Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Federal

Draft Literacy Bill Would Boost Funds for Older Students

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 15, 2009 7 min read

A draft of a bill that some members of the U.S. Senate hope to introduce this summer would replace three federal reading programs, including Reading First, and authorize nearly a fivefold increase in the amount of money the federal government provides for literacy in grades 4-12.

The draft calls for providing funds for literacy programs along a continuum from birth to grade 12.

Meanwhile, several members of the U.S. House of Representatives are crafting a literacy bill that has components similar to the Senate measure, according to Lara Cottingham, a spokeswoman for Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., who expects to be a sponsor.

The Senate draft bill is “an opportunity to put the country on the right path for having a comprehensive literacy plan,” said Andres Henriquez, the program officer and manager of the adolescent-literacy project of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The philanthropy is a big funder of research in adolescent literacy and efforts by national organizations to support state and federal policy in that area. (Carnegie also underwrites coverage of new routes to colleges and careers in Education Week.)

Carnegie has been working for many years “to get adolescent literacy on the nation’s agenda,” said Mr. Henriquez, “and I believe it has arrived.”

Slicing the Funding Pie

The Washington-based Alliance for Excellent Education, a grantee of Carnegie, is among the groups that have pushed for an increased national focus on adolescent literacy. “We wanted to make sure through funding that the higher grades weren’t given the short shrift they have had in the past,” said Jamie P. Fasteau, the vice president for federal advocacy for the alliance, referring to discussions her organization has had with congressional aides.

The Senate proposal would authorize $2.4 billion annually for literacy for five years, with 10 percent of the money slated for pre-K programs, 35 percent for K-3 programs (the same grade span covered by Reading First), and half for literacy efforts in grades 4-12. An additional 5 percent would go to state activities, such as providing technical assistance. Currently, Washington provides $35 million for adolescent literacy through its Striving Readers program. If the draft bill were to become law, literacy efforts in grades 4-12 would get a huge boost in federal funds.

Senators on both sides of the aisle support authorization of funds along a continuum and funding for adolescent literacy, but they don’t agree on what proportion of the funds should be appropriated for efforts beyond grade 3.

“In the past, Congress has invested in early literacy on the assumption that it would take care of students’ needs,” said a Democratic Senate aide. “But research shows that is not the case.” She said the federal government needs to support literacy well beyond 3rd grade to ensure students can read well enough to absorb “high-level academic content.”

Members of Congress hope to have the House and Senate versions of the literacy bill match each other before they are introduced, the aide said. They might be introduced as stand-alone bills, but the intent is to make them part of the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, she said.

A GOP Senate aide said the draft bill gives grades 4-12 too large a share of the proposed funds. She suspects it won’t be fully funded at $2.4 billion, and said she is concerned that reading programs for students in K-3 could end up with even less funding than they received under Reading First, which she thinks would be a mistake.

“The allocation of the resources is a bit puzzling for us,” the aide said. “The earlier you can get proper literacy skills to these students, the better they are in the long run.”

Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who sponsored the Striving Readers legislation, are expected to introduce the literacy bill. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the Senate education committee, is also expected to be a sponsor. On the House side, Rep. Polis is writing the bill with Rep. Todd R. Platts, R-Pa., and Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky.

Writing Included

The price tag of $2.4 billion would more than double the amount of funds that went to literacy each year while President George W. Bush was in office. Reading First, the flagship reading program during the Bush administration, received zero funds for 2009 and would get nothing in President Barack Obama’s proposed fiscal 2010 budget, but it was once funded at $1 billion per year. In fiscal 2009, Early Reading First for preschoolers is slated to receive $112 million and Striving Readers, $35 million.

The Obama administration is proposing that $370 million be spent on literacy in grades K-12 in fiscal 2010.

Aside from the emphasis on adolescent literacy, the Senate draft bill differs from current federal legislation in stressing writing as well as reading and for drawing attention to the needs of English-language learners.

But overall, reading experts observed, the draft bill borrows heavily from language in the No Child Left Behind Act that authorizes the reading programs currently in place: Early Reading First, Reading First, and Striving Readers.

Two reading researchers said they see a lot to like in the bill, but they also made recommendations for improvements.

Timothy Shanahan, a professor of urban education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said he favors the boost in funding for grades 4-12 and for school literacy programs in general. “It should mean that more schools could participate, which is a good thing,” he said.

