Charter school management doesn't. KIPP doesn't. Teach for America doesn't. Most reading programs (Success for All, Reading Recovery, etc) don't. Being non-union doesn't. Merit Pay doesn't. Broad trained administrators don't. Gates financed principals don't. "Better" testing doesn't. If you honestly look at every bit of research you'll see that even the best arguments for any of these make no difference at all for 95% of kids.
But a few things do work. And, despite all the talk, we know these work. Smaller class sizes. Co-teaching. Multiage programs. Individualizable technology. Great pre-school experiences which offer playtime and stories rather than explicit academics. Reducing poverty. Better family health care. Improved teacher education. Despite Daniel Willingham's essentially irrelevant research, catering to children's learning styles and preferences.
And something else... one of the few federal initiatives of the past two decades to demonstrate real success in making schools better learning environments and improving children's live: The National Writing Project. This is the project President Obama wants to "zero out" in next year's federal budget.
Unlike many who will blog this weekend in an attempt to get President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress to continue funding for this project, I have never been involved with NWP in any way. I've never helped build the project, or worked with the teacher support programs, or implemented NWP strategies as a K-12 teacher... All I've done is see the results.
The National Writing Project is much larger, and much more effective, than its title suggests. And in any given year its impact is 100 times, 1,000 times the positive effect on children of all Arne Duncan's highly funded, political-donor connected initiatives in Race-to-the-Top and I3 grants combined.
Because what the National Writing Project does is help teachers re-think practices in ways which turn children into better communicators - better writers, better readers, better storytellers, better information shares, better information consumers. And those skills are the heart of advancing achievement and opportunity. And study after study has documented the real differences this little program makes.
|Photo from Education Week. All NWP blogs are available at Cooperative Catalyst.|
I don't need to say much more. Read the blogs from teachers who have watched their students benefit. Read the research. Do a quick look at the NWP site. Understand the absurd budgeting decisions the U.S. President and his congressional pals are making - " It costs $25.6 million and it reaches 130,000 teachers and more than 1.4 million students in over 3,000 districts." (Teach for America this year will spend $189 million this year - not including teacher salaries and benefits which are paid for by the involved school districts - on 4,500 untrained teachers, in comparison, reaching - but not improving the lives of, perhaps 115,000 students. Federal contribution to that exceeds $45 million - direct grants, Americorps, I3.)
And understand this: If the President and Congress choose to destroy this program by "zeroing out" its funding, they are admitting, fully, that they are liars. It will be obvious that they do not care "what works." That they do not care about improving literacy. That they do not choose "the best programs" for our children. And that they really are not interested in closing the achievement gap.
So, call your congressional members. Call the White House. Email them. Jam their Twitter accounts. Go stand outside their homes.
Saving the National Writing Project is a tiny thing in a massive budget battle which will re-define America, probably much for the worse. But if we can win this tiny battle, we might save a bit of hope for the future.
- Ira Socol