Teachers, board members concerned about validity of $225K reading program
Questions about how the Lindamood-Bell Learning Process (LMB) will be funded, as well as the actual success of the program, has raised concern among community members.
During the August Macon County Board of Education meeting Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman informed the board that a proposal, which would continue the LMB program into the 2011-2012 school year, had been drafted.
School board member Jim Breedlove informed the board that he was not comfortable voting on a proposal that involved close to a quarter million dollars without further review. “There are a few questions that I need answered before I am able to make an informed decision,” he said.
After agreeing with Breedlove, board members voted to postpone a vote to adopt the $225,150 proposal until they had time to review the proposal and visit a school in Bristol, Tennessee which currently implements the LMB program. The Board agreed to further review the proposal and to reconvene on September 6 for a work session to discuss a potential partnership with LMB.
Several board members misunderstood the proposal that LMB presented. According to Gary Shields, he was under the impression that the board would be voting on a $210,150 program on Tuesday, but after further review of the proposal, he realized that the LMB requires an additional minimum of $15,000 for materials to implement the program.
According to Shields, before he can vote on the program he needs to know how the program is going to be funded. “With situations like this, usually you are robbing Peter to pay Paul, and I want to know who Paul is and what is going to happen to him,” said Shields. He is also concerned about the sustainability of the program. “If we pay for it this year, what is going to happen next year? I want to know what is to come after this first year,” Shields said.
During the board meeting, Dr. Brigman stated that if the program is adopted, it will be paid for out of existing funds. According to Paula Ledford, Exceptional Children Program Administrator for Macon County, the school system intends to use Title I and “At Risk” funds. Macon County recieves about $1.2 million through Title 1. Title 1 of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (formerly known as ECIA, ESEA or Chapter 1) is the largest federally funded educational program. This program, authorized by Congress, provides supplemental funds to school districts to assist schools with the highest student concentrations of poverty to meet school educational goals. Franklin High School is the only school in the district that doesn't receive Title 1 funding.
According to Carol Waldroop, head of Macon County School’s Elementary Curriculum and Instruction, Title 1 funds have already been secured for LMB, if it is approved by the board. Waldroop explained that earlier this year, while drafting up plans for the allocation of Macon County’s Title 1 monies, she set aside $50,000 to be used for professional development. Waldroop also anticipates securing a large portion of the money needed from funds that are typically used for after school supplemental instruction.
“We have to set aside 20 percent, around $200,000 of the Title 1 money we receive to offer addition educational instruction to all who want it,” explained Waldroop. “Typically we pay for programs that take place after school, and we end up wasting that money because parents don’t want to come back to school to have to pick up the children.” She explained that once the program is written into the budget and funds are secured, if it ends up not being successful the money is just wasted, and by the time the program is reevaluated it is too late in the school year to dip into the money for other needs. This year, Waldroop took portions of those funds to be utilized for professional development with the hopes of implementing LMB during the 2011-2012 school year. According to Waldroop, two schools in Macon County have been identified as needing school improvement which typically provides a $30,000 base to each school and if they choose to do so, portions of those monies could go toward funding the program. “I think I can come up with at least $100,000. We may need a match, but a large portion is already secured.”
“When you are taking about a minimum of $225,150 of existing funds to continue the program and consider the $130,000 that the County spent on LMB during last summer’s reading program, that adds up: $355,000 and some odd dollars is a lot,” said Shields.
The program was implemented at East Franklin over a four week period. A group of 54 students and 17 teachers received four hours of daily intensive classroom instruction. Although the results of the summer program were impressive, there are still a lot of crucial details that need to be worked out.
According to a summary of services and fees which was drafted on August 23 between LMB and Macon County, $220,150 will be used to fund five, eight-hour days of workshops for up to 20 district staff. Two workshop days would be used to train teachers in the LMP “Seeing Stars” program, and two days would be dedicated to the LMP “Visualizing and Verbalizing” program. The last day of the professional development training would be used to train teachers how to implement the program through the entire school system, allowing Macon County to follow the LMB Professional Learning Community Model.
According to Ledford, the majority of that money will go to pay for two on-site project leaders that will relocate to Macon County for eight months to provide program support for the eight schools in the district that will be implementing the program. Macon County is responsible for paying for the salaries of the project leaders, as well as relocation fees and housing while they are contracted out to the school system.
The summary of services also lists an additional $15,000 minimum that would be needed for instructional and testing materials that would be purchased through Gander Publishing. According to Ledford, the County received a significant discount on materials for buying in bulk for the summer program, and hopes to be offered a similar deal if the board votes to adopt the program in its entirety.
“I hate to sound stingy, but in these economic times, I need more information when talking about this amount of money,” Breedlove said.
