Reading & Literacy

National Reading Czar to Leave Public Sector

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — May 24, 2005 2 min read

G. Reid Lyon, the influential chief of the branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development that sponsors studies on reading and a key adviser on the federal Reading First initiative, has announced he will resign July 1.

Mr. Lyon, 55, confirmed in a May 24 e-mail to Education Week that he will work in the for-profit sector to set up a teacher education initiative. As senior vice president of research and evaluation for the Dallas-based Best Associates, Mr. Lyon will “be working with others to develop a National College of Education within the for-profit sector,” he wrote.

G. Reid Lyon

“I have decided to leave federal service after 14 years,” Mr. Lyon said. Noting that he had finished his part of a project for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the first lady’s office, Mr. Lyon wrote that he “felt the time was right for a change.”

Over much of the past decade, Mr. Lyon has helped shift the emphasis in reading instruction toward methods and materials that are deemed to have scientific evidence of their effectiveness. Some of the research sponsored by the child-development and human-behavior branch of the NICHD, which he has headed since 1996, has been used as a framework for determining the effectiveness of various approaches to teaching reading. His skill in promoting what he and supporters see as scientifically based reading instruction, along with the potential for policy to bring higher standards to instruction, also has helped shift the reading agenda once controlled by those in academe to Washington.

“Secretary [of Education Margaret] Spellings and I have worked with Reid for many years and have seen firsthand how he has tirelessly worked to improve educational outcomes for all children,” David Dunn, the U.S. Department of Education’s chief of staff, said in a statement May 24. “His contributions to research-based reading instruction have proven invaluable.”

‘Controversial Figure’

Mr. Lyon’s dogged campaign has drawn sharp criticism, however, from many researchers and other experts who complain that the former Army paratrooper has commandeered the debate over reading instruction, pushed out alternative opinions, and rewarded a small cadre of colleagues with like views. (“Select Group Ushers in Reading Policy,” Sept. 8, 2004.)

“Reid has been an influential and often-controversial figure in the conceptualization and implementation of No Child Left Behind,” said Alan E. Farstrup, the executive director of the Newark, Del.-based International Reading Association, in an interview. “His engagement with complex issues has generated both strong support and opposition.”

Best Associates is a merchant-banking firm that underwrites start-up companies, including education ventures. Randy Best, a founding partner, was the creator of Voyager Learning, a company that publishes commercial reading programs that have been approved for use in schools receiving federal funds under Reading First. The Voyager program, for example, was adopted for use in New York City schools that receive Reading First money after the district’s existing reading initiative was criticized by Mr. Lyon as not being explicit or systematic in its approach to teaching the subject.

Mr. Best sold Voyager Learning in February to ProQuest, a publisher based in Ann Arbor, Mich., for more than $340 million. He was named to the ProQuest board of directors in March.

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