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Heed Teachers, Tustin Board

March 30, 2003

Tustin's elementary school teachers have earned a vote of confidence from their school board.

In 2002, every elementary school but one raised its Academic Performance Index score and met its target, state Education Department statistics show. The one exception still scored higher than 800, the statewide performance goal.

As the district examines new reading textbooks, trustees should listen to their elementary school teachers, who voted unanimously for the Houghton Mifflin series after 51 of them tested textbooks in class for three months. Students found Houghton Mifflin books more engaging, teachers said. Some trustees favor the Open Court books, a heavily scripted series that gives teachers little flexibility. Both teach through phonics and are highly regarded.

The Houghton Mifflin books have been adopted by four out of five districts in California. Open Court is credited as a factor in the greatly improved reading scores among Los Angeles elementary schools.

But Los Angeles Unified has struggled with large numbers of uncredentialed teachers who benefited from the extra structure in Open Court.

Tustin teachers have been raising scores without new textbooks. A majority of the district's elementary schools scored higher than 800 on the API, and most of its elementary school students rate as proficient or advanced on the rigorous state standards for language arts. At some schools, teachers have put in regular Saturday hours for meetings or extra tutoring.

Now the school board has a chance to show its respect for those accomplishments. It's an especially good time to do so. Because of the budget crisis, the state suspended its cash awards for teachers who raise student performance. Morale-crushing layoffs and other cuts are on the way.

Both textbook series are good. And there's nothing wrong with displaying both for parents to peruse. But the board should give heavy weight to the professional opinions of the people who already have made reading instruction work in the classroom every day.

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