In an attempt to address some of the questions about LMB, Matthew Gardner, regional manager of School Partnerships for Lindamood-Bell Learning Process, arranged for two members of the school board, 44 teachers and two school officials to travel to Bristol, Tennessee to Fairmount Elementary today, September 1. Fairmount Elementary is on their second year of using LMB’s comprehensive model, which is what Macon County is looking to adopt.
Breedlove, who suggested the trip to Bristol, hopes to have two questions answered when they return. “The results look wonderful, but I am hoping they will be able to tell me how we can sustain the program and at what cost, and see how Fairmount incorporates LMB into their daily schedule.” Breedlove is concerned that the intensity required of LMB may prove to be too challenging and the cost of continuing the program after the first year may be too high and impossible to obtain. “After budget cuts and things this year, we are having to dip into our operating account, quite extensively actually, and from my understanding, we will have to do it again next year, just to cover general mandatory costs,” noted Breedlove.
Waldroop reiterated that the funds that are anticipated to be used for LMB are not expected to be taken away from other programs in the school system. “Franklin High School was able to hire all the tutors they needed and were able to pay for it,” she explained, “Money that is left over after those additional needs will be used for LMB. It wont be taken away from them.” She noted that several district principals have voluntarily offered to set aside $5,000 of their budgets to train teachers in LMB. “They [teachers] may not have everything they want, but they definitely have received everything they need,” said Waldroop.
After Michael Waters, representative for the North Carolina Association of Educators for East Franklin School gathered information and polled his colleagues about their interest in implementing LMB, it was determined that numerous individuals have questioned the validity of LMB. “The teachers are afraid to speak out publicly,” said Waters. “Given what I know about their past situations, I don't blame them.”
According to Waters, teachers are concerned that the summer program's results were fixed because LMB “cherry picked” students for the program, leaving out many English as a Second Language (ESL) students and struggling readers, which is who the program is supposed to be designed for.
When the summer program results were originally shared with the County, Gardner explained that he, Ledford and Waldroop worked together with schools and conducted hours of testing on more than 100 students who had been previously identified as having learning disabilities, which included ESL students within the district. Of those students, 70 students were invited to participate in the summer program, 56 students signed up and 54 students completed the program. According to Gardner, students were selected based an severity of need as well as chosen to ensure the group would be comprised of a wide-range of ages, grade-levels and ability in order to offer a greater understanding of the program's effect on the different categories of students.
Waters also explained that teachers are distraught about the lack of experience and training that it takes to be considered a LMB project leader. LMB advertises that prospective employees do not need a college degree or a professional license of any kind outside of the LMB training, which leads to them to question why Macon County is looking to pay such a high amount for their services.
Is LMB “Scientifically Researched Based”
Waldroop explained that although the Title 1 budget for the 2011-2012 school year that includes funding for professional development was approved by the state, the professional development program must be scientifically researched based in order to receive the funding, and to the best of her knowledge, LMB will qualify. A major concern of the teachers Waters independently polled, is that although LMB promotes themselves as being a “research-validated” based program, the U.S. Department of Education does not recognize the program as being “research based.”
According to Paul Worthington, the program’s co-director of Professional Development, there has only been one independent study done that examined the effects of the “Seeing Stars” program. NeuroImage published a research article at the beginning of August which explained results that were found after the Center for the Study of Learning, Georgetown University Medical Center and Wake Forest University examined change in Gray Matter Volume (GMV) following intensive reading intervention in children with dyslexia using LMB.
According to Dr. Bruce Henderson, Educational Psychology Professor at Western Carolina University, the results of the GMV study are irrelevant in respect to teaching children how to read. “Regardless of what the study says, and whether or not GMV was increased, it’s irrelevant,” he noted,“You don't need brain production to talk about anything involving reading or to know whether or not a method is helping kids learn to read, and that’s the issue, not whether it changed anybody's gray matter.” Dr. Henderson noted that if he was looking to adopt the program, it would be important to look at clinical trials that evaluated the method of the program.” I would look at studies that didn’t involve going into kids brains,” he added. It is also important to note gray matter is constantly growing in school age children regardless of intervention programs, and that gray matter doesn't reach its full capacity until the teenage years.
Dr. Henderson said that although he is not directly familiar with the specific study, he is “skeptical” of the findings for numerous reasons. “This is what irritates me about the study: I am skeptical of attempts to impress school systems with brain research that has no discernible effects on the overall success of the program or teaching reading comprehension.” He explained that in child psychology in order for studies to be accurate, the groups being studied must be formed through random assignment in randomized clinical trials. The GMV trial wasn't conducted with randomized clinical trials, but instead used a base-line. The GMV study only looked at a group size of 11 children all with dyslexia. Dr. Henderson said that he was also skeptical of the study because it has yet to be peer-reviewed or evaluated. “Frankly, I don't think this tells you anything about the effect of the program and helping kids learn to read.”
After further review, it was found that 31 studies has been submitted by LMB to the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) division of the U.S. Department of Education Institution of Education Sciences, and only one was approved for review.
