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Open Court is Closed: Real Teaching Makes a Comeback in Los Angeles

The city's school board just dropped its scripted reading program, giving teachers back decision-making powers.

After 12 years together, the Los Angeles School Board announced on Thursday that it is breaking up with its scripted reading program, Open Court. LAUSD adopted the program with the hopes of taking the guess work out teaching literacy. The program got results—reading scores went up, especially in K-3 classrooms—but teachers universally hated it. They felt that it wasn't "real" teaching because it took away their ability to decide how to best meet the needs of their students.

A scripted reading program is exactly what it sounds like—teachers follow a rigid script that tells them what to say and do during class, and when to say and do it. I taught Open Court and found it to be a good starting point, but I always supplemented the script, particularly when it came to teaching writing and working with students who were still learning English or needed extra practice. However, I was able to add on additional projects and creative lesson modifications only because my school didn't have a member of the "Open Court Police."

Specially designated Open Court coaches (and some principals) told teachers every classroom needed to look alike, even down the details of what was written on the board and how the desks were arranged. And, whether or not students understood a lesson, every teacher needed to be on the exact same page of the script at the same time. LAUSD teacher adviser Janet Davis told the Daily Breeze that these coaches treated Open Court "like the Bible and if you deviated in any way ... you were subjected to an inquisition." Davis even got in trouble for "using the wrong Open Court puppet for a reading lesson."

Ultimately, the district ditched the script because the results flatlined, particularly in the upper elementary grades. Now Open Court's replacement, a program called "Treasures," offers only suggested lesson guidelines. For the first time in years, Los Angeles' teachers will need to come up with a complete literacy lesson plan. They'll have the autonomy to meet the needs of their students and be as creative as they need to be. But, after so many years of relying on a script, even veteran educators are probably out of practice.

Younger teachers who've only taught reading using Open Court are going to have an even tougher time. Some probably haven't had to design a complete literacy lesson plan since their student teaching days. And, in a district that's broke, a slew of Treasures coaches probably aren't going to be roaming school hallways. For the sake of LAUSD's students, let's hope a return to "real" teaching is a good thing.

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