Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Education

Is Reading First Working?

July 14, 2008 3 min read

The debate rages on over Reading First, with supporters trying to make their case for preserving the federal program, which they say is proving itself in higher test results, improved teacher knowledge, and support among educators. The critics are picking through the data and arguing that, at best, there is little evidence that it is effective, and, at worst, is promoting a low-level form of literacy in its skills-based approach.

Over at USAToday.com there are about 60 comments! to this story by Greg Toppo, arguing for and against and otherwise. And the debate continues among researchers like Reid Lyon and Stephen Krashen here andhere.

Patrick Riccards, a.k.a. Eduflack, who helped promote the work of the National Reading Panel and is a longtime fan of Reading First, continues to defend the program and scold some of its harsher critics here.

His posts on Reading First often conclude with: We know it works.

Well, I keep wondering how we know?

Riccards says its effectiveness is “evidenced by the growing number of statements from educators and from recent studies—such as those released last month by CEP—that demonstrate improvement. And RF offices in states from Idaho to Ohio to Alabama have added their voice to save the necessary program.”

I don’t think there is evidence that Reading First is ineffective, despite what some opponents say. If anything, there is a kind of “it can’t hurt” message in the data. Certainly teachers and administrators I’ve spoken with and visited over the last six years provide enthusiastic endorsement of an intensive and organized effort to improve reading instruction and monitor the results. And they feel more prepared than ever to implement just that.

I’m no researcher, and I admit that I could use a bit of tutoring, or more coffee, to absorb the findings of many of the research studies I read, but I haven’t really seen any rigorous evidence that Reading First is working overall. At least not the kind of evidence that I think would have satisfied the powers that be at the Ed Dept. and the NICHD when they were talking tough about the law’s requirements six years ago.

Sure, there are schools that have seen phenomenal results and serve as the poster children of the program. Those stories are pretty compelling and inspiring, but are they representative?

Most of the claims that I’ve seen are based on improved DIBELS scores, on self-reported state data that average results, and, of course, the folks who’ve told Margaret Spellings in her travels around the country how wonderful the program is.

In between his Reading First posts, Eduflack chastises Spellings for pointing to parent surveys in her defense of the D.C. voucher program.

“The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) found that parents of scholarship children express confidence that they will be better educated and even safer in their new schools,” Spellings said.

Eduflack finds that statement “downright funny, and quite a bit concerning.”

“In all of the discussions about scientifically based research, high-quality research, the medical model, double-blind studies, control groups, and the like,” he continues, “I don’t remember public opinion surveys meeting the IES standard for high-quality research. Parents feel better about their children because of vouchers? That’s a reason to direct millions in federal funding to the program?”

But that’s exactly the kind of evidence many of Reading First’s supporters are using to bolster their arguments. Teachers and administrators love it, they say.

All well and good, but hardly the kind of definitive results officials and lawmakers had called for.

Many observers thought the interim impact study released by IES would have provided deeper insights into what has and has not worked in the program. For the money that is being spent, perhaps a special trial study under NAEP, similar to the urban district assessments, would have been useful, or better analyses and comparisons of state data.

I wonder if more and better data would have mattered when push came to shove in the appropriations committees, which have led the death march for the program.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Branding Matters. Learn From the Pros Why and How
Learn directly from the pros why K-12 branding and marketing matters, and how to do it effectively.
Content provided by EdWeek Top School Jobs
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Join experts from Samsung and Boxlight to learn how to make learning more interactive from anywhere.
Content provided by Samsung
Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Special Education Teachers
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
BASE Program Site Director
Thornton, CO, US
Adams 12 Five Star Schools
Director of Information Technology
Montpelier, Vermont
Washington Central UUSD

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 13, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read