THE CORNERSTONES PROJECT
Grant Proposal
(2/28/99)

Prevailing Conditions

Reforms Without Improvement

The most recent series of reforms that have taken place in education can be dated back to the 1983 report from the National Commission on Excellence in Education entitled, A Nation at Risk. This report was unlike others partly because it was written under the direction of the U. S. Secretary of Education and was widely endorsed and promoted by the office of the President of the United States. Its two most memorable statements about the state of education at the time are as follows.

'Our nation is at risk... The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people.. If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves...... We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.'

'For the first time in the history of our country, the educational skills of one generation will not surpass, will not equal, will not even approach those of their parents.'

This report was a rallying call to reform. It has generated publications and reports on the need for reform in U.S. education throughout the 80's and 90s. It was followed up in 1991 with the publication entitled, Goals 2000: Educate America Act, by the U.S. Department of Education, which called for a "dramatic overhaul of our nation's school system." National educational goals were proposed to be met by the year 2000.

Among the Goals 2000 was a goal that called for the demonstration of competency in all core academic subject areas. As a result of these events, reformed curricular have been developed and established in the schools that involve major changes in the way children are being taught basic subjects.

In spite of these reforms and changes over the last 15 years, little improvement in student results has followed. According to the 1998 Goals Reports , by the panel charged with tracking progress towards these goals, there has not even been an upward trend towards attaining these goals. According to recent research reports, at least 20% of all children still experience significant difficulties learning to read. Over 40% of 4th and 8th graders fail to read at levels considered basic to performing grade level work; and poor readers consistently make little to no reading gains from year to year. Average reading achievement has not changed significantly over the last 20 years. Thus, it appears that we are educating only some, not all children in the core subjects. Actually, when looking over the last 40 years, when national statistics have been kept, very little improvements have been made in basic reading and math achievement. In fact, these results mirror, almost exactly, the historic Colman report of 1966.

California has been a trendsetter in American educational reform. A decade ago, the state became a leader in the movement to embrace whole language instruction. Recently, California students scored next to last in reading among all states that were tested. When the results were broken down by race, California white students were last; African-American students were fourth from the last; Hispanic students were third from the last. A San Francisco editorial explained California's educational shortcomings in this way: "But this latest education transgression brings to mind the all-too-familiar phenomenon of wide pendulum swings in educational theory followed by lemming-like conformity by schools and teachers."

In contrast to popular belief, reading failure is not concentrated among particular types of schools or among specific groups of students. To the contrary, students who have difficulty reading represent a virtual cross-section of American children. They include rich and poor, male and female, rural and urban, and public and private school children in all sections of the country. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessment, for example, nearly one-fourth (23 percent) of fourth graders whose parents graduated from college are reading at the "below basic" level.

The same kind of picture can be seen in Oregon schools. Within the last two years, when progress on new standards was measured, there were no changes in average scores for reading or math for grades three and five. On national tests, 35% of 4th grade Oregon students performed below the basic level in math. This is only slightly better than the national average of 38% not reaching this level. Oregon has yet to establish a task force to address this problem.

Percentage of Students Not Meeting Oregon Standards in 1998
3rd Grade 5th Grade
Reading Math Reading Math
State 22% 33% 34% 38%
Portland 28% 34% 35% 39%
East Multnomah Co. 28% 39% 39% 41%

Thus, in spite of massive efforts to improve education through reforms, no change is evident. In some cases, conditions became worse as a result of some reforms. Yet, these reforms persist.

Demands for Higher Levels of Achievement

Historically, education has always had a margin of error for some rate of failure in our schools. During the first half of the century, for various reasons, some degree of failure was deemed acceptable. However, during the last half of the century, it has become increasingly clear that the same margin of error is no longer tolerable. In the 1998 report, Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, written by the National Research Council and published by the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Department of Education, it is stated that the increased urgency for teaching all children to read does not come from "declining absolute levels of literacy" but from the "rising demands for literacy" in our "increasingly competitive economy." "In a technological society, the demands for higher literacy are ever increasing, creating more grievous consequences for those who fall short." With technological advances has come the increased importance of education. The Goals 2000 are a reflection of this increased demand. For the first time in the history of the world, the level of education strongly influences economic well being for individuals and the economy as a whole.

