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Federal Official Says Reading Commission Will Move Forward

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — February 01, 2008 3 min read
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The Commission on Reading Research will be appointed later this year, a U.S. Department of Education official said this week, easing concerns that the long-awaited review panel could be abandoned after years of planning.

In December, the Education Department halted a planned announcement of the 15-member commission after a lengthy recruitment process, saying it had not been decided whether the group would be formed.

“It’s gonna happen.We’re working very, very hard to get it done,” Troy R. Justesen, the assistant secretary for vocational and adult education, said this week. Mr. Justesen’s office oversees the National Institute for Literacy, a federal agency that began planning for the commission more than four years ago. After a series of stops and starts, the institute had reached agreements with 15 researchers and reading experts to serve on the panel.

Following a scheduled meeting with the institute’s advisory board here this week, Mr. Justesen said a need exists for a new analysis of research on effective reading instruction.

“A literature review is critical for us to know where we stand today and where there are gaps [in research] to help the field in answering questions” about effective reading instruction, he said.

The idea for the research commission came about shortly after the release of the landmark 2000 report of the National Reading Panel. While the panel’s work was widely praised, and it has strongly influenced state and federal policy in the subject, it included only quantitative studies that met strict criteria. Many experts in the field have noted a need for an updated review of new research and a wider array of studies. (“Plans for Federal Reading Panel Hit a New Roadblock,” Dec. 12, 2007.)

Ethics Review

Candidates for the panel must go through an additional ethics review, which includes a close examination of their financial statements, because of new Education Department requirements for federal panels that were prompted by a review of the Reading First program. In a series of reports on the federal reading program, the department’s inspector general highlighted potential conflicts of interest between federal officials and contractors and commercial publishers that benefited financially from the program. The inspector general recommended that the Education Department institute stringent conflict-of-interest standards for grant reviewers and contractors working on department projects.

The IG reports and subsequent congressional hearings and reviews cast a negative light on the administration of the program even amid reports from state and local officials of its benefits to participating schools.

The program suffered a more than 60 percent funding cut in the fiscal 2008 federal budget, dropping from $1 billion to $393 million.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings urged state education officials in a letter last month to look at other federal funding sources to continue bolstering reading instruction. The letter stated that local education agencies could use money under Title I for schoolwide programs, Title II for professional development, and Title III for English-language learners, as well as funding for intervention services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Funding Request

President Bush was expected to request that the funding be restored in 2009.

“The president is committed to ask for and get the full billion dollars for Reading First. It has been essential to the results you’ve seen here,” Ms. Spellings said at a press conference in Alabama this week.

She called Alabama a “national leader” in improving reading achievement, pointing to state results that show the state’s schools are making gains on reading achievement.

“The [fiscal 2008] budget was hugely bad news for Reading First, but the good news is the significant increase in Title I,” Ms. Spellings said.

Title I increased to $13.9 billion, or by 8.6 percent, over fiscal 2007. The letter to state officials, she added, “says let’s figure out a way we can bring two pots of money together so we don’t lose ground on Reading First.”

“We’re going to figure out how to use other resources to continue the commitment to Reading First.”

A version of this article appeared in the February 06, 2008 edition of Education Week as Federal Official Says Reading Commission Will Move Forward

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