Reading & Literacy

Complaints Filed Against BIA Handling of Reading First

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — January 31, 2006 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Two Native American education consultants have complained to federal investigators that the Bureau of Indian Affairs failed to follow “Indian preference” guidelines in federal Reading First contracts.

The consultants claim that guidelines for applying for some of the BIA’s Reading First share of $27 million excluded the requisite set-aside for American Indian-owned businesses, and that non-Native American consultants and those with little experience working in BIA schools earned the lion’s share of the contracts for working with participating schools.

“We were approved [by the BIA as] Reading First contractors,” said Debra Bryan, a school counselor and education consultant from Tulsa, Okla. She and Nicole Bowman, both Native Americans, applied for numerous contracts under the BIA’s part of the Reading First initiative and were denied all but one relatively small training contract each, she said.

“We have worked almost exclusively with Native American children,” Ms. Bryan said, “and none of the other contractors ever stepped foot on a reservation or in an Indian school.”

The two have sent complaints to the inspector general’s office of the U.S. Department of Education, which is conducting an inquiry into Reading First contracts, Ms. Bowman said. Ms. Bryan and Ms. Bowman say they have been told that their complaints have been passed on to the inspector general of the U.S. Department of the Interior, the parent agency of the BIA.

Left Off List?

Under the federal Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, contracts or subcontracts with American Indian organizations or others that benefit Indians require “that, to the greatest extent feasible, preference and opportunities for training and employment in connection with the administration of such contracts” be given to Indian organizations and Indian-owned businesses.

The requirement applies to many BIA programs, but it was not included in the request for proposals for Reading First, a six-year, $6 billion provision of the No Child Left Behind Act. Contractors applying for grant money, however, are required to hire Native American subcontractors when possible.

Several unsuccessful attempts have been made in legislative proposals in Congress and in court cases to suspend the requirement in the past few years, and observers say the BIA has tried to limit the set-aside in contracting.

The Education Department has “no comment and no information on the complaint,” Elaine Quesinberry, a spokeswoman, wrote in a Jan. 25 e-mail. A BIA spokeswoman could not determine late last week if the grant was required to indicate “Indian preference.”

‘Minimal Work’

Ms. Bryan and Ms. Bowman were among about a dozen consultants certified by the Center for School Improvement, a division of the BIA’s Office of Indian Education Programs in Albuquerque, N.M., to work on the Reading First program. Providers were required to have considerable experience teaching reading to Native American students. Ms. Bowman’s consulting firm, based in Shawano, Wis., won approval to receive up to $500,000 of the grant money, she said, but ended up with only $6,000.

“We won through an open bid the right to be on that contract,” Ms. Bowman said. “We received minimal work [in schools] in 2003, minimal work in 2004, and no work in 2005.”

In an Oct. 2004 e-mail to Ms. Bryan, which she shared with Education Week, Lynann Barbero, the BIA’s acting Reading First coordinator, wrote that she was unaware that the contractors are Native Americans, and that decisions on contracts were made based on the quality of the proposals received.

A representative of the inspector general’s office at the Education Department would not comment on the issue, and all complaints to the office are deemed confidential.

The inspector general and the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, are both looking into complaints that some contractors and publishers were given unfair advantage in gaining Reading First money. (“Inspector General to Conduct Broad Audits of Reading First,” Nov. 9, 2005.)

Related Tags:

Events

English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
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
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

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

Reading & Literacy New Curriculum Review Gives Failing Marks to Two Popular Reading Programs
Two of the nation's most-used literacy programs are facing new criticism.
14 min read
EdReports Fountas and Pinnell 1004026742
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Reading & Literacy Spotlight Spotlight on Oral Language in Reading Instruction
This Spotlight will help you determine where your reading instruction may have holes and more.
Reading & Literacy Data More States Are Making the 'Science of Reading' a Policy Priority
Four states have passed laws requiring evidence-based instruction, and at least 18 are directing COVID relief funds to early reading.
4 min read
Getty Images
Getty Images
Reading & Literacy Popular Literacy Materials Get 'Science of Reading' Overhaul. But Will Teaching Change?
Lucy Calkins and Jennifer Serravallo are among those releasing updates that move away from unproven techniques like three-cueing.
18 min read
A book becomes an open doorway
iStock/Getty