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Reading First is not a mandate!


Dear Deb,

I don’t think you understand how the Reading First program works. No state or district is compelled by federal mandates to use the reading methods specified by the Reading First program. No state is required to apply for RF funding. No district is required to accept RF funding. The Reading First dollars are available only to states and districts that apply for them. Reading First is a competitive grant program.

For example, in New York State, the RF money went only to districts that sought the money and then only for a limited number of schools that were prepared to follow the law’s guidelines. The districts had to fill out an application saying that the schools would accept the requirements of the program to use only methods based on “scientifically based reading research.”

New York City, which has about 800 or so elementary schools requested RF funding for 46 public elementary schools and 36 nonpublic (mainly Catholic) schools. The State Education Department reviewed all the proposals and the city received $107 million for three years. (A few months ago, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Education said that New York state should refund the $107 million to the feds because NYC’s application didn’t receive enough points from reviewers, and the state had arbitrarily awarded bonus points to the city. This matter is still in dispute.)

The point is that states are not required to accept Reading First funds, nor are districts. The states do not lose ESEA funding if they do not apply for Reading First funding. You are confusing Reading First with No Child Left Behind. States do have to comply with NCLB requirements if they want to continue to receive federal funding. But again, Reading First money goes only to districts that request the funding, and even then not to all schools in a district.

Some newspapers (such as The New York Times) have frequently attacked Reading First, but I don’t think the reporters realize that states and districts get the money only if they ask for it. Nor have they reported the success stories associated with Reading First. Consider the contrast between inner-city Richmond, Virginia, which sought Reading First money, and Fairfax County, Virginia, which did not. Richmond’s schools, 95% black and more than 70% free lunch, have been among Virginia’s lowest performing; Fairfax County is an affluent, high performing district. Richmond implemented RF programs in its lowest performing schools. Since adopting RF methods, African American third-graders in inner-city Richmond have surpassed African American third-graders in rich Fairfax County on state tests, by 74% to 59%. (For more on this story, see Sol Stern, “This Bush Education Reform Really Works,” City Journal, Winter 2007 .

I agree with you that different methods work with different kids who have different needs. The problem is that for many years, whole language—or some variant of whole language—was the only method found in most schools. Kids who were not learning to read were called “learning disabled” or promoted from grade to grade not knowing how to read. Few schools of education even taught reading methods that relied on phonics for beginning readers, except for special education. If you truly believe, as you say, that “teachers need to understand how to instruct in various ways,” then you should agree that teachers need to know how to teach phonics and the correspondence between letters and sounds as one of those “various ways.”

We agree that, beginning in the earliest grades, children should have lots of time devoted to science, the arts, stories about historical persons, and classic children’s literature. Knowledge about the world and immersion in literature and science builds vocabulary and background knowledge. Jeanne Chall knew this; her wise and wonderful book "Learning to Read: The Great Debate" should be required (oops, sorry) reading for everyone who cares about these issues, as we all should.

Unlike you, I don’t think that a knowledge-rich curriculum is inconsistent with learning to crack the code that unlocks the English language. Many kids learn to crack the code at home, because their parents read to them and teach them the code. Many more need help to do it.

That’s the purpose of Reading First, and given that no state or district gets RF funds unless they put in an application, I don’t see why this is a problem for you.



Diane--For me, the key point in this discussion is that in your first post on Reading First, you wrote, "Any teacher can use any program or method they prefer without federal dictates or interference." In your most recent post, you wrote, "No state or district is compelled by federal mandates to use the reading methods specified by the Reading First program." For school-level teachers and administrators, there's world of difference between those two statements. In my district no teacher or school-level administrator was ever given any choice about this matter. From the beginning the message was, do it our way or go elsewhere. No classroom teacher I know or have heard of was ever given any choice or opportunity for input. No building adminsitrator was ever given any choice or opportunity for input. I think the fact that such a tiny number of disticts turned down the money shows not that there was no objection but that there was never really any choice in the matter even at that level. What Greg Toppo wrote in USA Today fits this situation: "Here's a pretty safe rule of thumb: Start in the classroom and travel up the educational food chain. The further you travel, the more you'll find that people like the law. Mention it to most teachers and they'll just roll their eyes. Many principals tolerate it. Ask a local superintendent, a state superintendent or a governor and the assessment gets rosier as their suit gets more expensive."

