of national news articles and editorials about the corrupt practices
that provoked the U. S. Education Department's Inspector General to investigate
and the subsequent scathing report on the appointees at Reading First
and their favored friends in the publishing industry. Most recent articles
can be found at higher pages, older items on the lower pages.
Reading First Program Ignored
Apparent Conflicts of Interest, IG Says
By Title 1 Editor 801
Title I Editor is an education
industry newsletter-web site that
monitors all things related to the government's Title 1
Title 1 Editor 801;
Friday, September 22, 2006
Leaders of the federal Reading First
initiative turned a blind eye to potential conflicts of
interest and actively sought to favor certain commercial
programs, according to an unusually stinging report from
the watchdog arm of the U.S. Department of Education.
The report, replete with references to blunt and sometimes
foul language gleaned from the e-mail of Education Department
(ED) staff members, offers a rare inside glimpse into the
inner workings of one of the department's most controversial
and highly touted programs.
The report from ED's Office of Inspector General (OIG)
does not suggest criminal wrongdoing, but accuses several
people integral to Reading First's development of violating
federal law by subverting state decision-making when states
approved local reading programs deemed out of favor with
the department. While the OIG report names several officials,
it comes down hardest on Chris Doherty, the former director.
In perhaps the most flagrant example
cited, the report said Doherty "personally nominated three individuals
who had significant professional connections" to a "particular
approach to reading instruction" to sit on the peer
review panel that reviewed state applications. The program,
called Direct Instruction (DI), requires the use of Reading
Mastery, published by SRA/McGraw-Hill. Prior to becoming
director of Reading First, Doherty was executive director
of the Baltimore Curriculum Project, which has implemented
Direct Instruction in Baltimore City Schools since 1996.
According to the OIG report, the three individuals were
collectively involved in reviewing 23 state applications
for Reading First grant money. They served on seven of
the 16 subpanels that reviewed state applications and one
of them led five of the panels.
When a Baltimore school official contacted the department
to express concerns about a possible conflict of interest
among the panel members, the subsequent e-mail exchange
ensued between Doherty and one of the panelists he selected,
according to the report:
"Funny that [the Baltimore City Public Schools official]
calls *me* to inform me that there may be some pro-DI folks
on *my* panel!! Too rich!" Doherty said.
"Do they know who you are? Past and present?" the
The Reading First Director responded, "That's the
funniest part - yes! You know the line from Casablanca,
I am SHOCKED that there is gambling going on in this establishment!'
Well, 'I am SHOCKED that there are pro-DI people on this
panel." [Emphasis and punctuation are taken from the
In its response to the OIG, ED
officials said there was "no
available information" that "any problematic
behavior" ensued as a result of their selection to
the review panel. The OIG, however, noted that "the
Department anticipated that States would include specific
programs in their applications." Because of a faulty
conflict of interest screening process, according to the
report, "the Department would not have known of the
potential conflict posed by having any of the ... individuals
review a State application that included Direct Instruction."
While the report appears to indicate
an almost cavalier attitude about favoring particular
programs in a process that was supposed to be impartial,
it also suggests that Doherty could be equally dismissive
toward philosophical opponents. When a department staff
member asked him if programs like Reading Recovery will
get a "fair shake" on
the peer review panel, for example, he replied, "'Stack
the panel?' ... I have never *heard* of such a thing ...<harrumph,
In many of Doherty's emails, Reading
Recovery—a widely used intervention that targets individual
students—comes in for particular venom, as do practitioners
language" instruction, such as the Wright Group Literacy
program, once a popular reading instruction vehicle.
According to the report, Doherty
instructed one staff member regarding the Wright Group: "Beat
the [expletive deleted] out of them in a way that will
stand up to any level of legal and [whole language] apologist
scrutiny. Hit them over and over with definitive evidence
that they are not SBRR [based on scientifically based
reading research], never have been and never will be.
They are trying to crash our party and we need to beat
the [expletive deleted] out of them in front of all the
other would-be party crashers who are standing on the
front lawn waiting to see how we welcome these dirtbags."
In at least two states-Massachusetts and North Dakota-Doherty
intervened after states approved districts using Wright
and another out-of-favor program, Rigby Literacy, the report
said. Districts that continued to use those programs lost
their Reading First funding. The OIG said that these examples
and others, several of which were first reported in the
Sept. 2005 Title I Monitor, may have violated a federal
prohibition on endorsement of curriculum.
Just a day before the OIG released
its report, Deputy ED Secretary Ray Simon announced that
Doherty was leaving the department. Doherty had transferred
out of the Reading First program last fall to become
Simon's full-time chief of staff. In a statement, Simon
said that Doherty was returning to the private sector
and that "the children of America
are fortunate to have had such a tireless champion."
In documents responding to the
OIG report, other ED officials were less sanguine. Henry
Johnson, assistant secretary of elementary and secondary
education, acknowledged "mistakes
made by a program official," saying they represented "behind-the-scenes
bravado, if not loose and inappropriate language on the
part of the Reading First director." ED Secretary
Margaret Spellings added: "I acknowledge that some
of the actions taken by Department officials as described
by the draft report reflect individual mistakes. Thus,
I am disappointed by what I have read about some aspects
of the early implementation of the Reading First program."
[Trelease note: Some ED leaders saw Spellings'
own involvement in the scandal a different light.]
In response to the OIG's recommendations,
Spellings said she has "reassigned the leadership of the Reading
First program," and that the department will be reviewing
state applications, guidance and conflict-of interest protocols
to ensure they are done appropriately. The department will
also seek comments from state directors and will send a
memorandum to all ED program managers "reminding them
of the importance of impartiality in the performance of
Doherty could not be reached for comment at press time.
The OIG's investigation comes as
Reading First has gotten positive evaluations from organizations
like the Center on Education Policy and demonstrated
strides in scores on national assessments. Among nine-year-olds,
Spellings noted in response to the OIG, "over the
last five years, more reading progress has been made
than in the previous 28 years combined."
Nonetheless, the OIG's work may
not be over. The OIG's 2006 federal audit workplan envisioned "several audits" to
include looks at the role of Reading First subcontractors
and technical assistance centers - areas the recent report
only touched upon briefly.
Thompson Publishing Group will provide further reporting
and analysis on the OIG investigation in its print editions.
of the Inspector General's report: