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No Child Left Behind suggests the ravages of poverty can be overcome by vouchers, magnet schools, or more qualified teachers, along with more
testing for accountability.

Not so, say the experts, who equate poverty with gravity — it drags everything down. Read "The Elephant
in the Room"

by Jim Trelease.


Reading First: Unraveling the Web of special interests in the reading circleReading First: Unraveling the Web of special interests in the reading circle
report coverreport cover A collection 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.

Entry p. 2 p. 9 p. 10 p. 11

The most lethal blow to Reading First came from the government's own hand—
the Department of Education's research arm, delivered May 1, 2008, days after
Secty. Spellings had described Reading First as "highly effective."

An Initiative on Reading Is Rated Ineffective

By Sam Dillon, The New York Times, May 2, 2008

President Bush’s $1 billion a year initiative to teach reading to low-income children has not helped improve their reading comprehension, according to a Department of Education report released on Thursday.

“The Bush administration has put cronyism first and the reading skills of our children last."

The program, known as Reading First, drew on some of Mr. Bush’s educational experiences as Texas governor, and at his insistence Congress included it in the federal No Child Left Behind legislation that passed by bipartisan majorities in 2001. It has been a subject of dispute almost ever since, however, with the Bush administration and some state officials characterizing the program as beneficial for young students, and Congressional Democrats and federal investigators criticizing conflict of interest among its top advisers.

“Reading First did not improve students’ reading comprehension,” concluded the report, which was mandated by Congress and carried out by the Department of Education’s research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences. “The program did not increase the percentages of students in grades one, two or three whose reading comprehension scores were at or above grade level.”

The study, “Reading First Impact Study: Interim Report,” analyzes the performance of students in 12 states who were in grades one to three during the 2004-5 and 2005-6 school years. It is to be followed early in 2009 with a final report that will analyze additional follow-up data, the institute’s director, Grover J. Whitehurst said.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and President Bush have consistently extolled Reading First as a highly effective program. But last year, Congressional Democrats reduced financing for the program for this year by about 60 percent, to about $400 million from the $1 billion it had received in several previous years.
On Thursday, Ms. Spellings had no comment on the study. Amanda Farris, a deputy assistant secretary of education, said in a statement that Ms. Spellings planned to look at the study “to inform our efforts,” and would “look forward to reviewing the final report.”

Ms. Farris said that one of the consistent messages Ms. Spellings has heard from educators, principals and state administrators “is about the effectiveness of the Reading First program in their schools and their disappointment with Congress” for cutting its financing.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the education committee, and who has long criticized the program, said, “The Bush administration has put cronyism first and the reading skills of our children last, and this report shows the disturbing consequences.”

In 2006, John Higgins, the department’s inspector general, reported that federal officials and private contractors with ties to publishers had advised educators in several states to buy reading materials for the Reading First program from those publishers.

The Reading First director, Chris Doherty, resigned in 2006, days before the release of Mr. Higgins’s report, which disclosed a number of e-mail messages in which Mr. Doherty referred to contractors or educators who favored alternative curriculums seen as competitors to the Reading First approach as “dirtbags” who he said were “trying to crash our party.”

square-bullet   square-bullet   square-bullet   

Study: Reading First has little impact on kids' scores

Participants' skills on par with other students'

By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY, May 2, 2008

A $1-billion-a-year reading program that has been a pillar of the Bush administration's education plan doesn't have much impact on young people's reading skills, a long-awaited federal study shows.

The results, issued Thursday, could be a knockout punch for the 6-year-old Reading First program: Congress has already cut funding 60% after investigating whether top advisers improperly benefited from contracts for textbooks and testing materials they designed.

Advocates of Reading First, an integral part of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, have long said its emphasis on phonics, scripted instruction and detailed analyses of children's skills would raise reading achievement, especially among the low-income kids it targets.

However, the study by the U.S. Education Department's Institute of Education Sciences (IES) shows that children in schools getting Reading First funding had no better reading skills than those in schools that didn't get the funding.

The large-scale study looked at students in first through third grade from 2004 through 2006, IES Director Russ Whitehurst said.

On the positive side, the researchers found that Reading First teachers spent more time on phonics and other aspects of reading instruction that many experts now recommend — about 10 minutes more a day, or nearly an hour more a week.

"Teachers' behavior was changed," Whitehurst said.

Even so, for all their effort, the study shows, their students' reading scores on standardized tests were nearly identical to those of students in other schools. In many cases, they may have been using the same materials, but their teachers may not have received the same training.

"For all intents and purposes, the kids read at the same level in each grade," Whitehurst said.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said the report, "coupled with the scandals revealed last year, shows that we need to seriously re-examine this program and figure out how to make it work better for students."

Critics will most likely use the data to paint Reading First as an expensive failure, but Whitehurst said it may suggest that schools need to spend even more time on phonics and the like.

Whitehurst also noted that school districts may use up to 20% of their Reading First funding outside of Reading First schools to improve reading skills districtwide.

Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington think tank that supports Reading First, called the study poorly designed and "certainly not the last word" on Reading First's effectiveness. For one thing, he said, it looked at "lackluster" schools that barely qualified for grants.

Whitehurst said he stands by the research.

Thursday's results are from an interim study; a more complete analysis, which followed students through the 2006-07 school year, is expected in November. U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said Congress should wait until then before making decisions about the program. "Moving the needle on reading is a hard thing to do. … I don't think anyone's going to assert that the cure will be less focus and fewer resources."

PDF copy of the Inspector General's report:


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