Reading & Literacy

Senate Report Cites ‘Reading First’ Conflicts

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — May 15, 2007 6 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE

A federal official gained significant financial benefit from a commercial reading program he wrote, which he actively promoted while serving as a high-level adviser to states during the implementation of the Reading First program, a Senate report said last week.

The official, Edward J. Kame’enui, may have misrepresented those details when he testified under oath before a congressional committee last month, according to the preliminary results of a Senate education committee investigation.

Mr. Kame’enui, who is now serving as the commissioner for special education research at the U.S. Department of Education, had close ties to publishing companies that were competing for business among schools and districts participating in the $1 billion-a-year reading initiative, concludes the report. It was released May 9 by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

Secretary Spellings’ sent a letter May 11, the day after she appeared before the House Education and Labor Committee, to George Miller, D-Calif., and other House and Senate education leaders, urging them to not let the investigation derail the committee’s work on reauthorization of NCLB.

At a House hearing on Reading First and student loans last week, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said she was “deeply concerned” by the Senate report and was “vigorously” investigating the allegations.

When asked after the May 10 hearing if she would ask for Mr. Kame’enui’s resignation, she answered, “I don’t know.”

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said Mr. Kame’enui should resign.

“His testimony [of April 20] was less than candid … and the conflicts are there,” Mr. Miller told reporters after last week’s hearing by his committee. The secretary shouldn’t “keep employing people who have acted on their conflicts contrary to the interests of the department,” he said.

The Senate report describes the financial gains and contracts of Mr. Kame’enui and three other researchers who served as directors of the regional technical-assistance centers for Reading First during the rollout of the 5-year-old program.

“The committee’s investigation revealed that four [technical-assistance-center directors] had substantial financial ties with various education publishers during the time they were under contract or subcontract with the department for the Reading First program,” the report says.

Last month, Sen. Kennedy issued formal requests for documents from a number of Reading First contractors, including Douglas Carnine and Mr. Kame’enui from the University of Oregon, Joseph Torgesen of Florida State University, and Sharon Vaughn of the University of Texas at Austin. They served as directors of three regional technical-assistance centers that provided advice to states on meeting the grant program’s strict guidelines.

Outside income from publishing agreements “soared” for the researchers between 2001 and 2006 when they were serving as consultants to Reading First, the report says, based on documents gathered by the Senate committee.

Lucrative Contracts

Income for Mr. Kame’enui and Ms. Vaughn, in particular, jumped significantly during implementation of Reading First at a time when they provided advice to states on the kinds of texts and assessments that would meet the program’s requirements.

Between 2003 and 2006, for example, the Senate report says, Mr. Kame’enui earned some $150,000 a year or more in royalties and compensation from Pearson Scott Foresman, which publishes Early Reading Intervention, a textbook he wrote with former University of Oregon professor Deborah C. Simmons. He also received consulting fees in excess of $100,000 total from his work designing Voyager Expanded Learning, a reading program that experienced rapid success over the past several years. He helped Ms. Vaughn secure contracts with Scott Foresman and Best Associates, which published the Voyager program, that have earned her some $500,000 in royalties since 2001, according to the report.

Those agreements had nothing to do with her work on Reading First, Ms. Vaughn said in an interview, and had been vetted for possible conflicts of interest by University of Texas officials.

Rep. George Miller, on TV screen, addresses Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, right, at a House education committee hearing on the Reading First program and student loans.

Mr. Carnine has also drawn considerable profits from the sale of textbooks he has written, about $750,000. But the textbooks are primarily for the college market and in other subject areas.

Mr. Torgesen was also on contract as a member of the Voyager design team, but he wrote in a 2003 e-mail to his colleagues that he was resigning because of his concerns that the arrangement posed a conflict of interest with his other work. At the time, he was the director of the Eastern regional-assistance center at Florida State. In a statement, Mr. Torgesen said that he received relatively small amounts of royalty income—stipends of $1,000 to $3,000 and then $20,000 from Voyager, coming to about $50,000 over five years—from his publishing contracts.

Mr. Kame’enui is on leave from the University of Oregon while he serves as the commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research, an arm of the Department of Education. He testified at a contentious hearing before the House education committee April 20 that there were no “real conflicts of interest” among him and his colleagues who served as advisers on Reading First. (“House Panel Grills Witnesses on Reading First,” April 25, 2007.)

He told the House panel that he had never promoted his reading text, but the Senate report documents numerous occasions on which he spoke at conferences and training events at the request of the publisher.

He also said in his testimony that he had not known that his textbook was being packaged with a reading assessment that is widely used in Reading First schools. The Senate report, however, includes excerpts from e-mails in which he discusses the possibility of marketing the two products together.

The Education Department would not make Mr. Kame’enui available for response last week.

“The Department is deeply concerned about conflicts of interest and takes the allegations contained in Senator Kennedy’s report very seriously,” Education Department spokeswoman Katherine McKlane said in a statement. “We are studying this report to determine if further actions are necessary and will act aggressively if any wrongdoing is found.”

Oversight Failures’

At last week’s hearing, House Republicans lauded Secretary Spelling for making administrative changes to the Reading First program that the Education Department’s inspector general recommended in a report last fall.

“We all are in agreement that Reading First is a successful and worthy program,” Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, the senior Republican member of the panel, said in his opening statement. “Now, we must take the initiative to change the law accordingly to ensure past instances of mismanagement never repeat themselves again.”

But Chairman Miller had harsh words for the department’s management of the reading initiative, as well as the federal student-loan program, which was the main focus of questions addressed to the secretary during the House hearing.

“When I look at the whole body of evidence that has been amassed about both the student-loan and Reading First programs, it is clear that—at a minimum—the Education Department’s oversight failures have been monumental,” Rep. Miller said.

The initiative to improve reading instruction in the nation’s low-performing schools—adopted as part of the No Child Left Behind Act—has come under growing scrutiny since the release of a series of reports suggesting that federal officials and their consultants appeared to favor some commercial reading programs over others and may have overstepped legal prohibitions against federal influence on state and local decisionmaking on curriculum issues.

Associate Editor David J. Hoff contributed to this report.
A version of this article appeared in the May 16, 2007 edition of Education Week as Senate Report Cites ‘Reading First’ Conflicts

Events

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
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
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
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Strategies & Tips for Complex Decision-Making
Schools are working through the most disruptive period in the history of modern education, facing a pandemic, economic problems, social justice issues, and rapid technological change all at once. But even after the pandemic ends,

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 Spotlight Spotlight on Blended Learning With A Literacy Focus
In this Spotlight, discover the successes of blended learning and more.
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
Reading & Literacy Whitepaper
Engage Students with Independent Reading & Choice
This report reviews critical research about the many ways independent reading benefits literacy development and the key qualities of an e...
Content provided by Scholastic
Reading & Literacy Opinion Science of Reading Advocates Have a Messaging Problem
Invoking science isn’t all it takes to be credible, especially on a debate as charged as literacy education, writes Claude Goldenberg.
Claude Goldenberg
5 min read
Tiny boy and girl stand on wide road in front keyhole entrance in book to narrower way
Tetiana5/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Reading & Literacy Spotlight Spotlight on What We Now Know: Literacy
In this Spotlight, review ways students can be supported; evaluate the struggles often seen when tech intertwines with literacy and more.