[xmca] FW: Study: Bush's Reading First program ineffective

From: David H Kirshner <dkirsh who-is-at lsu.edu>
Date: Thu May 01 2008 - 14:43:33 PDT

Of possible interest:

-----Original Message-----
 From USA Today, Thursday, May 1, 2008. See
; see also
Study: Bush's Reading First program ineffective

By Greg Toppo

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 the
reading skills of the young students it's supposed to help, a
long-awaited federal study shows.

The results, issued Thursday, could serve as a knockout punch for the
6-year-old Reading First program - Congress has already slashed
funding 60%. Reading First last year was the subject of a
congressional investigation into whether top advisers improperly
benefited from contracts for textbooks and testing materials they
designed, and whether the advisers kept some textbook publishers from
qualifying for funding.

Advocates of Reading First, an integral part of the 2002 No Child
Left Behind law, have long maintained that its emphasis on phonics,
scripted instruction by teachers and regular, detailed analyses of
children's skills, would raise reading achievement, especially among
the low-income kids it targets. But the new study by the U.S.
Education Department's Institute of Education Sciences (IES) shows
that children in schools receiving Reading First funding had
virtually 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. For each of three samples, researchers
studied 30,000 to 40,000 students, says IES Director Russ Whitehurst.
"This is a big study."

On the plus side, researchers found that Reading First teachers spent
more time emphasizing phonics and other aspects of what many experts
consider solid instruction - about 10 minutes more a day, or nearly
an hour more a week. "Teachers' behavior was changed," Whitehurst

But for all their effort, the study shows, their students' reading
scores on standardized tests were nearly indistinguishable from 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

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

Congressional Democrats were quick to point out the program's ties to
President Bush. In a statement, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said
the Bush administration "has put cronyism first and the reading
skills of our children last and this report shows the disturbing
consequences. Instead of awarding scarce education dollars to reading
programs that make a difference for our children, the administration
chose to reward its friends instead."

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who presided over the April 2007
hearings, 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."

While critics will likely say the data portray Reading First as an
expensive failure, Whitehurst speculates that the study may simply
suggest that schools need to spend even more time on phonics and the

But he also notes that states that got Reading First money earlier in
the program's history actually got worse results than those that more
recently got their federal funding. The difference may be unrelated
to years spent in the program, Whitehurst says, as schools in more
recently funded states tend to spend more per student to implement
the program.

He also says school districts may have spread their cash thin - they
can use up to 20% of their Reading First funding outside of Reading
First schools to improve reading skills districtwide. Eligible
schools have high numbers of students from low-income families.

Education analyst Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a
Washington think tank that supports Reading First, says the study was
poorly designed and "certainly not the last word on Reading First's

For one thing, he says, researchers looked at "lackluster" Reading
First schools that just barely qualified for grants, comparing them
to schools that just barely missed getting grants.

Whitehurst stands by the research, saying researchers vetted the
schools in advance. "It's not a valid criticism."

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings had no immediate comment,
but in a statement, Amanda Farris, the deputy assistant secretary who
oversees Reading First, said Spellings consistently hears from
educators and administrators "about the effectiveness of the Reading
First program in their schools and their disappointment with Congress
for slashing Reading First funds."

"We know - and this IES study further proves - that Reading First
funding has an impact on teaching practices," she said.

Thursday's results are part of an interim study; a more complete
analysis that followed students through the 2006-2007 school year
could show more promising results when it's released in November.

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