The Inspector General reports show that even when states tried to do exercise their (supposed) decision-making power, they were strong-armed into doing it the way the Dept. of Ed. wanted.

My, this discussion is familiar. My main experience is in helping school-level leaders implement Kentucky education reform. From that angle, I've learned to expect the dynamic in these letters: people at the top see flexibility and people at the bottom experience constraint.

Deborah, when I open up statutes and regulations on education programs, I nearly always find that they have room for what my clients want to do for students. Diane is not dreaming.

Diane, the reason educators (usually teachers and principals) ask me to check statutes is that they hear, constantly, that they are required to do things that they believe will not work. Those reports are so constant that they can't possibly come from poor hearing or wilfull misunderstanding. Deborah is not making it up.

When I try to understand the disconnect, one crucial element is the middle levels of government. School people hear from district people who hear from state people who hear from USED. That creates multiple opportunities for accidental misunderstanding as well as willful abuse.

Another potent factor is that school people find it very hard to imagine turning down available grants. One could respond by saying they're simply being dumb. But that response is also dumb: it does not help students to learn more deeply and teachers to be happier, more effective professionals.

With Diane speaking lucidly to the national intent of the Reading First program and Deborah speaking frankly to the local classroom experience of it, you have a mighty example of the problem. You are both right. If we can understand how that can be true, and then act on the understanding, we can do better work to create better schools.

As the upcoming congressional hearings will show, RF was rigged from the outset. Former RF director Chris Doherty admitted as much and think tankers at Fordham even defend the practice. It's not a matter of districts not being "required" to apply for RF funds. It was simply that RF funds were channeled away from those who Doherty described as "dirtbags", ie. whole-language or blended reading models. Please don't try and defend such a program.

It was simply that RF funds were channeled away from those who Doherty described as "dirtbags", ie. whole-language or blended reading models.

The distinction you miss is that the Reading First statute exlicitly permitted the funding of only reading programs with SBRR and which contained the essential coponents of reading instruction including, in particular, "explicit and systematic instruction in ... phonics" sec. 1208(3). Whole language and balanced lit programs fail both prongs of this test and were rightfully excluded by DOE as required by the statute. See sec 1202(c)(7)(A).

Lurid innuendo does not a scandal make.

It's not innuendo. Whether or not different versions met the research-based criteria had to be judged by legitimate panels. The law explicitly forbids the DOE from pushing any one company or model. To top it off, Doherty unfairly stacked the review panels with political cronies. I am not making this up. It's not innuendo Diane. Read the findings of the government's own GSA that uncovered it, leading to Doherty's firing and Spellings trying to distance herself. It was Doherty's supporters over at Fordham who then attacked Spellings for denying her own complicity. The scandal was already there. I didn't make it up or discover it.

One of the famous early 19th century Supreme Court decisions declared "the power to tax involves the power to destroy" and the reverse is true.

The power to put highly detailed strings on funding is the power to bend schools to your will -- and is most strongly felt by the poorest schools. Many schools districts don't really have the choice of implementing the reading program they believe is best suited for their students' needs, but of implementing the Reading First program or muddling along without one as they have been doing.

The Federal government effectively mandated a nationwide drinking age of 21 by withholding Federal highway funds from states that didn't "choose" to change their laws. The stakes of the Reading First funding may be lower, but the dynamic is the same.

Maybe we want the Federal government establishing curricula for local schools -- lots of countries use that model. But as a nation we claim we don't, and that local control in education is important.

The problem is particularly difficult because general outlook of the current administration is that "choice" is good -- except when local entities make choices they don't approve of. The same Department that promotes vouchers, charter schools and deregulation as engines of education reform also has "approved" reading curricula. There seems to me to be a disconnect here.

The law explicitly forbids the DOE from pushing any one company or model.

There is no direct evidence in any OIG report that any model or company was pushed>certainly no model or company singled out in any report had increased sales.

To top it off, Doherty unfairly stacked the review panels with political cronies.

