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The Illinois Loop website is no longer updated on a a regular basis. However, since many of the links and articles have content and perspectives that are just as valid today, we are keeping this website online for parents, teachers and others researching school issues and solutions.
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"Open Court" Reading

    Open Court is one of the more successful, research-based, phonics reading programs.

    Please note that the Illinois Loop is not associated in any way with Open Court, or its publisher, SRA. We offer this page strictly for the sake of information about this much-discussed and apparently very effective reading program.



  • "Let's Kill Dick and Jane: How the Open Court Publishing Company Fought the Culture of American Education" by Harold Henderson


  • The Triumph of Look-Say, by Diane Ravitch, Education Next, Winter 2007: "[Let's Kill Dick and Jane] tells the story of Blouke Carus's heroic but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to reform American education. Carus founded the Open Court Publishing Company in 1962 with two aims that did not seem to be at all contradictory: first, to teach children to read, and second, to do so while introducing them to classic children's literature."

  • See a Good Idea. See It Run Into Trouble. by Paul Beston, Wall Street Journal. November 9, 2006. "Providing both a history of this remarkable company and a withering portrait of the education culture, Mr. Henderson's book is more compelling than any lay reader could reasonably expect. ... Open Court argued that depriving children of [phonics] skills was the true act of oppression in a society where the boundaries of opportunity were drawn mostly by ignorance. A recurring theme of 'Let's Kill Dick and Jane' is the anti-intellectual rigidity of the educational establishment, which continually resisted the research-based methods that Open Court employed."


  • Eureka! School Reform That Works by Debra J. Saunders, June 30, 1999. Excerpt:
    "Since signing on with an intensive phonics program [Open Court] ... scores for the Sacramento City Unified School District rose from the 35th percentile nationally in reading for first-graders two years ago, to the 54th percentile last year, to the 62nd percentile this year. ... The key to Open Court's success is explicit, systematic direct instruction of phonics for new readers."

  • First-Graders' Scores Surge in Reading Test: Supt. Roy Romer credits the year-old Open Court program for raising results to the 56th percentile nationally (PDF) by Richard Lee Colvin, Los Angeles Times, October 10, 2001. Excerpt:
    "The district reported Tuesday that its first-graders are for the first time performing above average in reading and spelling, scoring in the 56th percentile nationally. That figure represents an improvement of 21 percentile points from two years earlier in reading and 18 points in spelling. Supt. Roy Romer and his aides are confident those gains prove that the district's year-old Open Court reading program, with its structured lessons bolstered by teacher training, is paying off."

  • Inglewood Writes Book on Success by Duke Helfand, Los Angeles Times, April 30, 2000. Subhead: "Its elementary schools draw experts studying how poor, minority students get test scores as high as those in Beverly Hills. Keys include phonics, constant testing and intensive teacher training." Excerpts:
    "Officials say a crucial reform had each school adopt the Open Court reading program, which uses heavily scripted lessons that combine phonics drills, writing exercises and children's literature. The lessons dictate virtually every detail of daily instruction. Some teachers complained that Open Court robbed them of creativity in the classroom. Others protested what they believed was a one-size-fits-all approach for children with a range of abilities. ... But the schools pushed ahead, significantly boosting training for teachers in Open Court. ... [Now,] eight of the district's 13 elementary schools ranked among the top half of campuses in the state, shattering the crippling link between poverty and low achievement."

  • Back-To-Basics Reading Shows Big Results: An Interior community school has turned around dismal reading statistics by Janet Steffenhagen, Vancouver Sun, April 4, 2001. Excerpts: "A back-to-basics reading program is being credited with drastically improving the reading skills of primary students in a small B.C. town. Four years ago, tests showed that almost one-third of students in Chase primary school were behind in reading. ... Last May, testing found 93 per cent of children in Grades 1 and 2 in the Kamloops-area school were meeting or exceeding expectations ... The difference was a back-to-basics reading program that has won accolades from the B.C. education ministry. Called Open Court, it emphasizes skills instruction, an aspect of language-arts teaching that largely disappeared in the early 1980s when whole language came into vogue."

  • An interesting article on the background of the Open Court program:
    Decades Later, Frustrated Father Is Phonics Guru by Duke Helfand, Los Angeles Times, January 10, 2000. Excerpt: "Alarmed by his son's insipid textbooks, an electrical engineer named Blouke Carus sat down at his kitchen table in 1962 and transformed the way children would one day learn to read. With a stack of reference books at his side, he cobbled the skills of phonics with classic children's literature--and peddled his program to schools. For decades, this frustrated father from Peru, Illinois, was ignored, even ridiculed. Now he has become the darling of California's phonics revolution, with schools spending millions for the word drills and writings he compiled. Carus may not be a household name, but the program he created -- Open Court -- is becoming a fixture in the state's classrooms. His evolution from pariah to savior is a lesson in persistence and California's ever changing educational currents. ... Open Court can now be found in one of every eight elementary schools in the state."

  • Fort Worth School Official Has Confidence In Teaching Method by Michelle Melendez, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, February 5, 2000. Excerpt:
    "Many school officials believe they have found the best way to teach children to read -- a scripted method that promises to make inner-city students competitive with their suburban peers. The programs stress learning the sounds that letters make, blending them into words and recognizing common words that break the rules. By second grade, supporters say, the children will be able to read almost anything. Eventually, students will understand all the words. Superintendent Thomas Tocco is so confident in the programs, called Open Court and Reading Mastery, that 62 of the district's 69 elementary schools are using them in pre-kindergarten through third grade to varying degrees. ... Dawn Riley, a third-grade teacher at Nash, said many students in the past entered her classes unable to read at their grade level. 'Now, they are coming in reading much better. So now we can focus on comprehension instead of putting the cart before the horse,' Riley said."

