Lynne Cheney pays a visit to City Springs Elementary

`Second lady' praises pupils for test scores

February 13, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, visited one of Baltimore's improving elementary schools yesterday to spread congratulations and promote Direct Instruction, the curriculum credited with bolstering the school's test scores.

Cheney paid a morning call on City Springs Elementary, fielding questions at an assembly and then visiting first-grade reading and fifth-grade history classes.

Teachers at the East Baltimore school, in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, tried to carry on a normal schedule as Cheney and aides, reporters, city school officials and Secret Service agents marched through the school.

Children had prepared with bright questions for the "second lady," and in the case of the history class, they demonstrated a good deal of knowledge about the president and his Cabinet, rattling off the names of Cabinet secretaries.

"It looks like you know more than grown-ups if I went out on the street and asked these questions," Cheney told the fifth-graders.

Steadily improving scores, especially on the national Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, earned City Springs a removal from the state's list of failing schools. CTBS scores increased impressively - in some cases trebling - between 1998 and 2001 in reading and math and in all five grades.

City Springs and Pimlico Elementary are the only city schools of 85 on the failing list to earn their way to academic respectability.

Cheney, an author, historian and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, credited Direct Instruction for much of City Springs' success. Direct Instruction is a highly scripted method of teaching that uses fast-paced lessons and group responses to teachers' commands.

"Direct Instruction assumes that drill and memorization can be helpful in learning, and it relies on frequent testing," Cheney said. "It has a whole body of research, a whole lot of facts that prove it's effective, but unfortunately, it's not looked upon with favor in most education schools."

Asked if Direct Instruction can lead to teacher stress because of its fast pace and scripted nature, Cheney said, "I'm not sure there isn't more stress with whole language. The most stress of all is when a teacher comes into a classroom without the foggiest idea how to teach a child to read."

Cheney, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, spent about two hours at City Springs before returning to Washington.

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