Former ‘Reading First’ Adviser to Leave Federal Post
Edward J. Kame’enui, one of the subjects of a highly critical congressional report that questioned whether he had gained financially by promoting certain commercial products as a federal adviser to the Reading First program, will leave his current position at the Department of Education at the end of a two-year term next month, the agency announced last week.
While critics of the department’s handling of Reading First called the move an appropriate response to recent revelations about Mr. Kame’enui’s ties to publishers, and the real or perceived conflicts of interest in his promotion of his reading products, some expressed disappointment that his term would not be cut short, but would be allowed to expire.
“Why is Edward Kame’enui still working for taxpayers?” a headline on an education blog by Marc Dean Millot asked earlier this month. Mr. Millot is the founder of a consulting firm that provides research and analysis on the school improvement industry.
“Bottom line: While Kame’enui was working for the department as a key consultant on Reading First regulation and implementation—a matter that clearly required not only the reality of impartiality but the appearance of impartiality—he was also engaged in high-level lobbying on behalf of Pearson’s corporate position on Reading First,” the blog said.
Mr. Kame’enui will resign as the first commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research at the Institute of Education Sciences, which is a division of the department, at the end of June, the IES said in a May 16 statement.
He had been serving under a two-year agreement at the institute, which was set to expire at the end of next month, and he had already planned to leave the institute at that point, according to its spokesman, Mike Bowler. Mr. Kame’enui will return to his faculty position at the University of Oregon, in Eugene, the statement released by IES Director Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst said.
Controversy swirled over Mr. Kame’enui’s previous role as a technical-assistance adviser to the $1 billion-a-year Reading First program, which was established as part of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002 to improve reading instruction among disadvantaged low-achieving students in the early grades. A report released May 9 by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. , said that Mr. Kame’enui, while serving as a high-level federal adviser to states, was also under contract to the publishers of his early-reading program to promote the product. It is now widely used in Reading First schools.
During that time, Mr. Kame’enui was responsible for providing advice to states about the kinds of texts and assessments that would meet Reading First requirements. Between 2003 and 2006, he earned at least $150,000 a year in royalties and compensation from Pearson Scott Foresman, which publishes a textbook he wrote with another university professor, according to the congressional report.
Senate investigators described the financial gains of Mr. Kame’enui and three other researchers who served as regional service directors of Reading First. Overall, outside income “soared” for the researchers between 2001 and 2006, when they were serving as consultants to Reading First, according to the report released by Sen. Kennedy, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
Following that Senate report, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee, called on Mr. Kame’enui to resign. Rep. Miller said Mr. Kame’enui had been “less than candid” in earlier testimony before his committee in April, which explored alleged improprieties in the implementation of Reading First.
Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings was asked after a May 10 hearing by the House committee if she would ask Mr. Kame’enui to resign. “I don’t know,” the secretary responded. She made no mention at that time of any previous plans by Mr. Kame’enui to leave the department at the end of a two-year stint. ("Senate Report Cites ‘Reading First’ Conflicts," May 16, 2007.)
Mr. Kame’enui’s current supervisor, Mr. Whitehurst, praised his work at the Institute of Education Sciences, which oversees research on a broad range of school issues. Mr. Kame’enui helped arrange the staffing and organization and helped manage studies and grants at the National Center for Special Education Research, Mr. Whitehurst said. “These are significant accomplishments,” the IES chief said in his statement.
Mr. Kame’enui has been working at the institute for a two-year term under the federal Intergovernmental Personnel Act, which arranges partnerships between educational institutions and federal agencies, institute officials said.
Cindy Cupp, a Georgia-based reading-program publisher whose complaints about alleged conflicts of interest in Reading First helped spark investigations into the federal program, said she hoped the exposure given to Mr. Kame’enui’s activities would lead to stricter oversight of the program.
But she questioned why he was not asked to leave the department before the end of his term.
“It’s absurd that federal employees and consultants can have these kinds of ties to publishers,” she said. “What else does the secretary of education need to take action [against Mr. Kame’enui]? Congressional hearings are not enough, congressional reports are not enough, six inspector general’s reports are not enough, sworn testimony is not enough.”
Meanwhile, a Washington legal watchdog group has asked the Education Department’s inspector general to investigate the use of personal e-mails by department employees to conduct official government business.
In March, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, had requested the e-mail records of department employees under the federal Freedom of Information Act. In a discussion with department FOIA officers this month, the group was told that some federal employees may use their personal e-mail accounts for official business and that the department could not access those documents, according to a CREW press release. CREW claims that doing so may violate the Federal Records Act.
“The use of private e-mail accounts to conduct official department business raises serious concerns about the adequacy of department searches in response to FOIA requests,” the letter states.
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