  • Herding Cats: LAUSD's literacy czar's teaching teachers how to teach reading, and kids are responding marvelously. by Jill Stewart, December 27, 2001. Excerpts:
    "Now something amazing is happening in L.A. Unified and in the school districts of a handful of other California cities ... Superintendent Roy Romer and his chief literacy and reading czar, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Ronni Ephraim, are turning the grade schools around. Dozens of schools are enjoying big, fat, double-digit leaps in reading, math and language test scores -- the first really good news in the 10 years I have covered Southern California public-education issues. Everybody knows why, too. Thousands of local teachers have been shown how to actually teach reading to small children. ... Before I explain how Ephraim and others figured out how to herd cats, a bit of background: Training teachers how to teach reading is something that our overly theoretical, highly politicized, left-oriented and arrogant teaching colleges have failed to do for years (yes, I mean you, UCLA, USC, Cal State Northridge, Cal State Long Beach, Cal State Riverside, et al.). Pop into any one of them today, and you will still hear whole-language theory taught like a religion. In part to undo this damage, L.A. uses Open Court, a step-by-step curriculum that teachers follow each day. Open Court has no script but does use rigorous phonics, frequent repetition and (horrors!) memorization, blended with fun activities and great storybooks. Kids love it."

Midwest Schools Using "Open Court"

    From: rdyarrow (Mary Damer)
    Date: Tue, 28 Dec 1999
    Subject: Midwestern Schools that successfully use Open Court Phonics program

    Today I received a list of schools in the Midwest regarded as "successful Open Court sites." I'm not sure what the criteria determine whether a school makes this list, but in the past I've been asked to point the way to schools that effectively use phonics programs and so wanted to pass this on. Since so few Midwestern schools use explicit phonics programs like Open Court (in contrast to haphazard "salt and pepper" phonics thrown into Whole Language-based programs), having a list of some models to visit might be helpful for some of you who are looking for examples to point out to your school boards.

    SRA Midwest Region - Successful Open Court Sites


    Carthage Elementary School, Dennis Castleberry, Principal
    600 Miller Street, Carthage, IL 62321, 217/357-9202

    Hamilton School, Dr. Mila Strassburg
    1650 West Cornelia Ave., Chicago, IL 60657, 773/534-5484

    Oriole Park School, Gail Szulc
    5424 North Oketo, Chicago, IL 60656, 773/274-2826

    Ray School, Cydney Fields
    5631 South Kimbark, Chicago, IL 60637, 773/535-0970

    Smyser Elementary School, Jeannie Gallo/C. Lynch, Principals
    4310 North Melvina, Chicago, IL 60634, 773/534-1201

    Walsh Elementary School, Dr. Ronald Clayton/N. McDonough, Principals
    2031 South Peoria, Chicago, IL 60624, 773/534-7950

    Mokena Elementary, Kaye Pedziwater, 1st grade teacher
    11244 West Willowcrest, Mokena, IL 60458, 708/478-1203

    Early Education Center, Nicky Boodey, Reading Coordinator
    880 West Nippersink, Round Lake, IL 60073,
    847/740-7248 or 847/270-3135 or 847/546-7456

    North Elementary School, Dr. Dania Pelech, Principal
    410 Franklin, Waukegan, IL 60085, 847/360-5481

    St. John's Elementary School, Elizabeth Skinner, Principal
    125 East Seminary Avenue, Wheaton, IL 60187, 630/668-0701

    St. Michael's Elementary School, Sr. Carol Ann Smith, Principal/Jan White, Teacher
    314 West Willow, Wheaton, IL 60187, 630/665-1454

    ** Freeport Catholic School, Freeport, IL (added to this list as of December 2003)


    Stephen C. Foster Elementary School, Sharon Heathcock
    653 North Somerset Avenue, Indianapolis, IN 46222, 317/226-4267


    Shawnee Mission, Dr. Kevin Singer, Curriculum
    7235 Antioch Road, Shawnee Mission, KS 66204, 913/993-6200


    Mesick Cons. School District
    P.O. Box 275, Mesick, MI 49668, 616/885-1234

    Plainwell Community School District, Bob Van Dess, Curriculum
    600 School Drive, Plainwell, MI 49080, 616/685-5823

    National Heritage Academy (NHA), Todd Avis, primary contact
    * anyone wishing to visit these sites should contact Todd Avis at 616/222-1700

      NHA Endeavor Campus*, Tom Stout, Principal
      380 North Helmer Road, Springfield, MI 49015, 616/962-9300

      NHA Paragon Campus*, Candi Thayer
      3750 McCain Road, Jackson, MI 49201, 517/750-9500


    Hermantown Elementary
    5331 West Arrowhead Road, Hermantown, MN 55881, 218/729-6891

    Earl Brown Elementary School, Randy Aoch
    5900 Humboldt Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55406, 612/561-4480

    Minnehaha Academy, Kathy Johnson
    4200 West River Parkway, Minneapolis, MN 55406, 612/721-3359


    St. Joseph Cathedral School
    518 North 11th Street, St. Joseph, MO 64501, 816/232-8486


    Carrollton Exempted Village School District, Rose Seck, Curriculum
    252 Third Street NE, Carrollton, OH 44615, 330/627-2181

    Fairland Local School District, Teresa Johnson, Principal
    10732 State Route 7, Protcorville, OH 45669, 740/886-6209

    Wellington School District, Nancy Fischer, Principal
    305 Union Street, Wellington, OH 44090, 440/647-3636

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