Susan B. Neuman, a university researcher who has focused on the importance of providing books and other reading materials to children who live in poor neighborhoods, was chosen by President Bush last week for a top post at the Department of Education.
Ms. Neuman, 54, was tapped to be the department’s assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, a job that more typically has gone to a top school administrator. Ms. Neuman is a professor of education and the director of the Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
“I really hope to bring more of a research background to the job,” Ms. Neuman said in an interview. “I believe that research matters, that it can really make a difference.”
Ms. Neuman is perhaps best known for her work as a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, where she taught for 10 years. In several studies, she showed that children in poor neighborhoods have much less access to books, magazines, and newspapers in places like barbershops and day-care centers than do middle- class children.
She said she was most proud of her research showing that giving children five more books and reading to them frequently had a “dramatic” effect on boosting their academic achievement.
If she is confirmed by the Senate, Ms. Neuman will oversee an office with the largest amount of direct funding for federal programs to K-12 schools. Fourteen in all, they include Title I, class-size reduction, American Indian education, school repair and modernization, and reading-excellence programs.
Choice Draws Praise
Richard L. Allington, a professor of education at the University of Florida in Gainesville, called Ms. Neuman a “leading researcher” for her work on early-literacy programs.
The news of Ms. Neuman’s selection drew a favorable response from a range of education groups.
“We understand that she’s a respected researcher, and we hope that it’s a demonstration of the Bush administration’s commitment to the many programs under her portfolio,” said Alex Wohl, the director of public relations for the American Federation of Teachers.
The International Reading Association, based in Newark, Del., hailed Ms. Neuman’s selection. She currently serves as a member of the group’s board of directors.
“Susan Neuman has the understanding and expertise to inform the debate on closing the achievement gap between students from affluent backgrounds and those living in poverty,” the group’s leaders said in a prepared statement.
A version of this article appeared in the March 28, 2001 edition of Education Week as Bush Selects Reading Researcher For Ed. Department Post