But he said the draft bill reflects some changes in wording from Reading First legislation that aren’t an improvement, because the new wording won’t be well understood by most teachers. The new wording requires K-3 programs to provide “strategic and explicit instruction using phonological awareness, phonic decoding, vocabulary, language structure, and meaning in context.” Mr. Shanahan pointed out that “language structure” and “meaning in context” replace the words “reading fluency” and “reading comprehension” in Reading First.

One of the Senate aides said the replacements were made to reflect the latest terminology that educators are using.

But Mr. Shanahan said the terminology in Reading First would be more familiar to and better understood by teachers.

Russell Gersten, the executive director of the Instructional Research Group, an educational research institute in Los Alamitos, Calif., said he, too, likes the bill’s emphasis on adolescent literacy, because “that’s where the heavy lifting needs to be, and there has not been much attention until recently.”

At the same time, he said he’s concerned that “the knowledge base is so thin in most of these areas, and we are scaling it up based on hopes, wishes, and theories.”

For example, Mr. Gersten said, educators are using some promising approaches to improve literacy in the middle grades, but “a lot of these ideas will not pan out.”

He said he’d like to see the bill require states to give priority to requests for funding in which evaluation is built into literacy programs. He said it should be focused on such key topics as building students’ academic language.

Currently, the bill calls for providing funds to recipients to collect and report data on students’ progress and participate in a five-year national study of literacy efforts.

No Personal Gains

Richard M. Long, the director of government relations for the International Reading Association, says his Newark, Del.-based group likes the bill’s emphasis on staff development and writing instruction.

Mariana Haynes, the director of research for the National Association of State Boards of Education, said she’s pleased the bill includes language intended to avoid conflicts of interest concerning districts’ selection of reading products.

The Reading First program became mired in controversy over allegations that consultants benefited from sales of certain commercial reading products that they promoted to states.

The draft literacy bill states that the U.S. secretary of education “shall ensure that members of the peer-review panel do not stand to benefit financially from grants awarded under this act.” It makes a similar statement about members of state literacy-leadership teams.

Jack Jennings, the president and chief executive officer of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based research and advocacy group, said any federal reading program is successful only if it influences how states and districts spend funds other than what is appropriated in literacy legislation.

“Lawmakers won’t be able to get enough money in a reading program to stand alone,” he said. “It has to be a program that influences a wider practice, professional development for teachers. It has to be a precipitator, a change agent.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the June 17, 2009 edition of Education Week as Draft Literacy Bill Would Boost Funds For Older Students

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Branding Matters. Learn From the Pros Why and How
Learn directly from the pros why K-12 branding and marketing matters, and how to do it effectively.
Content provided by EdWeek Top School Jobs
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Join experts from Samsung and Boxlight to learn how to make learning more interactive from anywhere.
Content provided by Samsung
Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Project Manager (Contractor)
United States
K12 Inc.
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Special Education Teacher
Chicago, Illinois
JCFS Chicago
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

Federal Biden Signs Executive Order to Boost Food Benefits for Children Missing School Meals
The order is designed to extend nutritional benefits that his administration says would benefit children.
2 min read
The Washington family receives free meals at Dillard High School amid the virus outbreak and school closings on March 16, 2020, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
A family receives free meals at Dillard High School amid the coronavirus outbreak and school closings on March 16, 2020, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Brynn Anderson/AP
Federal How Biden's Data Mandate Could Help Schools Navigate the COVID-19 Crisis
An executive order directs the Education Department to collect data on issues like whether schools offer in-person learning.
4 min read
President Joe Biden signs executive orders after speaking about the coronavirus, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, right, in the State Dinning Room of the White House, on Jan. 21, 2021, in Washington.
President Joe Biden signs executive orders after speaking about the coronavirus, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, right, at the White House, on Jan. 21.
Alex Brandon/AP
Federal Early Education Department Appointees Have Links to Jill Biden, Teachers' Unions
President Joe Biden's 12 appointments have links to the players who could exert the most influence on the new administration's K-12 policy.
4 min read
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden hug as they arrive at the North Portico of the White House on Jan. 20, 2021.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden hug as they arrive at the North Portico of the White House on inauguration day.
Alex Brandon/AP
Federal Biden Launches New Strategy to Combat COVID-19, Reopen Schools
The president plans a more centralized strategy that includes broader vaccine efforts, more data on the pandemic, and new school guidance.
5 min read
Public School 95 in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn is one of many schools in New York ordered to close due to a flare-up of coronavirus cases in the area on Oct. 5, 2020.
Public School 95 in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn is one of many schools in New York ordered to close due to a flare-up of coronavirus cases in the area on Oct. 5, 2020.
Kathy Willens/AP