Hello, Mr. Spalding: School adopts explicit phonics program

Staff photo by Carol Keefer

PRINCIPAL Tom Lee seen after Tuesday's board meeting — the textbooks to his right have been on display at the administration office since March.

Maughan's comments followed the school board's adoption of the Spalding philosophy earlier this week.

At its May 13 regular session, the school board voted 4-1 for the Spalding method for grades K-8, requiring all K-6 grade teachers and all seventh and eighth grade language arts' teachers, the principal and special education teachers to be trained in the Spalding methodology. The board also adopted the continued use of the Basal texts for grades K-8 for reading.

One official explained Spalding as a traditional phonics' program that has been around a long time; another calls it a skilled-based program versus a literature-based program like Basal.

"As a result, the district's elementary- and middle-school reading teachers [which it affects] will be provided extensive staff in-service [training] in phonics instruction over the next two years," Maughan added. "I believe this will be beneficial to our staff since many were not able to receive phonics' training as part of their university education. We have a great teaching staff. These new skills and techniques should make them awesome reading teachers."

Total cost to the district has been estimated at $28,305. It is anticipated that the Yavapai-Apache Nation could become a corporate sponsor for some of the training costs.

Last fall when the superintendent came on board with the Camp Verde Unified School District, he assigned Elementary School Principal Tom Lee to head a committee of 10-11 educators. They had the task of researching phonics programs.

Arizona school districts must get on board because of new legislation. Research included teacher observations, test results and visits to Spalding-taught schools, Franklin Phonetic School and Lake Valley Elementary in Prescott Valley.

It was the committee's consensus to recommend the Spalding philosophy, Lee explained, although he added a few had reservations. One of the questions that came up, he said, is whether Spalding covers everything.

"The Arizona K-12 Center for Excellence identified Spalding as a Pre-Approved Professional Development and a Best Practices Program (rating Spalding as 100 percent on activities aligned to Arizona Academic Standards)," he noted.

Lee said the explicit programs are steeped in controversy across the country because schools have been using the "Whole Language" system, a literature-based program that teaches phonics within the context of the stories. Under an explicit program, rules of grammar, spelling and phonics are pulled out and taught specifically. To convert to an explicit program, like Spalding, some educators using the literature-based programs are resisting.

"I favor phonics, for K-3," Linda MacPhee commented following Tuesday's board meeting.

MacPhee, who attempted to sway the board to hold off on its decision (her second request), is a school board member and a teacher at Beaver Creek. She said she has been trained in both Spalding and Total Reading. She was the one dissenting vote.

Quoting from the law, she said, "The best way to teach explicit phonics is within the confines of a researched-based reading curriculum that includes the five components of reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, reading fluency and reading comprehension."

Other nearby school districts are going through the same process of adopting an explicit phonics program.

At Cottonwood-Oak Creek District Assistant Superintendent Julie Larson explained. "We have adopted the Houghton-Mifflin ‘The Nation's Choice,’ a 2003 edition, this spring for K-6; for middle school, seventh and eighth, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, ‘Elements of Literature.’

"We adopted a full-reading program, which meets the requirement for a research-based program under the federal legislation, 'No Child Left Behind.' We also adopted in addition a supplemental reading program that is phonics based, ‘Reading Mastery’ for primary grades K-2 and ‘Corrective Reading’ for grades 3-8. All students will use our basic literature-based program. Some will have additional reading instruction daily from these programs.

In Sedona-Oak Creek District, Superintendent Nancy Alexander said, "We're going through the same process. Camp Verde is a little further ahead."

Alexander said they are down to three choices, although Spalding is not among them. She says she expects the school board to adopt something in June.

Clarkdale-Jerome's Superintendent Kathy Fleenor said that they are using the 2003 Houghton-Mifflin reading series.

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