See that's innuendo. Assuming arguendo that it's true, you've failed to point out where such packing with cronies resulted in any wrong-doing.

The law may explicitly forbid the DOE from pushing any one company or model, but according to the March 9, 2007 New York Times:

But in a string of blistering reports, the Education Department’s inspector general has found that federal officials may have violated prohibitions in the law against mandating, or even endorsing, specific curriculums. The reports also found that federal officials overlooked conflicts of interest among the contractors that advised states applying for grants, and that in some instances, these contractors wrote reading programs competing for the money, and stood to collect royalties if their programs were chosen.

Maybe the problem isn't the program itself -- though the strings of NCLB make me suspicious of other Federal strings -- but simply the cronyism that seems to touch much of this administration.

Switching gears from the specifics of reading to when federal guidance works and when it doesn't, I think Susan Perkins Weston's "you're both right" comment above is crucial.

Good intentions and even good research aren't enough unless you can convince the people involved in the day-to-day work of teaching kids that what you're asking them to do will work and help the kids in their classrooms.

But a lot gets lost in translation (in both directions) between the classroom and Washington, and from a local point of view it's hard not to believe that a lot of politics and ideology is added to the mix in Washington.

And in some ways the current approach of "we'll give you money to do this, but not to do that" -- in schools where funding is scarce and needs are great -- seems particularly manipulative.

The reports also found that federal officials overlooked conflicts of interest among the contractors that advised states applying for grants, and that in some instances, these contractors wrote reading programs competing for the money, and stood to collect royalties if their programs were chosen.

Under the law, DOE was not obligated to perform a conflicts check, it did so anyway. There were no financial conflicts of interest according to OIG. But, then OIG went and made up their own "significant professional contact" conflict standard which is a non-standard since it would have ensnared almost every panelist and would have effectively precluded every expert reading researcher from serving on the panel. Not a desirable result.

What matters is the impact of Reading First on children, especially minority children.

In my state (Virginia), the Richmond city schools are 90 percent African-American and 90 percent high-poverty, while the suburban Fairfax County public schools serve one of the nation’s wealthiest jurisdictions.

Starting in 2002, Richmond implemented the type of science-based reading programs endorsed by Reading First. Fairfax school officials, in contrast, continued their long-standing opposition to programs that include systemic phonics, and refused to apply for Reading First funding.

The results? In 2005, 74 percent of black students in Richmond passed the 3rd grade state reading test; only 59 percent passed in Fairfax County. Third grade reading scores in Richmond rose from the bottom 5 percent of the state in 2001 to the top 40 percent in 2005, a perhaps-unprecedented accomplishment for a large urban district.

On every elementary-level state test given in 2005, in reading, math, science, and history, black children scored higher in Richmond than in Fairfax County. Among the 10 Virginia districts with the largest black student enrollments, wealthy Fairfax’s black students’ scores ranked 10th out of 10 -- dead last -- on seven of eight state tests. What does that mean for those children, and our nation?

The numerical facts are unequivocal. Those who oppose the reading recommendations of the nation's leading research scientists are not just selling snake oil. They are advocating abuse of children, disproportionately minority children, on a massive scale. It is wrong, and it must stop.

The problem with Ken DeRosa's line here is that the complaint which led to the Inspector General's report on the implementation of Reading First came from the founder of Success For All, a highly scripted, phonics-based program.

Whatever argument one wants to make about the relative merits and demerits of phonics v. whole language programs, there is little question that the Bush DOE's administration of Reading First gave new meaning to the term "crony capitalism." It was about providing aid and comfort and contracts to friends and allies, not about scientific research.

We'll see what Slavin says at the meeting tomorrow, Leo.

In the meantime, maybe you could point me to the place in any of the OIG reports where it indicates that SfA was excluded at the Federal level.

My understanding is that SfA was excluded by state DoEs who failed to include it in their Rf applications. And, here's the important part so read it slowly, the program that the "cronies" were "pushing", i.e. DI, was also excluded by most state DOEs. SfA got the same amount of RF funding as DI, i.e., very little, and most of the funding for both programs involved existing installations, not new ones.

Another inconvenient fact, is that the "cronies" did not permit RF funding to go to whole language programs including the program pusblished by the Wright group owned by SRA.

