This fall, Southern Methodist University in Dallas opened its doors to more than a thousand graduate education students for an innovative yet controversial new program, the first in the country to explicitly focus on narrowing the achievement gap. SMU's new program concentrates on effective reading instruction as the key to eliminating the divide between white and minority students.
Cozying up to the No Child Left Behind Act, the program has drawn sharp criticism from some educators and policy makers, who contend that recent education reforms focus too much on testing and rigid teaching methodologies. "It's very dangerous and wrongheaded," said Stanford ed school dean Deborah Stipek, to depend on a single approach to instruction. "If you think about what we want our students to do and what teachers want to prepare them for, issues like social development are really important, as well."
But Education Secretary Margaret Spellings defended the program, arguing, "The persistence of the achievement gap is evidence enough that the nation needs new teaching methods that have proven effective."