Federal Federal File

Not for Publication

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 30, 2005 1 min read

The Department of Education has spent $1.8 million for a panel of researchers to analyze studies on how English-language learners develop literacy, but has decided not to publish the resulting report.

Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, the director of the department’s Institute of Education Sciences, said the report didn’t stand up well in a peer review.

But Timothy Shanahan, the chairman of the National Literacy Panel, the committee of 13 researchers that studied the issue, said he thought the report’s problems were fixable.

“I buy that it isn’t necessarily ready in its present form,” said Mr. Shanahan, a professor of urban education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Do I think it could be made ready through revisions? Yes.”

Mr. Whitehurst said that the eight reviewers of the report, who were assured of anonymity by the Education Department, found substantial problems when they reviewed the report both a year ago and in July.

“What we got was a report that would be a useful work on the bookshelf of researchers who spend all their time on this topic, but it was too long and inaccessible to be useful to practitioners,” Mr. Whitehurst said.

Besides being unwieldy, Mr. Whitehurst said, “the rules used to select studies and draw conclusions from studies weren’t consistent from chapter to chapter.”

The 600-page report contains at least one finding that is considered controversial: Bilingual education methods, it says, are more effective than English-only methods with English-language learners.

Mr. Whitehurst said the report’s findings weren’t an issue in the decision not to publish it.

Referring to the report’s conclusion that bilingual education programs have an edge over English-only programs, he said: “The quality of the research was mismatched with the strength of the assertion.”

Mr. Whitehurst has promised to turn the copyright for the report over to SRI International, the contractor for the project. Diane August, the principal investigator for the report and a researcher for the Washington-based Center for Applied Linguistics, said she hopes to find a publisher for the report. The Center for Applied Linguistics is a subcontractor to SRI for the project.

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