To the Editor:
Education Week has stoked the scrutiny of Reading First into a major “scandal.” Both the news article “Reading Law Fails to Bring Innovations” (Dec. 13, 2006) and the Commentary by Marc Dean Millot, “‘Reading First-gate’” (Dec. 20, 2006) focus on the economics of Reading First. This so-called scandal continues to grow on misinformation. Even well-intentioned observers now condemn the program’s implementation based on hearsay.
Bring this controversy back to reality:
• The assessment by the U.S. Department of Education’s inspector general was prompted by publishers who have not benefited from Reading First’s six-year, $6 billion budget.
• Congress’ mandate was to implement instructional methods and materials with a scientifically researched foundation.
• The National Expert Review Panel for Reading First was “stacked” with experts in the area of scientific reading research, as mandated.
• The inspector general’s report specifically stated that Reading First managers avoided any economic conflicts of interest.
• Instructional materials to support the mandate of Reading First were rare when states’ proposals were submitted. Publishing an “innovative” core reading program takes years and a great deal of capital. These are only beginning to emerge.
• Although both the review panel and Reading First’s managers avoided making specific recommendations about materials, states’ proposals that included instructional methods or materials with no scientific research foundation had to be rejected in accordance with Congress’ mandate.
• Certain commercial programs that have solid evidence of effectiveness, one of which was a complainant prompting the inspector general’s investigation, were not widely selected. The inspector general’s report found no evidence that these programs were either promoted or discouraged by the National Expert Review Panel or the managers of Reading First.
Reading First is not about cashing in. Preliminary data suggest that the program is working. The scandal of Reading First may be that programs that are ideologically based, rather than scientifically based, may get a cut of the $6 billion, regardless of Congress’ intent and in disservice to the children being served.
Robert P. Marino
The writer was a member of the National Expert Review Panel for Reading First.
A version of this article appeared in the January 10, 2007 edition of Education Week as ‘Reading First’ Program Is Not About ‘Cashing In’