So much for crony capitalism.

There is nothing in any OIG report that indicates that any reading program that included "systematic and explicit instruction in ... phonics" was improperly excluded by DoE. The only reading programs excluded lacked this statutorily mandated element. See Section 1208(3).

If you think otherwise, point to the evidence in one of the OIG reports.

KDeRosa's arguments may prove to be correct. The manipulations and cronyism behind RF may indeed be ruled "legal." That doesn't mean they are right or good for educators teaching literacy.

No one forced any state to apply for or accept RF funding. It was voluntary. The law was clear. if you accept funding, you will implement a program that includes "systematic and explicit instruction in ... phonics." Spme states wanted the funding and didn't want to abide by the terms. the data will soon show who was right and who didn't learn.

In God We Trust, all others bring data. The bottom line is that Reading First is the first federal program in a generation to move the needle on reading achievement among poor children. The data on this are quite clear, especially in the states that have implemented the program as intended. (These include Alabama, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and West Virginia, to name a few.) To say "Well, yes, but..." is like asking, "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?" Not just schools but entire states are closing the achievement gap thanks to Reading First. Contrast this with the 'let-the-districts-decide' Title I program, whose budget is many times that of RF and produces no student achievement gains at all.

OMB, a less politicized body than the GAO and the IG, saw beyond the vendors' complaints and gave RF its highest rating of effectiveness--the only program in all of NCLB to receive a rating of 'effective'.

As one state Reading First director said to me, "Show me a state or a district or a school that's complaining about Reading First, and I'll show you a state and a district and a school with lousy data for its poorest children." Indeed the states with the best data are also the states happiest with the program--just ask Katherine Mitchell in AL, or Beverly Kingery in WVA, or Lexie Domaradzki in WA, or Joni Gilles in OR. These are the people in the front lines. (Madison's data, swallowed without question and cited approvingly by the NYTimes, do not in fact hold up to serious scrutiny.)

Complaints about Chris Doherty's management thus deserve the same response that Lincoln allegedly gave to people who complained about General Grant's drinking. Find out what he's drinking and give it to the other generals.

Again, the people who know the program best are the state directors. Interestingly, following the first IG report, USDOE sent out an internal memo to them asking for their reaction and if they had experienced any problems. About a dozen directors responded--every one of them wrote in support of the program. A survey of RF participants by the Democratic-leaning Council on Educational Priorities similarly showed that support for the program is broad and deep.

To paraphrase Lincoln again (if slavery is wrong, then nothing is wrong): If Reading First isn't right, then nothing the feds do is right.

You're using so many cliches to defend the indefensible that you're mixing your metaphors. I hope in misquoting Lincoln (who BTW, was not a Reading First supporter) you meant to say: "if slavery is NOT wrong..."

My experience with Reading First is that it's been imposed with thinly-veiled contempt for teachers. Maybe that's only true where I am. But I don't think that bodes well for its sustainability.


Thank you for correcting my Lincoln quote. I encourage you to talk to the state RF directors cited in my post who are getting results.



If your argument did not so overreach, and if you were not spinning like a top on the question of the conduct of the Bush adminstration USDOE regarding Reading First, you might find many more people listening with an open mind to the case you want to make about how to teach reading.

But to pretend that the very much phonics based Success for All was iced out of Reading First simply because of a bunch of states acted on their own lacks all credibility. The IG report was unequivocal, both in its evidence and its conclusions, that Bush USDOE operatives used Reading First as an arm of Direct Instruction, not phonics based programs generally. It's all there, and you read it with the rest of us, so calls for chapter and verse are only signs of a disingenuous argument.

SLavin knew exactly what he was doing when he called for an investigation of Reading First.

Shep - show me long-term data on gains via Reading First. Produce data that prove that systematic phonics instruction produces long-term gains beyond the 5th grade. I'm looking forward to what you say.

Diane overlooks the fact that whole language approaches do not exclude phonics instruction.


