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New Orleans School Reforms Target Young Readers

The struggle to educate the nation's children in urban schools has long been an area of reform. In a continuing series of reports on urban school reform, John Merrow returns to New Orleans schools to examine how young students are learning to read.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Next, another in our reports on fixing the public schools in New Orleans and Washington, D.C. Tonight, as the school year ends in New Orleans, John Merrow reports on teaching the youngest students to read.

  • TEACHER:

    Give yourselves a big round of applause.

  • JOHN MERROW, NewsHour Correspondent:

    In May, New Orleans' troubled Recovery School District was celebrating.

  • TEACHER:

    You guys having fun?

  • STUDENTS:

    Yes!

  • TEACHER:

    We're about to have a ton of fun. Can you guys handle it?

  • STUDENTS:

    Yes!

  • JOHN MERROW:

    After a long first year, Superintendent Paul Vallas had something to boast about.

  • PAUL VALLAS, Superintendent, Recovery School District:

    We went up in every grade, in every subject, and we outperformed everyone else in growth. Congratulations.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    The result of the state-mandated assessment tests put Vallas' district in the national spotlight.

  • PAUL VALLAS:

    If you look at the test scores across the board, both fourth grade, eighth grade, and high school, there was improvement across the board.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    But even in the midst of celebration, Vallas reminded his audience there was much to be done.

  • PAUL VALLAS:

    The sobering note is test scores are very, very low still, despite the growth, and that we have an incredibly long way to go.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    Raising those scores is the goal of Vallas' reforms. With a majority of students performing well below grade level, Vallas spends most of his time playing catch-up.

  • PAUL VALLAS:

    Only 40 percent of the kids at the high school level are still passing the graduate exit exam on the first run.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    Problems for older students can be traced back to early elementary grades, something Vallas is well aware of.

  • PAUL VALLAS:

    I'm a big believer that early intervention and early literacy, early numeracy can translate into dramatic improvement.

  • STUDENT:

    What book are we reading in reading this week?

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