Increased Academic Diversity

At the same time that demands for higher achievement have increased, other demands have also increased which make meeting goals for higher achievement even more difficult. These other demands come from the increased number of children in the country who can be classified as academically diverse learners. The special demands they bring to public education is growing at a pace that currently outstrips educator's abilities to keep up. The increased number of these students is due to changes in the demographic conditions in the United States. More children are living in poverty, more children do not speak English as their first language, and more children are identified as having disabilities. The learners who, by virtue of their instructional, experiential, cultural, socioeconomic, linguistic, and physiological backgrounds, bring different and oftentimes additional requirements to instruction and curriculum. Unless significant educational changes are made in response to the dramatic changes occurring in classrooms, including the development and utilization of instructional strategies that address the needs of academically diverse learners, the number of children who "fall through the cracks" in public education will continue to rise.

The present challenge for our schools is to educate all students to a higher level of achievement than ever before with a student population that is becoming increasingly diverse regarding their learning needs. Reformed efforts to meeting this challenge have so far failed. All of this makes attempting to meet the goals of successful learning for all students indeed profound. It calls for extraordinary efforts and programs.

Costly Consequences For Not Meeting These Demands

Failure in our schools is costly. One costly result of failing to teach many children to read adequately is that referrals to special education continue to increase. In addition to the consequences to individuals, the impact on society runs deep. In a recent issue of Time magazine, it was reported that a new study showed that people who have difficulty reading or understanding health-related materials are more than twice as likely to end up in a hospital as those who don't. American society literally cannot afford to have large numbers of uneducated children.

Another dramatic sign of the costs of educational failure comes from the fastest growing demographic group in the country from 1980 to 1990. This was the prison population, which increased 139 percent. Of these, 82 percent are high school dropouts. It costs roughly five times as much money to house a prisoner as it does to educate a child. The December, 1998 issue of Atlantic Monthly reports that the number of Americans behind bars is now larger than the prison population of china - and it continues to grow, even as violent crime rates fall. During the last quarter of a century the rate of prison inmates for every 100,000 people increased from 110 to 445. The inmate population continues to increase by 50,000 to 80,000 people a year. Ignorance and illiteracy helps to create a permanent and costly under class, cut off from the rest of the world and from any opportunity to become productive contributors to or participants in society.

The National Research Council concluded that "educational careers of 25 to 40 percent of American children are imperiled because they do not read well enough, quickly enough, or easily enough to ensure comprehension in their content courses in middle and secondary school." The 1998 report continues to state that, "although difficult to translate into actual dollar amounts, the costs to society are probably quite high in terms of lower productivity, underemployment, mental health services, and other measures." Sociologists refer to "intellectual capital." They have shown that intellectual capital operates in almost every sphere of modern society to determine social class, success or failure in school, and even psychological and physical health.

Why Popular Reform Programs Have Been Less Than Adequate

Any reform program that contributes to real improvement in education must be able to address prevailing conditions discussed in the first section. It must be more effective than the other reforms. It must radically reduce failure while simultaneously increasing achievement for all students. To accomplish this, a program must be extraordinary. The record over the last three decades demonstrates that the programs that have been widely used are not sufficient for this task. To meet the new challenge of higher expectations combined with increased student diversity, teachers will need curricular tools and instructional approaches that are far more effective.

The weakness in current programs is mainly due to the fact that they have been developed and purchased according to their conformity to dogma and popular beliefs, which swing back and forth like a pendulum. Rather than relying on a growing and stable body of scientific knowledge based on carefully implemented research to construct tools, curriculum decisions are typically made through consensus among administrators and educators in a given district. Decisions usually follow popular trends, with little regard for supporting evidence. However, arriving at a consensus is not necessarily an appropriate way to determine the best practices leading to learning. Committees cannot dictate the laws of learning. What is popular is not necessarily effective.

A recent 1999 report, jointly sponsored by teacher's unions (NEA and AFT) and the three national school administrator's organizations, illustrates this lack of research support for popular reforms. This report evaluates 24 of the nation's leading school wide reform programs. Of these, only three programs were rated as having strong evidence of positive effects on student achievement and only five had promising evidence. The approach used in the Cornerstones Project is one of the three that had strong evidence.

