Friday, May 2, 2008

"Reading First": Another $6 billion wasted by the Bush Administration

From today's NYT:
Reading Program Is Called Ineffective

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 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 law 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, even after federal investigators found extensive conflicts of interest among its top advisers.
I happen to know a little bit about teaching reading. Before I left teaching middle school I had met all the requirements to be certified as a "Reading Specialist," I just never applied for the certification before I decided to switch to teaching adults. And in the 6 short years that I taught kids, I can't even begin to tell you how many "new" reading programs were thrust upon us. And you know what never ceased to amaze me? There's nothing new about teaching reading. All these programs simply do is take a little of this and a little of that, call it something catchy, and put it in a shiny box. Oh yeah, and lobby the right people, the ones who run the budgets. Shall we count the programs?
  • Recipe for Reading
  • Wilson Reading
  • Orton-Gillingam
  • Success for All
Oh that's just a few. My reading teacher friends can fill in all the rest. In fact, one of my friends and I always said we should put together a "new" reading program so we could retire. Because in fact, there are elements of teaching reading that we have used as humans since the first symbols were scratched on the cave walls thousands of years ago. And the most useful element to teaching reading is the same as it always has been: access. Access to reading materials, access to teachers, access to time. So instead of spending $6 billion on a reading "program," as a one-size-fits-all way of teaching our kids, why not spend it on hiring more teachers? Building more schools? Buying more books for school libraries? Hiring more school librarians?

Why not? Because teachers and librarians are not Bush Administrations cronies, that's why. (Laura's brief career notwithstanding.) From Common Dreams, almost exactly one year ago:

A scathing report issued today documents “substantial financial ties” between key advisors of Reading First, a controversial federal reading grant program, and publishers who benefited from the program.

The report, issued by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, called the findings “troublesome because they diminish the integrity of the Reading First program.”

The Kennedy report centers on four directors of the Reading First Technical Assistance Centers, who, the report says, were highly influential in advising states on which reading programs to adopt in order to qualify for federal funds.

According to the report, the directors had “extensive ties with education publishers” at the same time they were responsible for evaluating other publishers’ programs. The report concluded that such ties may have “improperly influenced actions.”

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., has called for a criminal investigation of Reading First by the Justice Department. According to Miller, the conflicts of interest uncovered “raises questions about criminal activity and criminal intent about what a number of these players were doing.”

"No Child Left Behind" and all of the ridiculous scams associated with it need to be eliminated. End of story.


Sara said...

uh oh, Allan (special ed teacher and friend of Barbara Wilson) says the Wilson program is really great.

please advise...

Sue J said...

O.K., I did actually like the Wilson program, but it was just another in the string of programs we were asked to use. And while all of those programs I listed have great components to them, none of them fits every student. I bet Allan would agree with me on that.

My issue is with wasting $6 billion dollars -- that went to the pockets of Bush Administration --instead of letting the local school systems, who know their students best, use the money appropriately.

Cootamundra W said...

PTTC (Preaching to the choir) - It took alot of work for families to get appropriate public education for people with disabilities. Isn't that recognizing that individuals learn differently? So if everyone learns differently why would one-size-fit-all curriculum work for everyone?

G said...


Can we add to the list 9 Good Habits for All Readers, Soar to Success, The Houghton Mifflin series we used for a couple of years at enormous expense, and Fast Track? Book rooms in Balto Co (and doubtless many other counties) are packed with reading programs and series that we used and abandoned at an alarming rate. As a reading specialist, I am appalled at the process in place locally.

There are a few tenets of good reading instruction . Money ought to go to hiring teachers who know how to teach reading. Some of the phonics programs are a good place to start. After the phonics instruction, kids need books on their level in their school libraries and teachers who truly value reading and are willing to encourage reading by example. Throwing money at one program after another does not make our children readers. And spending money for programs espoused by the feds is like throwing it down a rat hole.

But, Sue, about that program you and I are going to create... .

donald said...

just another example that so much of the money thrown at educating children, is actually administered to death and little goes into the education itself.

the progam directors get their palms greased and your children suffer. sad really.

and then, there is the new math... ask sara how see feels about that one!

Sue J said...

Oh, G! How could I forget "Soar to Success"? (The 4-year program that was given a year and thrown out.)

phil_in_ny said...

It's almost comical. That money could have been put to better use, like maybe environmental causes or something to that effect.

Morgan said...

At least no one was killed with this money spent.

Sue J said...

To quote G's earlier comment:

Money ought to go to hiring teachers who know how to teach reading.

True, no one was killed, but by not effectively teaching our children to read, our society is headed down a very dangerous path.

Besides, don't forget that a lot of those students who can't read well end up in the only job that will take them without skills: on the front lines of the military.