Georgia education officials mismanaged several aspects of the federal Reading First program, a failing that resulted in confusion over policies and procedures, the hiring of underqualified grant reviewers, inconsistencies in how local grant proposals were reviewed, and the unfair treatment of some vendors, says a report released today by the inspector general’s office of the U.S. Department of Education.
Georgia has received more than $90 million from the $1 billion-a-year federal initiative, authorized under the No Child Left Behind Act to improve reading instruction in low-performing schools. But unlike in two previous reviews of state implementation of the program, in Wisconsin and New York, the inspector general did not recommend any penalties for Georgia or call for the return of any federal money.
The report, the fourth in a series of audits of Reading First conducted by the inspector general, confirms many of the complaints made by a Georgia publisher over the past several years, which were a catalyst for the federal investigation of the program.
“I described that this was happening in Georgia over a three-year period, and now the IG has confirmed it was happening,” said Cindy Cupp, the Savannah-based publisher of a reading series. “It’s too late to do anything about it now, and it appears no one is being held accountable or responsible for actions that not only in my opinion harmed a small publisher, but greatly restricted the textbook-selection process for teachers in the state.”
Ms. Cupp complained to the Georgia Department of Education early in the implementation of the program after local school officials said they could no longer use her program, Dr. Cupp Readers & Journal Writers, because grant reviewers indicated the program did not meet the requirements under Reading First for research-based instructional materials.
State officials told Ms. Cupp that her reading program would have to undergo a review by outside researchers before it could be approved for use in Reading First schools in Georgia, even though the state’s approved grant did not contain such a mandate. The inspector general’s report found that state education officials added the requirement, creating “the appearance of unfair treatment for some vendors to have to undergo additional requirements.”
Georgia officials also did not properly screen consultants they hired to review local grant proposals, the review found, and many did not meet the desired qualifications, such as having experience with scientifically based reading research or with reviewing reading texts.
Schools Chief Responds
Georgia officials disagreed with some of the findings of the inspector general, but said they would follow the report’s recommendations that they detail the program’s policies and procedures in writing. According to the report, Georgia’s policies were based primarily on the “memory of the Reading First staff.”
“We have already addressed many of the concerns raised by the auditors in their report, and there are some findings that we disagree with,” state schools Superintendent Kathy Cox said in a statement. “I am confident that Reading First has been implemented in Georgia with integrity and in compliance with federal regulations.”
The inspector general released a scathing report in September that suggested federal employees may have favored the use of some reading programs and methods over others, and may have overstepped their legal authority in dictating to states how to implement the program.
Two other reports—on state-level implementation of Reading First in Wisconsin and New York—have also been released. At least one other report, looking at issues with the program nationally, is due out shortly, as is a review of the program by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.