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Experts on early-childhood education have been hoping the details of the proposals that won federal Early Reading First grants would offer valuable insight into what makes for high-quality literacy programs for young children.

But in a field that has struggled to share information among a disjointed assortment of thousands of day-care centers, preschools, and family-child-care settings, much of the information about why the 30 grantees' proposals were deemed superior will remain a secret, officials with the Department of Education said last week.

The department invoked an exemption under the federal Freedom of Information Act to withhold the notes and comments submitted by the panel that reviewed the applications and made recommendations.

Staff members of the Early Reading First program at the Education Department made copies of the more than 230 full applications for the $72 million in grants in response to a request by Education Week. Officials initially indicated that the reviewers' notes would be made available, though all information deemed "personal impressions" would be expunged, as allowed by the law. Department legal advisers, however, determined that all of the notes could be viewed as such, and the notes were not released.

The law and department policy "exempt from disclosure information that is part of the deliberative process, and allow officials to engage in frank and open discussion of issues, and to express their views, opinions, and recommendations without fear of outside pressure," according to a statement from department spokeswoman Melinda Malico.

The exemption, however, is discretionary, and thus an agency can choose to release such information.

Some experts in the field said keeping the information closed to the public runs counter to the program's vision of providing models of good curriculum, instruction, and professional development.

"I can't imagine there was anything so personal [in the comments] that it would be inappropriate to share," said Adele Robinson, the director of public policy and communications for the National Association for the Education of Young Children, based in Washington. "If we want a clearer sense of what the administration considers better approaches to [developing early-literacy skills] let's have an open and honest dialogue."

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Vol. 22, Issue 25, Page 28

Published in Print: March 5, 2003, as Federal File

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