Federal File

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It's not uncommon for convention presenters to cancel their appearances. Schedules change, or professional and personal crises arise in the weeks before the event.

But leaders of the International Reading Association, which represents 80,000 educators and researchers, were miffed when five federal officials backed out of several high-profile sessions at the organization's annual meeting, to be held next week in San Francisco. They say the potential for conflict, rather than scheduling conflicts, may have motivated the decision to stay home.

Representatives of the Department of Education gave notice of the cancellations earlier this month, citing an overwhelming workload related to implementation of the Reading First initiative. Researchers who had been invited to join the agency officials in their sessions will not appear either.

But the Newark, Del.-based group took the decision as a slight to teachers in the trenches, who may view it as a "disregard of the profession," said IRA Executive Director Alan E. Farstrup.

More than 16,000 participants are expected this year.

Susan B. Neuman, the department's assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, said the intense effort she and staffers are putting into Reading First, authorized under the "No Child Left Behind Act" of 2001, made their attendance at the reading conference impossible.

"We've been working at warp speed making sure implementation of the law is done well," she said.

However, Mr. Farstrup suggested that perhaps the potential for disputes with conference participants who disagree with parts of the initiative—which calls for proven, research-based instructional approaches—may have been the primary deterrent.

But Ms. Neuman said the agency had sought a variety of perspectives as the law was being drafted. Now, she said, the debate is over, and it's time to carry out the law of the land.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Vol. 21, Issue 32, Page 31

Published in Print: April 24, 2002, as Federal File

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