The WWC publishes intervention reports which evaluate research on curricula and instructional strategies for students with learning disabilities in grades K–12 (generally ages 5–18) that are intended to improve academic achievement. The only study to meet government standards and be reviewed by WWC evaluated the effectiveness of LMB’s “LiPS” program had on students with learning disabilities. WWC reports, “Based on the one study, WWC found that LiPS has potentially positive effects on alphabetics, reading fluency, and math, no discernible effects on reading comprehension, and potentially negative effects on writing for students with learning disabilities.”
Macon County isn’t planning on using LMB’s LiPS program, according to the proposal, the school system will use “Seeing Stars” and “Visualizing and Verbalizing.”
Dr. Henderson warned that Macon County should be wary of the results found in the one study reviewed by the U.S. Department of Education. “What they [Macon County schools system] should be concerned about is the comprehension part of the study.”
According to Waldroop, the results of the LiPS program are irrelevant because Macon County is not looking to implement that division of LMB.
Worthington also mentioned that no independent studies have been conducted on the “Visualizing and Verbalizing” program.
Waldroop noted that one reason that more studies haven't been conducted on LMB may be because although the program is widely used throughout the country, it isn't present in every state. She also explained that even though the specific components of LMB that Macon County is looking at adopting are not independently considered “researched based,” the program as a whole is, which should allow Title 1 funds to be used to purchase the program.
Teachers are concerned that although LMB as a whole can be considered “research based” because of one study, the individual programs have not been evaluated and there is no educational research to support the LMB programs Macon County is considering investing in. Citizens are also concerned that the school system is assuming Title 1 funds can be used for LMB, but have no confirmation to support that assertion.
The North Carolina Department of Education has a list of 208 supplemental education services (SES) providers that have been approved by the state to receive funding under Title 1. LMB was not included among the 208, preventing school systems from being able to fund LMB using SES funds.
Dr. Henderson explained that regardless of what reading intervention program is used within the school system, it has to be wanted and well received by the students. “America is full of people who can read and don't. If the method doesn’t make kids want to read, there is no way it can work.”
Both Ledford and Waldroop are adamant that LMB has already captured the interest of numerous teachers and students throughout the county. “This isn’t coming from the central office,” Ledford explained. “We want this because the teachers have asked for it, and because it works.”
Waldroop supported Ledford by noting that the sole reason the school system is even aware of LMB is because last year two East Franklin teachers introduced the program by showing interest in pursuing professional development through LMB. According to Waldroop, after the teachers completed the two-day training, they came back “fired up about it,” which led the school system to seek more information on the program. Understanding the importance of having teachers willing to adopt the program Waldroop said, “I don't want to train anyone who doesn't want to do it.” She also mentioned that she believes that teachers who may have reservations about LMB are voicing concern without knowing all the details. “I am personally appalled that some people would be opposed to a program that helps kids, and improves their reading,” she said. Waldroop also noted that of students that completed the summer program, they not only showed improvement but they are excited about coming to school, and they enjoy learning using LMB.
Dr. Henderson also noted that the proposed cost seems slightly excessive. “That [$225,000] sounds pretty expensive to me. My guess is that you have a bunch of teachers in Macon County that know how to teach kids how to read.” He also mentioned that Macon County has access to Western Carolina University, which is only 20 miles away, and that the university has experts on these types of programs, and the experts at Western could be retained for a lot less money than LMB.
Waldroop said that she is certain the program will benefit Macon County. “I am tight when it comes to money, I don't want to spend money on things that aren't going to work, and that just is not the case with LMB,” she said. “I was in the classroom for years and I can’t help but to think of students who I believe would have benefitted and been so much better off if they has received LMB.” According to Waldroop, in the past, the county has used programs that have been approved by the state and those programs haven't been successful.
The core reading program that Macon County follows was researched and stated that under the program 80 percent of students would be reading on grade level, but according to Waldroop, Macon County has failed to see those results. “The core reading program is a state approved program, but teachers pick and choose from the program, and only teach certain components, making it impossible for the program to be successful,” she said. She explained that LMB is different because the school system will have to sign a contract with LMB that states the program will be fully and completely implemented according to the programs standards, and if the school system fails to do so, it could result in a lawsuit. Waldroop views the contract as being beneficial because it forces the program to be delivered with the fidelity it needs to be successful.
Teachers are worried that the contract would force them to be too “scripted” and that their lesson plans will be forced to follow LMB to the extent that it will hinder creativity and leave little room for leeway to change the program to meet the specific needs of individual students for fear of being sued by LMB.
After Thursday’s visit to Bristol, the school board and teachers hope to have a greater insight into the program, and be more informed of the actual details of implementing and sustaining LMB, which will hopefully allow board member to make an informed decision during the Sept. 6 work session.