To the Editor:
I don’t have words to express the outrage I feel in light of the U.S. Department of Education inspector general’s report on the Reading First program (“Scathing Report Casts Cloud Over ‘Reading First’,” Oct. 4, 2006). From the very beginning, I have suspected that this program was skewed toward texts favored by former federal reading czar G. Reid Lyon and his associates.
To people like Mr. Lyon and former Reading First director Christopher J. Doherty, the past few years must have brought fame and fortune. But to a teacher like me, they have meant working with “research based” materials that are not right for my students. Millions of children must be adversely affected by this.
The reading research was done on English-speaking children, but is prescribed for everyone. I teach second-language learners who must use textbooks designed for a different population. I’m supposed to give my English-learners text like this: “Peg Hen can get one kit in the tan van.” Next to it, there is a picture of a hen throwing a sack of something into a van. No English-speaker would ever refer to the sack as a “kit.” Such materials are not helpful to me or my students. I don’t believe any expert truly interested in helping children learn to read would approve of such vacuous text.
Surely Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and other leaders know that research in education must be taken with one huge grain of salt. There is probably one “scientifically based” method of teaching reading for every human being on Earth. That’s undoubtedly why Reading Recovery is so successful (and expensive): Teachers are trained to teach to the individual child’s strengths and weaknesses. Each child gets a lesson that is designed specifically for him or her. This program would be my choice, as a teacher of 42 years, if my district could afford it.
What makes this Reading First scandal so much worse is the fact that the e-mails exchanged by the people involved indicate they were well aware of their deceptive actions and motivations. The quality of their language shows readers whom the real “dirtbags”—to quote Mr. Doherty—are.
Linda Mele Johnson
Long Beach, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the October 25, 2006 edition of Education Week as Report on Reading First Outrages This Teacher