The United States Department of Education and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) have supported the review of hundreds of studies done in recent years on reading instruction and disabilities. This body of research suggests that, as a part of this reform movement, the relatively recent swing away from phonics instruction to a singular whole language approach is making it more difficult to lift children with learning disabilities out of the downward learning spiral and, in fact, may impede the progress of many students in learning to read with ease.

The typical way of making curriculum and instruction decisions based on popularity among educators amounts to a "winner take all" approach. The ideas that have the largest support become adopted. Other ideas are not given a place. Approaches preferred by a minority are not considered viable simply because they are not popular. This approach to decision making is problematic. Approaches and programs are chosen not on the evidence of their effectiveness. Programs are usually chosen on the basis of other trendy features popular at the time. Under these conditions, promising innovations that have received substantial research support are not used. Because of the pressure to maintain a uniform teaching approach within schools and districts, attempts to gain support for minority views is often not well received and creates tension. Uniformity is often given a higher value than student results. Strong prejudice exists against many approaches. Teachers are reluctant to voice other points of view in the face of these conditions. They are often pressured to use methods that they do not believe in. This affects their effectiveness. Within this process, educators are slow to respond to research results.

Little is being done to identify potentially extraordinary programs. The U.S. Department of Education's Program Effectiveness Panel was designed to perform this function. Yet, submissions were voluntary so there has been no search. In addition, of the 200 instructional materials certified over the past 15 years, virtually none are distributed by major educational publishers, and only about 5% are comprehensive programs in the core areas of mathematics, language arts, science, and social studies.

A promising new development, however, may begin to change this. The new federal legislation by Obey-Porter grants nearly $150 million for "successfully, externally developed, comprehensive school-reform approaches backed by rigorous research." A list of 17 programs or curricular approaches have been drawn up so far that meet these conditions. The three programs being used in the Cornerstones Project are also on this list. The recent report by the teacher's unions and administrator's organizations is another example of how things are beginning to change.

The Cornerstones Project

Project Purpose

The primary purpose of this project is to demonstrate how three high performance, mastery learning programs in the subjects of beginning reading, language and math can enable teachers to, on the one hand, prevent school failure, and, on the other, increase the acceleration of learning and progress of all children. A secondary purpose is to further test the viability and strength of these programs in as many as ten regular classrooms. Another purpose would be to add to the research base and information available to teachers and education decision makers in the hopes that more children will recieve the benefits of the programs and more teachers will have the option of using this approach in confidence.

In furthering the research, the project will also be demonstrating an effective model for early childhood education. This work is necessary because of the current sub-standard student performance in schools and because the powerful methods and curricular design contained in contemporary, research-based programs are not being utilized in most schools.

Project Goals

Goal 1. To accelerate student learning beyond normal expectancy.

Objective 1. No students will fail
Performance Indicators: As measured by end of project testing, no student will fall below the average range of 40-60 percentile scores in reading and math.
Objective 2. Class averages of Cornerstones classes will significantly outperform control
groups on percentile gains made during each year and during the two-year time period
and will achieve above average scores in reading and math for the same time periods.
Performance indicators: As measured by comparing pre and post tests results of
Cornerstones classes and control classes.

Goal 2. To produce research that demonstrates the effectiveness of the Cornerstone approach to teaching first and second grade core subjects.

Objective 1. Keep and maintain quantitative evaluations of all student performance with
control and subject groups.
Objective 2. Identify and implement measures that evaluate the appropriateness of
Cornerstones' operations.

Goal 3. Add to research base of viable early childhood teaching models in reading, math and language.

Objective1. Collect, organize and disseminate results of project relative to student achievement.
Objective 2. Collect, organize and disseminate results of project relative to project
operations.
Student Achievement Evaluation Instruments

All students in the Cornerstones classes and the control classes will be tested at the beginning and ending of first grade and end of second grade with the group Stanford Achievement Tests 9 and the individual Woodcock Reading Mastery Revised tests. Cornerstones students will also undergo various formative evaluations from within the curricular programs.

