Federal

Senate Report Details ‘Reading First’ Conflicts of Interest

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — May 09, 2007 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A new congressional report suggests that at least one former Reading First consultant actively pushed his own commercial products while serving as a key adviser to states on applying for the reading grants, contrary to his testimony last month at a federal hearing.

The report released today by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee includes financial statements of that consultant, Edward J. Kame’enui, and his counterparts at the U.S. Department of Education’s regional technical-assistance centers, as well as the details of some contracts between the consultants and commercial publishers.

“The committee’s investigation revealed that four [technical-assistance-center directors] had substantial financial ties with various education publishers during the time they were under contract or subcontract with the department for the Reading First program,” said the report, released by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the education committee.

Last month, Sen. Kennedy issued formal requests for documents from a number of Reading First contractors, including those who served as directors of three regional technical-assistance centers that provided advice to states on meeting the grant program’s strict guidelines.

The report details the financial ties of the former directors of those centers: Douglas Carnine and Mr. Kame’enui from the University of Oregon; Joseph Torgesen at Florida State University; and Sharon Vaughn at the University of Texas at Austin.

Mr. Kame’enui is currently on leave from his university while he serves as the commissioner for the National Center for Special Education Research at the Department of Education. He testified at a contentious hearing before the House education committee last month that there were no “real conflicts of interest” among him and his colleagues who served as advisers on Reading First. He also said that he never promoted the products he had written.

Yet the Senate report highlights e-mail exchanges among Mr. Kame’enui and a representative of Pearson Scott Foresman, which publishes his reading intervention program, that suggest they collaborated to influence a top Education Department official’s view of the text. After a meeting between the official and the publisher, Mr. Kame’enui wrote that “Pearson is in a favorable position to exact influence” with the official.

The meeting in June 2002 was during the grant-review process for Reading First.

“Dr. Kame’enui acted and lobbied on behalf of Scott Foresman, from whom he was receiving compensation, while he was the team leader of the Reading First assessment committee and as director of the Reading First Western Technical Assistance Center,” the Senate report says. “Throughout his tenure as director, … Dr. Kame’enui continued to attend and present at various reading conferences and meetings on Scott Foresman’s behalf,” it says.

The Early Intervention Reading program that he co-wrote with Deborah C. Simmons, a former education professor at the University of Oregon, is widely used in Reading First schools.

‘Always Forthcoming’

The inspector general of the Education Department concluded in February in the final of six reports on Reading First that the program’s primary contractor, RMC Research Corp., did not properly screen its subcontractors for conflicts of interest. The Portsmouth, N.H.-based research company managed the technical-assistance centers under a $37 million federal contract.

“I find it very disappointing to think that these activities were going on for four years and no one at the Department of Education took the time to follow through not only with publisher complaints, but with complaints from school systems,” said Cindy Cupp, the publisher of a reading program who registered complaints that led to inquiries by the inspector general and the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

Those reviews generally supported her claims that federal officials charged with implementing the $1 billion-a-year Reading First program favored certain commercial programs and worked to prohibit the use of others. The No Child Left Behind Act, which authorized the reading initiative, prohibits federal officials from directing states toward specific curricula, assessments, or instructional approaches. Ms. Vaughn said in an interview that her outside ventures were vetted by the University of Texas for conflicts of interest.

“I have always been forthcoming about my outside sources of income, and at no time was I influenced by any financial relationships with publishers, nor were these relationships relevant to Reading First during my tenure as director” of the regional technical-assistance center, she said.

Mr. Carnine, the author of college textbooks and middle and high school instructional programs in several subjects, said he does not receive any royalties from publishers of K-3 reading programs. Mr. Torgesen did not respond to a request for comment. The Education Department did not respond to a request for an interview with Mr. Kame’enui.

Events

School Climate & Safety K-12 Essentials Forum Strengthen Students’ Connections to School
Join this free event to learn how schools are creating the space for students to form strong bonds with each other and trusted adults.
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
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Creating Confident Readers: Why Differentiated Instruction is Equitable Instruction
Join us as we break down how differentiated instruction can advance your school’s literacy and equity goals.
Content provided by Lexia Learning
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
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
Future-Proofing Your School's Tech Ecosystem: Strategies for Asset Tracking, Sustainability, and Budget Optimization
Gain actionable insights into effective asset management, budget optimization, and sustainable IT practices.
Content provided by Follett Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal K-12 Leaders Denounce Antisemitism But Reject That It's Rampant in Schools
Three school district leaders said they're committed to rooting out antisemitism during a hearing in Congress.
6 min read
From left, David Banks, chancellor of New York Public schools, speaks next to Karla Silvestre, President of the Montgomery Count (Md.) Board of Education, Emerson Sykes, Staff Attorney with the ACLU, and Enikia Ford Morthel, Superintendent of the Berkeley United School District, during a hearing on antisemitism in K-12 public schools, at the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, on May 8, 2024, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
From left, David Banks, chancellor of New York City schools, speaks next to Karla Silvestre, president of the Montgomery County, Md., school board; Emerson Sykes, staff attorney with the ACLU; and Enikia Ford Morthel, superintendent of the Berkeley Unified school district in Berkeley, Calif., during a hearing on antisemitism in K-12 public schools, at the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, on May 8, 2024, in Washington.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Federal Miguel Cardona in the Hot Seat: 4 Takeaways From a Contentious House Hearing
FAFSA, rising antisemitism, and Title IX dominated questioning at a U.S. House hearing with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.
6 min read
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona testifies during a House Committee on Education and Workforce hearing on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, May 7, 2024, in Washington.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona testifies during a House Committee on Education and Workforce hearing on Capitol Hill on May 7 in Washington.
Mariam Zuhaib/AP
Federal Arming Teachers Could Cause 'Accidents and More Tragedy,' Miguel Cardona Says
"This is not in my opinion a smart option,” the education secretary said at an EdWeek event.
4 min read
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona speaks during Education Week’s 2024 Leadership Symposium at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Va., on May 2, 2024.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona speaks during Education Week’s 2024 Leadership Symposium at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Va., on May 2, 2024.
Sam Mallon/Education Week
Federal Opinion Should Migrant Families Pay Tuition for Public School?
The answer must reflect an outlook that is pro-immigration, pro-compassion, and pro-law and order, writes Michael J. Petrilli.
Michael J. Petrilli
4 min read
Image of a pencil holder filled with a variety of colored pencils that match the background with international flags.
Laura Baker/Education Week via Canva