Current Overview of Open Court Curriculum

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Open Court Curriculum has been in use in some form since the 1960s. The curriculum is geared towards students in grades K-6, is phonics-based, and appropriate for students identified as dyslexic (Borman, Dowling, Schneck, 2008, p. 389). Open Court was developed to address the early adolescent literacy crisis, in order to ensure that students would have the skills necessary to succeed in their educational environments (Borman et al., 2008, p. 340). While Open Court has been adopted by several public school districts, some critics denounce its use due to the time it takes to teach the program (Wehby, Falk, Barton-Arwood, Lane, Cooley, 2003, p. 225). Despite criticism, modified versions of the curriculum have proven an effective tool for increased word recognition and faster reading rates (Borman et al., 2008, p. 391).

Open Court Curriculum is a comprehensive reading and writing program developed by SRA/McGraw Hill. It was designed in the 1960s and is used with elementary school students. The Curriculum is a core reading program composed of several units, each of which has three parts. Part 1 is focused on phonics, sounds, fluency and word knowledge. Part 2 emphasizes reading, understanding and application. Part 3 is focused on the basics of writing: spelling, structure, grammar and includes basic computer skills. All units come with a teaching guide and detailed lesson plans (What Works Clearing House, 2012, p.1). Open Court requires on average 2 hours of instruction per day in phonics, reading, dictation, spelling, vocabulary and other activities (Wehby et al., 2003 p. 226). The curriculum also has a modeling element, where educators demonstrate skills for reading comprehension and require educators to follow a scripted lesson plan (Wehby, et al., 2003). In 2007, the program was revised and distributed under the name Imagine It! (What Works Clearing House, 2012, p.1). Due to criticism that Open Court Curriculum requires too much instruction time, modified versions of the curriculum have been used, with successful results in several school districts (Borman et al., 2008, p. 392).

The Open Court Curriculum is one of two language arts programs approved in California and has been adopted by districts both large (Los Angeles and Oakland) and small (Alum Rock) as well as large scale adoptions in cities like Baltimore (Borman, et al. 2008, p. 390). The curriculum is used with students in grades K-6, though the majority of research has looked at its impact on students in grades 1-3. Use of Open Court Curriculum increased after the passing of the No Child Left Behind Act, which emphasized measurable outcomes for success (“Results with Open Court Reading,” n.d.). Open Court Curriculum is now used in an estimated 6,000 schools throughout 1,800 districts (Borman et al., 2008, p. 390).

Though widely used, the Open Court Curriculum has been questioned as to its real-life application in crowded classrooms. Citing the length of time required as well as heavily scripted lesson plans, many educators struggle to use the curriculum when dealing with myriad issues present in classroom environments. One educator reported that teaching the scripts could take up to 90 minutes of class time, and did not allow time for questions from students. The educator also noted that the program required taking the time to break words down phonetically and have children repeat the word back without time to discuss the stories that were read (Meyer, 2005, p. 101). The cost of the program has also been noted as prohibitive to its use in some districts (Meyer, 2005, p. 100). Though the curriculum can be burdensome to use when used exactly as designed, educators have modified the program depending on the needs of their students and have achieved positive results (Borman et al., p. 392).

The Open Court Curriculum is a program focused on phonics, with an emphasis on word recognition, sounds, and comprehension. Especially when modified by teachers for use in individual classrooms, the Open Court Curriculum has proven effective in improving reading comprehension and word recognition in elementary school students, leading to positive outcomes in later years.


Borman, G. D., Dowling, N. M., & Schneck, C. (2008). A Multisite Cluster Randomized Field Trial of Open Court Reading. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 30(4), 389-407.

McGraw Hill Education. (n.d.). Research. Retrieved March 5, 2014, from

Meyer, R. (2005). Invisible teacher/invisible children: the company line. Reading for Profit: the commercialization of reading instruction (pp. 96-111). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Wehby, J. H., Falk, K. B., Barton-Arwood, S., Lane, K. L., & Cooley, C. (2003). The Impact of Comprehensive Reading Instruction on the Academic and Social Behavior of Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 11(4), 225-238.

What Works Clearinghouse. (n.d.). What Works Clearinghouse. Retrieved March 5, 2014, from