What is amazing to me is that we even have to spend so much time and money researching the best way to teach reading when the answer is common sense. I was having this debate with a friend about ten years ago and nothing has changed. He said that teaching phonics was the answer to turning education around and while I agreed with phonics being important, I professed school choice to be the only sustainable reform worthy of our efforts. Wouldn’t both sides be happy then? Those who wish to continue with whole language can do so while people who seek change will be free to go back to phonics. The only reason I can see for opposing freedom of choice is that those who currently control education, the unions and bureaucrats, are more concerned with maintaining their control, their standing in the political system than they are with actual education. Their resistance confirms it. The teachers are caught in the middle just like a lot of laypeople who have their jobs to do and don’t have the time or inclination to argue about things they feel are beyond their control. To me NCLB serves as a long overdue tool to address accountability, and accountability is but the first step toward choice. If the unions and bureaucrats are successful in their efforts to gut NCLB they will be one step closer to exposing their real agenda. One way or another freedom will win in the end. One way is through the efforts of people like Milton Freedman, and the other will be a lot uglier. When people in the inner city begin to realize that their children are being deprived of a proper education just so the ruling class can maintain its power base, it will be the sixties all over again.

Leo, I think you've got the wrong Bob Slavin. The real Bob Slavin made completely different claims at the Education Writer's Association annual meeting in New Orleans, June 2, 2006. And, so far none of these allegations have made it into any OIG report. In fact, Slavin's allegations contradict your assertions.

And just so we're clear, I'm not saying that there was or wasn't violations made by DoE. All I'm saying is that with the exception of a few technical infractions, the OiG reports have failed to prove any of the major accusations that you're taking for granted. They have failed to marshall the required evidence.

Peter, Reading First is a K-3 program. But, the longitudinal studies you are looking for are Linda Meyer (1984), Gersten, Keating, and Becker (1988), Darch, Gersten, & Taylor (1987), and Meyer, Gersten, & Gutkin (1983). Those studies are particularly relevant since the systematic phonics instruction program only lasted to third grade, just like in Reading First, and afterward the students were placed back into the same rotten curriculum they typically receive. Maybe you can share some longitudinal scientific studies that show the effectiveness of your favored reading program. And, it's not a question of whole language programs excluding phonics, it's that they teach phonics improperly according to the research.

Evidence-Based Reform and No Child Left Behind: Next Time, Use What Works

by Robert E. Slavin — December 12, 2006

No Child Left Behind appeared to be a major victory for evidence-based reform in education, but it has instead been a major setback. Despite language throughout NCLB calling for the use of scientifically evaluated programs, such programs have in fact been largely shut out of Reading First and ignored in parts of the law such as supplemental educational services and turnaround programs for schools not meeting standards. This article recommends strategies to make evidence central to the reauthorization of NCLB. These include adding clarity about which programs have strong evidence of effectiveness and providing competitive preference points for proposals to implement proven programs.

In 2002, the U.S. Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act. It contained a radical idea, long overdue: that schools receiving federal dollars should use programs and practices that have been proven to be effective in scientifically based research.

Evidence-Based Reform and NCLB: The Dream

NCLB appeared to be a great victory for proponents of evidence-based reform in education. Evidence-based reform means the adoption of policies that promote the use of programs that have been successfully evaluated in rigorous experiments. NCLB famously mentioned scientifically based research as a basis for what schools should use more than 100 times, in many parts of the law. It provided a detailed definition of scientifically based research.

In theory, at least, the idea of evidence-based reform is a no-brainer. Use what works. Who could disagree with that? Why shouldn’t education finally join medicine, agriculture, and technology in embracing evidence as the basis for practice? At long last, here was the President of the United States and both parties of Congress openly endorsing the idea that evidence should matter in education, and supporting legislation designed to encourage schools and districts receiving federal funds to use programs with strong evidence of effectiveness.

Evidence-Based Reform and NCLB: The Reality

In practice, however, NCLB has been a major setback for evidence-based reform. In every area of the law in which evidence could have mattered, it did not, and if anything, programs with strong evidence of effectiveness were discouraged rather than encouraged. The winners in NCLB were the old-fashioned large publishers and other large companies, whose products lack evidence from rigorous experiments.

