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Research Commissioner

Foorman Is Tapped for Education Dept. Job

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Just days before this week’s elections, the Department of Education named as its new research commissioner a scholar whose work has generated controversy among reading researchers.

Barbara R. Foorman, a professor of pediatrics and the director of the Center for Academic and Reading Skills at the University of Texas Houston Health Center, is a respected academician. But her appointment may rankle some reading researchers because her work has been closely tied to federal-level efforts to promote phonics-based approaches to reading over other instructional methods.

Given the criticism that’s expected to come, some observers asked why the department didn’t wait until after Nov. 2.

“Why not do it on Wednesday?” said James W. Kohlmoos, the executive director of the National Education Knowledge Industry Association, or NEKIA, a Washington trade group.

Ms. Foorman’s appointment was not formally announced. But David Thomas, a department spokesman, confirmed that Secretary of Education Rod Paige signed off on it on Oct. 27.

Ms. Foorman was unavailable for comment.

Mr. Kohlmoos, like others in the field, said he was happy to see the seat filled. The high-level post was created two years ago when the Institute of Education Sciences was established. No one had been named to fill it since then.

During her one-year appointment as research commissioner, Ms. Foorman will serve directly under the institute’s director, Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, in helping to set the department’s research standards and its study agendas.

The Texas researcher has done extensive work in reading, language development, spelling, phonemic awareness, and vocabulary. She also served on an influential National Academy of Sciences panel on preventing early reading problems.

“One concern is that, because she’s been associated with one particular point of view, she will succumb to political pressures from that side,” Mr. Kohlmoos said.

But Gerald R. Sroufe, the director of government relations for the American Educational Research Association, said he was less concerned about that possibility.

“One ought to look at her research and scholarship,” he said. “The fact that she’s connected to a phonetics approach is really not all that important.”

Vol. 24, Issue 10, Page 29

Published in Print: November 3, 2004, as Research Commissioner

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