Reading & Literacy

Reading First Schools: More Reading Going On, Study Finds

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — August 08, 2006 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Schools in the federal Reading First program dedicate more time to reading instruction and teacher professional development, and are more likely to use assessment data to inform teaching, than Title I schools that are not in the grant program, concludes a study on the $1 billion-a-year initiative.

The interim report of the Reading First Implementation Evaluation “absolutely corroborates what we’ve been seeing and hearing from schools: that real change in classroom practice is occurring,” said Sandi Jacobs, who helps administer the program as a senior education program specialist for the U.S. Department of Education.

According to the report, released last month, “the reading programs ... appear to be different in a variety of ways, including instructional time, resources, instructional planning and collaboration, use of assessments, and focus on the [essential] dimensions of reading instruction.”

“Reading First Implementation Evaluation: Interim Report” is available from the U.S. Department of Education.

The study was based on surveys of some 9,000 teachers, principals, and reading coaches in national representative samples of 1,100 Reading First schools and 541 Title I schools not in the program. All the schools in the study enroll large percentages of poor children, but not all the schools receive aid under Title I, the flagship federal program for disadvantaged students. Researchers for the Cambridge, Mass.-based Abt Associates, which conducted the study under contract with the Education Department, also relied on interviews and state descriptions of schools’ Reading First plans to review how the program is being carried out.

Demographic Similarities

The two groups of schools were demographically similar, but the Reading First schools were, on average, larger and had larger proportions of struggling readers among their K-3 students. A footnote in the report cautions that Reading First schools had to demonstrate their motivation to incorporate research-based practices before being awarded grants, a factor that could influence any instructional differences.

To this point, little information has been available about how the 4½-year-old program is working, although observers say Reading First schools and districts have reported anecdotal improvements in teachers’ knowledge and skills and students’ reading proficiency.

Some experts welcomed the study as positive feedback on a program that has been in the news more for its controversy than its role in improving instruction around the country.

“If teachers are doing what they say they’re doing, then this will be the greatest test to date on whether or not the model of reading (as delineated by the National Reading Panel) actually works to improve children’s achievement,” Susan B. Neuman, a reading researcher at the University of Michigan who oversaw the rollout of Reading First as the Education Department’s assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education during President Bush’s first term, wrote in an e-mail.

Alan E. Farstrup, the executive director of the Newark, Del.-based International Reading Association, agreed. “It’s encouraging, and now we’re waiting for the hard performance data that will show how it’s working,” he said of the study.

Awaiting Data

The program has been widely praised for providing needed resources for training teachers in how children learn to read and for purchasing instructional materials and support services. But it has been mired by complaints that federal employees and consultants pressured states into using specific commercial reading programs, assessments, and consultants. Investigations have been launched into those allegations. (“GAO to Probe Federal Plan for Reading,” Oct. 12, 2005.)

One of those who lodged a formal complaint questioned this latest study’s reliance on survey data, and the lack of information to gauge student achievement in Reading First schools.

“Teachers knew what they were supposed to say on a survey, and they said it,” Robert E. Slavin, the president of the Success for All Foundation, contended in an e-mail. Mr. Slavin has charged that Education Department officials undermined the Baltimore-based foundation’s ability to compete for Reading First funds by discouraging participating schools from using the organization’s well-respected whole-school-reform program.

The final implementation report, due next year, will look at student-achievement data at participating and nonparticipating schools through the 2006-07 school year.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the August 09, 2006 edition of Education Week as Reading First Schools: More Reading Going On, Study Finds


Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
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.
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

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 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
Reading & Literacy Opinion The Science of Reading Should Make Room for Skepticism (Just Not for Ignorance)
COVID-19 has provided us with a front-row seat to an underappreciated truth about science, writes Claude Goldenberg.
Claude Goldenberg
5 min read
Surreal Illustration of books flying through the air
Jorm Sangsorn/iStock
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.
Reading & Literacy Sponsor
Bring the Scripps National Spelling Bee to your classroom today
For nearly a century, the Scripps National Spelling Bee has inspired a love of learning in students across the country and around the world
Content provided by Scripps National Spelling Bee