The flagship program for evidence-based reform in NCLB was Reading First, a $1 billion per year program designed to give high-poverty schools proven reading programs to use in grades K-3. Instead, Reading First money has gone primarily to traditional basal textbooks lacking any evidence of effectiveness, while programs that do have such evidence, such as our Success for All program (Slavin & Madden, 2001), and Direct Instruction (Adams & Engelmann, 1996) were largely shut out (Moss, Jacob, Boulay, Horst, & Poulos, 2006). In September 2006, the Department of Education’s Inspector General (Office of the Inspector General, 2006) issued a scathing report on Reading First, documenting how department officials deliberately bent the law to favor certain programs and discourage others, without regard to evidence. Press reports have shown how the department’s Reading First technical assistance contractors had serious conflicts of interest. The leaders of two of the three centers were on the design team for one of the most widely adopted remedial programs under Reading First, and were authors of one of the major basal textbooks (Manzo, 2006; Grunwald, 2006).

In other parts of NCLB, evidence requirements were equally ignored. Schools that failed to meet their “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) goals on state tests were encouraged to adopt proven turnaround programs, such as comprehensive school reform models with strong evidence. Not only has this provision been ignored, but the Bush administration also pushed for the abolishment of a Comprehensive School Reform funding program that had been helping schools adopt such models. Schools not meeting AYP were also supposed to provide “supplemental educational services” to children who needed them, usually in the form of group remedial instruction after school. Despite the law’s discussion of using remedial programs with strong evidence, there has been no effort to focus SES on proven programs (Ascher, 2006).

Putting Evidence Back Into NCLB

At this writing, Congress is beginning to debate the reauthorization of NCLB. The fate of evidence-based reform is very much in the balance. Some argue that the widely acknowledged failure of evidence to affect NCLB shows that evidence-based reform is simply unworkable in federal legislation. Clearly, a new approach is needed. Earlier legislation establishing Comprehensive School Reform and the Reading Excellence Act also had language encouraging the use of proven programs, and this language also had little effect.

In order for legislation to genuinely encourage the use of programs with strong evidence of effectiveness, it is not enough to simply say that it should. The legislation needs to name names of proven programs, or describe mechanisms for doing so. The FDA does not just say to “use proven medicines”; it says “use penicillin, don’t use Laetrile.” Lacking specificity about which programs have been proven in rigorous research is an invitation to cronyism, as lower-level federal, state, or local officials can decide for themselves what they consider to be “proven,” without open review or discussion.

Fortunately, the research and review of research have advanced considerably since NCLB was passed, and there will soon be several independent, trustworthy sources of information on effective programs. The long-delayed What Works Clearinghouse (2006), a federal initiative, will soon issue reports on effective programs in reading, elementary, and middle school mathematics, programs for English language learners, and so on. The federally funded Comprehensive School Reform Quality Center (CSRQ, 2006a and CSRQ, 2006b) has recently issued scientific reviews of research on comprehensive school reform models in elementary and secondary schools. The Best Evidence Encyclopedia (CDDRE, 2006), also part of a federal grant, summarizes reviews from many sources on effective programs for grades K-12, and contributes its own reviews using standards similar to those of the What Works Clearinghouse.

The reauthorization of NCLB should take advantage of these developments and begin to specify that schools should use programs that have been rigorously and successfully evaluated, as certified by the What Works Clearinghouse and other reviews that use similar standards. Schools should not be required to use proven programs, but rather, be given incentives to do so, such as a competitive preference of up to 10 points on a 100-point scale for schools applying to use programs with strong evidence (see Slavin, 2006). Schools should be free to use other programs, but the government has a legitimate interest in encouraging them to use federal funds on proven programs. This approach could work for the next round of Reading First, supplemental educational services, and turnaround programs for schools not meeting AYP. Funding for comprehensive school reform should be revived, but focused on programs with strong evidence of effectiveness. According to the CSRQ (CSRQ, 2006a and CSRQ, 2006b) reviews, there are more than a dozen CSR programs with substantially better evidence of effectiveness than that supporting any of the textbooks favored under Reading First. Beyond NCLB, the same approach could work in any area in which the federal government provides funding to schools to adopt programs that lend themselves to evaluation, such as Striving Readers (funding for secondary literacy programs) and E-Rate (funding to help schools purchase technology). In each case, in order to get their bonus points, schools would have to agree to implement their chosen program completely, with levels of resources and professional development comparable to those provided to schools in the studies establishing the program’s effectiveness.