Project Design

Instructional Approach: A Mastery Learning Model for Teaching Academic Competence

The programs and methods being tested in this project are based on a mastery model of learning. The mastery learning model begins with the shared mission among teachers that all students will be successful in learning and in progressing towards a high level of academic competence. Along with this is the assumption (based on years of experimental research) that all children can learn and achieve basic and higher-order levels of proficiency in core academic subjects.

The most effective and efficient way to accomplish this mission is to present materials (concepts, principles, strategies in different subject matter areas) in carefully crafted and delivered sequential lessons and activities. This means that learning is most effective for most children if it is incrementally and reasonably arranged from the simplest and easiest to the more difficult and complex. In this way, skills and knowledge are gradually accumulated into larger and more difficult composite tasks.

Effective sequencing and cumulative knowledge development are most likely to occur when students thoroughly master the materials all along the way. This enables students to successfully learn subsequent steps in a given sequence. Without mastery, students are faced with new learning while still having to learn what has previously been presented. This can quickly result in confusion. Mastery gives students a sense of success and competence right from the beginning. Students can be sure of what they know. Moreover, mastery learning has value beyond the immediate demands of sequential lessons. It builds learning skills, learning strategies and background knowledge that can accelerate future learning and intellectual performance in virtually any subject. With a firm foundation, a student's learning can then begin to accelerate, and the child can learn more within the given time. In contrast, learning only some aspects of content is actually mislearning and inefficient. This produces cumulative dysfluency as students increasingly have fewer and fewer skills needed to participate in and learn from more advanced instruction.

Curricular Design: Instructional Tools that Apply the Mastery Learning Model

Finally, in order for mastery learning to take place, it is necessary that teachers use curricular materials with sequential lessons and activities that have proven, through rigorous research and testing, to be effective and efficient in enabling the learner to master the content of a given subject. Teachers need to be confident that the curricular programs have been constructed so that mastery can be continually achieved by most students and, if mastery is achieved along the way, it will lead to ultimate mastery of the targeted goals.

The three high-performance, mastery learning programs being proposed for this project are the most heavily researched and field tested available. They have been recently recognized as such by the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, three national administrators organizations and the Obey-Porter federal grants program. They are a result of over thirty years of research and development by a team at the University of Oregon. This research and development includes taking part in the largest national experiment ever conducted, Project Follow-Through. The model that these programs are based on far out-did all other competing models. Not only did they produce higher achievement, but they also produced higher student satisfaction and self-esteem.

A tightly sequential mastery approach to instruction means using programs that are more direct than trendy programs widely used. Rather than using a scattergun or a shotgun approach to teaching, the approach is more like a laser-beam. The programs in this project are focused and explicitly teach specific learning objectives. All skills and knowledge needed to perform academic tasks are identified and explicitly taught. The programs contain activities that carefully teach the background knowledge essential for all students to eventually engage in sophisticated problem solving and critical thinking. They make sure all the necessary connections and information are learned rather than counting on what students have learned from home or what is hoped the child will be able to learn on his own. The programs also teach students strategies that have wide application, making the strategies useful in a variety of problem solving and other higher order activities. By always building on what is known and familiar, students are not over-whelmed with too much new material at one time and are shown how new knowledge relates to what has previously been learned.

The organization of these programs is unique. As many experts have recognized, if instruction is to go beyond simple rote learning, it must emphasize the organization of knowledge and how knowledge is inter-related. At the heart of the programs used in this project is a highly sophisticated analysis of what needs to be learned and how it all connects. The programs are built from a comprehensive, research-based theory of instruction that includes three components: 1.) the organization of essential knowledge, 2.) the communication of this knowledge and 3.) principles of learning. Teacher delivery of instructional content is prescribed in detail. Before the programs are published, they undergo meticulous field testing and are often revised repeatedly. They have also been the subject of numerous research studies.
(see appendices for addition information on programs)

Curricular Materials

The curricular materials being tested in this project are the following. Teachers will be provided all necessary materials.

