Reading & Literacy

Tutoring Program Found Effective, Despite Cold Shoulder Under Reading First

By Debra Viadero & Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — March 20, 2007 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Reading Recovery, a popular tutoring program for struggling 1st grade readers that has been a target of criticism in recent years from the Bush administration, has received a rare thumbs-up rating from the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse.

The positive rating comes after prominent researchers and federal reading officials sought to keep states from using money from the federal Reading First program to pay for Reading Recovery. They had argued in e-mail messages, letters, and in conversations with state reading officials that the program lacked a scientific research base attesting to its effectiveness.

“I think this is good news for all the school superintendents who kept Reading Recovery alive in their schools,” said Jady Johnson, the executive director of the Reading Recovery Council of North America, a nonprofit group based in Worthington, Ohio. “I’m hoping this report will signal a change in direction for the department.”

Imported to the United States from New Zealand in 1984, Reading Recovery is an intensive, one-to-one tutoring program that targets the lowest-achieving 1st graders. It is used by more than 100,000 students a year in 7,500 schools across the country, according to the council.

In the What Works review, which was posted online yesterday afternoon, the clearinghouse found that the program had “positive” effects—the highest evidence rating possible—on students’ alphabetic skills and general reading achievement. The reviewers also determined that the program had “potentially positive” effects, the next-highest rating, on students’ reading fluency and comprehension.

That’s high praise from the clearinghouse, which critics have dubbed the “nothing works” clearinghouse because so few education studies have met its strict standards of evidence.

For the Reading Recovery review, analysts reviewed 78 studies and found five that met the What Works criteria to one degree or another. Most of the five studies, which involved a total of 700 students, were experiments in which groups of students were randomly assigned to either a Reading Recovery group or a comparison group.

“Our job is not to weigh in on whether Reading First had the right curricula or not in the programs that districts have chosen,” said Phoebe H. Cottingham, the commissioner of the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, which oversees the clearinghouse. “We’re simply giving people research facts so they can decide on their own how much weight they want to put on the findings and make their own judgments.”

Participation Slips

The review by the clearinghouse is not the first report from the Education Department to prompt questions, indirectly or directly, about the department’s handling of the $1 billion-a-year Reading First program.

A scathing report issued last fall—the first of six conducted in a broad review by the department’s inspector general—determined that federal officials had steered the grant-application process to ensure that particular reading programs were widely used by schools. At the same time, the Sept. 22 report found, those officials also actively worked to shut out other programs, such as Reading Recovery, despite their research track records. Reading Recovery was one of three organizations whose complaints to the inspector general prompted the inquiry.

In May 2002, a group of reading researchers also launched a campaign against the one-on-one tutoring program, outlining in a three-page paper arguments against allowing use of the program in Reading First schools. The researchers questioned the program’s effectiveness and what they saw as its high cost. They offered summaries of studies on Reading Recovery that proved, they contended, that “it is not successful with its targeted student population, the lowest-performing students.”

Among the 31 researchers who signed the statement were several who served as advisers to the Education Department on Reading First. They included Sharon Vaughn, who became the director of the Reading First technical-assistance center for the central region, based at the University of Texas at Austin.

According to Reading Recovery’s Ms. Johnson, the negative publicity and the department’s efforts made a sizable dent in the popularity of the program. The number of students participating, she said, dropped from 159,000 a year in 2002 to around 109,000 four years later.

Related Tags:

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


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.
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
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.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
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.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

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 Literacy in Education
In this Spotlight, evaluate the possible gaps your current curriculum may have and gain insights from the front-lines of teaching.
Reading & Literacy Opinion Teachers, More Than Programs, Make for Great Reading Instruction
Let's focus on specific teaching practices, not confusing labels like "balanced literacy," write Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell.
Irene C. Fountas & Gay Su Pinnell
5 min read
Children reading books in front of books.
iStock/Getty Images
Reading & Literacy Creator of 1619 Project Launching After-School Literacy Program
The 1619 Freedom School, led by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, will make its curriculum a free online resource in 2022.
4 min read
Collage of an American Flag.
Collage: Laura Baker/Education Week (Images: iStock/Getty)
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 Whitepaper
Teaching Students to Become Proficient, Critical Readers
This whitepaper outlines strategies to apply systematic, explicit literacy instruction that nurtures proficient readers.
Content provided by Mentoring Minds