A collection of
national news articles and editorials about the corrupt
practices that provoked the Ed Department's Inspector
General to investigate and the subsequent scathing report on
the appointees at Reading First and their
favored friends in the textbook/testing industry. The
most recent items can be found on higher pages, older
items on the lower pages.
Aide Defends Reading Program,
States Are Urged to Counteract Cuts
Thje Washington Post, Sunday
Mar. 30, 2008
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings
is sending a message to educators across the country who
support a federal program to help young children learn
to read: "Fight fiercely."
Late last year, the
Democrat-led Congress slashed funding for Reading First
more than 60 percent in response to allegations of mismanagement
and financial conflicts of interest. Now the Bush administration
is making what amounts to an end run around Congress, coaching
states on how to find other sources of federal money to
preserve what had been a $1 billion-a-year program. The
administration calls the program central to the No Child
Left Behind law's goal of helping disadvantaged students
close the achievement gap.
The funding fight has left the
future of Reading First uncertain. The program has broad
support from educators who say it has improved instruction
in schools for children from poor families. President Bush's
fiscal 2009 budget would restore funding. But some congressional
Democrats say the department's missteps left the program
"If you're going to tell school
districts that the big bad Congress cut this wonderful
peachy program, then I think you ought to tell them why," House
Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.)
told Spellings at a Feb. 26 hearing. He added, "We've
got a right to criticize the mismanagement of programs."
First provides grants to improve lessons in kindergarten
through third grade, with an emphasis on basic skills and
teaching methods grounded in scientific research. The money
benefits 5,200 schools nationwide, about 140 of them in
Maryland, Virginia and the District.
A 2006 report from
the Education Department's inspector general, John P. Higgins
Jr., said some program officials steered states to certain
tests and textbooks. Congressional testimony last year
also revealed that some of those people benefited financially.
told lawmakers last spring that he had made several referrals
to the Justice Department concerning Reading First. A spokesman
for the U.S. attorney's office in the District, Channing
Phillips, said last week that the matter remains "under
Reading First has won largely good reviews
in many classrooms. The Center on Education Policy, based
in the District, reported in October that officials in
37 states said the curriculum and assessments helped boost
But the program also has been caught
up in the long-standing debate over the best way to teach
reading. Critics say that Reading First officials have
promoted intensive phonics instruction, in which children
focus on learning to sound out words, and that schools
have been discouraged from using the whole language approach,
which emphasizes teaching reading through literature.
December, Congress cut Reading First funding for the current
fiscal year to $393 million, down from $1 billion the year
before. In fiscal 2007, Maryland, Virginia and the District
received more than $30 million. This year, their funding
totals about $11 million. The reduction worries local officials.
childhood support is vital to increase student achievement," said
D.C. State Superintendent of Education Deborah A. Gist. "Funding
cuts to Reading First would challenge our ability to strengthen
Mark Allan, director of elementary
instruction for the Virginia Department of Education, said
Reading First has helped the state fund reading coaches,
teacher training and uninterrupted 90-minute daily reading
lessons. All of that, he said, has helped boost test scores. "We
think it's an excellent program," Allan said.
such expressions of support, some education experts said
the program has been tarnished by allegations of mismanagement.
They predicted that schools will be able to sustain the
program for a short while that but that it is likely to
fall apart without an influx of cash.
"Everyone's right," said
Andy Rotherham, a co-founder of the Washington-based think
tank Education Sector who served in the Clinton administration
and now sits on the Virginia Board of Education. "The
Bush administration screwed up. The program is proven to
be effective. And funds shouldn't have been cut."
has told lawmakers repeatedly that she has cleaned house.
The department has installed new leadership for the program,
she said, and accepted recommendations from the inspector
general meant to prevent future management troubles.
everyone is convinced. "We all agree that the
goal of the Reading First program -- to help all children
learn to read -- is incredibly important," said Rachel
Racusen, a spokeswoman for Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.),
chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. "We
must have every assurance that Reading First funding is
being used as intended -- to benefit our nation's schoolchildren,
not to line the pockets of Bush's cronies."
Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) recently said
Bush's proposed "increase for the mismanaged
Reading First" would "come at the expense" of
Republicans are pushing to keep Reading
First alive. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio)
plugged the program in a March 5 speech to the National
Urban League. "Instead
of funding Reading First last year, Congress funded earmarks
-- a classic case of misplaced priorities," Boehner
said in prepared remarks.
As Congress debates, the Education
Department is counseling states on ways to support Reading
First by using money designated for teacher training and
services for students in poverty.
Reading First program
directors from across the country met at the Hilton hotel
at Dupont Circle this month for a conference that included
sessions on funding possibilities. "You
have seen the benefits of this program, and that's why
it is so tragic," Spellings told the directors, urging
them to "fight fiercely" to promote Reading First.
were given a worksheet for small group sessions that asked
them to brainstorm on "two unique or creative
ideas for addressing challenges related to the funding
"Congress gives states latitude,
and we're simply encouraging and reminding them they have
that flexibility," said
Amanda Farris, a deputy assistant education secretary. "We
are going to do whatever we can legally to make sure the
program can continue."
Several state officials said
they would try to keep the program running. "Reading
First has made so much of a difference in the lives of
so many people," said
James Herman, the program's director in Tennessee. "We're
going to punish the children. I don't understand that at
PDF copy of the Inspector General's