Reading Mastery Programs I , II , III , and some of IV
(taught along with the Spelling Mastery Programs A, B, and some of C)
Reasoning and Writing Programs A, B and some of C
Connecting Math Concepts A, B and some of C

Project Operations

The Cornerstones Project will last three years. Each group of students will be in the program for two years, first grade and second grade. Year one will begin with a Summer Institute at which participating first grade teacher's and assistants will receive intensive training in both the instructional and curricular aspects of the reading and language programs. Within the first two weeks of the beginning of school, all students in both the control group and subject classes will be tested. While applying knowledge and skills learned at the Summer Institute, teachers will be supervised and given periodic additional training throughout the year. The same tests will be administered at the end of the year. Data will be collected and results made available.

As with year one, year two will begin with Summer Institute II for planning, training and debriefing. At this institute, the second grade teachers will receive orientation and training in the reading and language programs being continued with the first group of Cornerstones students, and the first grade teachers will be trained in the math curriculum being added to their program with the second group of project students. The same evaluations will be given to the new first grade control groups and subject groups. This year will also include teacher supervision and periodic training. End of the year test will be given to both the first grade and second grade students. Results will be analyzed and disseminated, with particular attention given to the first group of students who completed the two grades.

Year three will only involve second grade teachers who are continuing the first grade reading, language and math programs with the second group of students. It will also begin with a Summer Institute III for planning, debriefing and training in the math program for the second grade teachers. The same teacher supervision and periodic training sessions will take place during this year. End of the year tests will be given to the second graders. The results will be analyzed along with the results from the previous groups. Final reports will be written and disseminated.

In assuring that each child is continually successful and is progressing at an optimal rate, each child will be placed in one of three performance level groups that will be taught each day for about 30-35 minutes. All other instruction will be conducted with the whole class at one time. In the first grade classes, the total reading instruction time will last about 60 to 75 minutes a day. Teaching assistants will be hired and trained to teach one of the reading groups. Teaching assistants will not be used in the second grade classes so the teacher will conduct all three reading groups in these classes. This means that the total amount of time in the second grade classes will be about 90-100 minutes each day. Students will be engaged in a variety of individual seat-work activities, in a variety of subjects, during this time. The whole class language-literature instruction will include spelling, writing, stories and a variety of reasoning activities for about 45 minutes a day. Math instruction will generally last about 50 minutes each day. (see Operations Time-Line on page 9)

Problems Being Addressed by this Project and Solutions Proposed

1. P : Reformed programs have proved inadequate.
S : Begin With research-based programs and continue research efforts.

Because previous reform programs and instructional approaches have proved to be inadequate, research is needed to determine what practices are most effective. There is a need to start by focusing on the most heavily tested methods and programs available that provide for the learning needs of our most vulnerable children as well as the acceleration of our most capable.
The 1998 Reading Excellence Act is an example in this effort. This act will fund $520 million in block grants to states over the next two years only for implementation and teacher training in reading programs that follow "scientifically based reading research."

While the amount of research that supports the proposed three high-performance programs is far more than other programs, more is needed. Much of the research and development has been done in special settings or under special conditions. These results are extraordinary and important. They
lead to the desire to test further to see the extent of their effectiveness. More work is needed to test the applicability and practicality of these programs in regular classrooms. The repeated testing of
knowledge of instruction by experiment is the cutting edge of learning. This is one of the primary goal of the Cornerstones Project.

CORNERSTONES PROJECT OPERATIONAL TIME-LINE

YEAR 1 YEAR 2 YEAR 3
Activity Pre- Project July -
Aug. Sept Sept- June June July -
Aug. Sept Sept- June June July -
Aug. Sept-
June June Post
Project

Project Planning

Prepare Proposal

Identify Participants

Teacher Training Summer Institute
First Grade Reading & Language
Test: First Grade
(first group)
Teach: First Grade Reading & Language
Supervise & Oversee teaching & testing
Periodic
teacher training
Test: First Grade

Teacher Planning, Training and Debriefing
Summer Institute
First & Second
Grades
Test: New
First Grade
(second group)
Teach: Second Grade Reading & Language
Teach: First Grade Reading, Language,
(math optional)
Test: First &
Second Grade
(first group)

Teacher Planning, Training and Debriefing Summer Institute
Second Grade
Teach: Second Grade Reading, Language,
(math optional)
Test: Second
Grade
(second group)

Analyze results

Write Reports

Disseminate results

 

 

 

 

2. P : Reformed programs and methods are applied to large populations before being verified.
S : Conduct more targeted small projects

Typically, new programs are tried out with whole populations before knowing how viable they are. A more profitable procedure would be to conduct small research projects that attempt to identify promising approaches. This research is easily done within schools. The initial experimentation with a particular approach can be small in scale and carefully controlled so that negative outcomes are minimized. Important comparisons can be made between different programs and approaches that take much of the guessing and dogma out of decisions. Curricular decisions can be then based on reasonable evidence, which can be disiminated to all those affected by the decisions.

3. P : The importance of mastery of foundational skills in the early grades is over-looked.
S : Set sights for high achievement in the early grades.

Surprisingly enough, standards in the early grades are low in some areas. For example, in the state of Oregon, the standard for reading words accurately and easily in the first three grades is very low. Yet, these are the very skills that identify poor readers. It is assumed that these skills will develop adequately later. It is not recognized how this delayed reading development also contributes to deficits in vocabulary growth and eventual reading failure. There is consistent evidence that children with low reading achievement in early grades have greater eventual likelihood of school dropout, pregnancy, and unemployment, and that they consequently face greater risks of negative academic, social, and economic outcomes.

In his book, The Schools We Need And Why We Don't Have Them, E.D. Hirsch states:

"Those children who possess intellectual capital when they first arrive at school have the mental scaffolding and Velcro to gain still more knowledge. But those children who arrive at school lacking the relevant experience and vocabulary - they" see not, neither do they understand." This lack of stimulation and language depresses their IQ. We know that the initial deficits of children can be remedied in the early years... Small incremental changes in early language learning can produce enormous consequences later on."

If low achieving students can be brought up to grade level within the early grades of school, their reading performance tends not to revert but to stay at grade level thenceforth. If we fail to bring students' reading to grade level within those first few years, the likelihood of their ever catching up is slim, even with extra funding and special programs. Converging evidence from many sources accumulated over the last 20 years strongly indicates that virtually all students, including students with learning and other mild disabilities, can become competent readers if quality instruction is given early. It has been demonstrated that learning to read well in the early grades can make a difference in cognitive growth equal to at least 15 IQ points.

It is no exaggeration to say that how well children learn to read in first grade profoundly affects how well they do throughout their school years - and their lives. Children who quickly develop the skills necessary to read with fluency and comprehension gain access to all the world's knowledge. They acquire the power to educate themselves and to expand their range of thought and reflection. Children who do not develop these skills become caught in a downward spiral of frustration and failure.

Deficits in the vocabulary knowledge of children with learning problems exist as early as the first grade and grow increasingly larger each year, which contributes to school failure. It is estimated that the average child acquires about 3,000 new words during each primary grade. Children with learning problems acquire much fewer words than this each year. Limitations in the ability to read words limits vocabulary growth in comparison to other children. The most effective way to close this gap is to teach low performing learners how to read words accurately and easily at an early age. The longer it takes for these learners to read the more the gap in vocabulary between them and average learners will continue to grow.

One reason many children with learning problems are slower at acquiring vocabulary than the average learner is that they tend to remember words based on the meaning of the words not the sounds in the words. Also, it has been found that the lack of awareness of the sounds in words and the inability to translate letters to speech sounds in words is the most frequent cause of reading difficulties. Thus, teaching low performing learners knowledge of the phonological structure of words and how to translate the alphabetic symbols for these sounds into spoken words, not only can improve their ability to remember words better but also to read sooner. Both of these events can increase a child's acquisition of vocabulary which can contribute to their future success.

In discussing ways to reduce violence and aggressive behavior in the schools, J. David Hawkins, director of the University of Washington's Social Development Research Group and author of Reducing Violence Through the Schools, has made two recommendations that involve early elementary school and academic success.

1) Approach children early. The programs that make the most difference are those in the elementary grades or even preschool.
2) Maintain a student's bond to the school. The clearest route: Make sure that all students succeed academically, or too many will think they have nothing to lose.

4. P : Causes of low achievement beyond the control of teachers are often given over-riding importance. The importance of curricular programs are not appreciated.
S : Acknowledge that curriculum and instruction matters

It is often thought that the major causes of low achievement in schools are beyond the controls of the schools. More than thirty years ago John Carroll stated that there are three factors that affect student achievement: 1) characteristics that the learner brings to school, 2) the time allocated for learning, and 3) the quality of instruction. Of these three, quality of instruction is the only factor that educators have much control over. The question is: can the quality of instruction be effective enough to over-come outside influences and conditions that learners bring to school? Evidence shows that it can. The best example of this comes from the Follow-through project which lasted over five years. The Follow-through project was conducted in the most adverse conditions available, and yet, the programs based on the mastery model of learning were successful, more so than any other approach.

Thus, focusing on the quality of instruction can pay off. Yet, as stated earlier, this instruction must be extraordinary. It must be created as a result of a rigorous process from beginning to end. Creating quality instruction begins with a careful analysis of what it is that we want students to know and understand. This requires, at a minimum, an organizational structure of knowledge that can be used to solve problems, to organize and structure new incoming information, and reorganize and re-assemble in endless ways to create new knowledge. From this structure of knowledge, instructional strategies and curriculum programs to help students acquire information and construct their own individual webs of knowledge must be constructed. These are the tools put into the hands of teachers.

It is also often thought that curricular programs are not critical factors in creating quality instruction. Teachers are considered to be the most critical factor. Yet, just like that of any other professional, teachers' effectiveness is dependent on the tools at their disposal. According to Education Products Information Exchange, instructional tools are used during 75% to 90% of the 30 billion hours in which America's 40 million students are in school. Teachers are aware of the shortcomings that accrue from not having adequate and effective tools. In the National Teacher Survey of 1990, conducted by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, more than two-thirds of the nation's teachers listed improved instructional materials and supplies as essential for improving the quality of education in the United States. A study of 65 mathematics teachers in five states in 1993 found that two-thirds of the teachers felt their instructional tools were inadequate to meet the needs of diverse learners. In the study, more than 70% of the teachers attempted to modify their instructional materials, but 80% of those said they did not have enough time to make the needed improvements.

5. P : What works with under-achieving learners is largely unknown and not utilized.
S : Acknowledge that schools can now do better with contemporary know how.

It is often thought that sufficient knowledge and technical know-how does not exist that can enable our schools to meet the current demands. Over 25 years ago when the prevailing conditions began to emerge this was the case. However, this is no longer true. Over this time, educational research has come into its own. Also, the most heavily researched areas have been in early education, reading, language and math. Schools now have a firmer basis upon which to make decisions. For example, in the subject of early reading instruction, a 1997 special issue of the Scientific Studies of Reading on the topic of Components of Effective Reading Intervention stated:

"Reading instruction, however, can be designed with greater validity than ever before because of a solid, converging body of scientific research on reading acquisition, reading processes, and reading disabilities. Basic and applied research has established the linguistic, primarily phonological nature of reading difficulty."

6. P: Uniformed "winner take all" approach to curricular decision making.
S: Encourage a greater degree of diversity in teaching practices along with accountability

One way around the problems presented by the uniformed "winner take all" approach to curricular decision making is to allow a greater degree of diversity in approaches along with accountability for improved student results. This would require an acceptance of viable alternative approaches until one approach to early childhood education has emerged as the most productive and verified approach for all students. This would not mean that every teacher will be free to teach the way that they want. In order to use a particular alternative approach, teachers should be obligated to present plans that clearly describe the programs, provide supporting research and documentation, explain why they are viable options and tell how the results will be evaluated. This procedure can assure that, in spite of diverse approaches, standards are being met and any possible coordination problems between programs will be worked out. This procedure also means that different approaches can have a more mutual co-existence, and there can be a freer exchange of ideas between those with differing views because they are no longer in competition with each other for the "winner take all" grand prize.

The Cornerstones Project provides grounds and a model for one particular alternative approach to be used in schools in the continual effort to assure that all students are successful.