Effective policies promoting the use of proven programs would have an immediate benefit for children who receive better instruction, but they would also have a dramatic effect on the entire R&D enterprise. Publishers, developers, and others would begin to subject their programs to rigorous evaluations and to develop programs more likely to succeed in those evaluations. This could finally set education on the road toward genuine progress.

This paper was written under funding from the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education (Grant No. R305A040082). However, any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent IES policies.


Adams, G.L., & Engelmann, S. (1996). Research on direct instruction: 25 years beyond DISTAR. Seattle, WA: Educational Achievement Systems.

Ascher, C. (2006). NCLB’s supplemental educational services: Is this what our students need? Phi Delta Kappan, 88(2), 136-141.

Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education. (2006). The best-evidence encyclopedia. Retrieved November 30, 2006 from www.bestevidence.org.

Comprehensive School Reform Quality Center (2006a). CSRQ Center report on elementary school comprehensive school reform models. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research. www.csrq.org/CSRQreportselementaryschoolreport.asp

Comprehensive School Reform Quality Center (2006b). CSRQ Center report on middle and high school comprehensive school reform models. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research. www.csrq.org/MSHSreport.asp

Grunwald, M. (2006). Billions for an inside game on reading. Retrieved October 1, 2006 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/29/AR2006092901333.html.

Manzo, K. (2006). Federal review of Reading First identifies serious problems. Retrieved September 22, 2006 from http://www.edweek.org.

Moss, M., Jacob, R., Boulay, B., Horst, M., & Poulos, J. (2006). Reading First implementation evaluation: Interim report. Cambridge, MA: Abt.

Office of the Inspector General (2006). The Reading First program’s grant approval process: Final inspection report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of the Inspector General.

Slavin, R.E. (2006, October 18). Research and effectiveness: A '10 percent solution' that can make evidence-based form a reality. Education Week.

Slavin, R.E., & Madden, N.A. (Eds.) (2001). One million children: Success for All. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Leo, you should pay heed to the rule of holes: when in one, stop digging.

I don't think you fully understand what Slavin is saying. Let me summarize.

SfA and DI are the only reading programs with validated SBRR. Yet, both of these programs toegther only received a small fraction of RF funding. Instead, the big textbook companies received the lion's share of the RF funding.

This is an accurate statement. However, Slavin is no lawyer and does not understand that section 1202 of the RF statute allows funding for programs "based on" SBRR, not just for programs, like SfA and DI, that actually had validated SBRR. It is this wesel language in the statute that permitted programs that were able to potray themselves as being based on SBRR.

There is no evidence anywhere that shows that any program "based on SBRR" was excluded from RF funding or that any program not "based on SBRR" was excluded. Reading Recovery is not based on SBRR. If you know of any program that meets this criteria, now would be a "put up or shup up" moment.

The OIG reports do not corroborate Slavin's allegations, ostensibly because he is misreading the statute. The OIG non-scandal goes something like this: DOE packed the panel with DI peopel and these people funneled money to DI programs. This clearly didn't happen in the real world and Slavin agrees. The OIG reports are based on the mistaken assumption that DI is the same as every other phonics based program and are interchangeable. So not only did OiG get the facts wrong they failed to failed to analyze the law to boot.


You made a claim about Slavin; I simply passed on Slavin's own words, which do not conform to your claim.

You say:
"The OIG non-scandal goes something like this: DOE packed the panel with DI peopel and these people funneled money to DI programs. This clearly didn't happen in the real world and Slavin agrees."

Slavin says: "In September 2006, the Department of Education’s Inspector General (Office of the Inspector General, 2006) issued a scathing report on Reading First, documenting how department officials deliberately bent the law to favor certain programs and discourage others, without regard to evidence."

Clearly, Slavin is saying the very thing you deny he is saying.

You can parse your words in a way that would make Bill Clinton envious from now until Ed Week closes this blog down, and go on about the details of the legislation authorizing Reading First, but the folks here are intelligent people, and a great many of us read the IG report for ourselves. We know that, if anything, Slavin's summary of that report, and of its tales of the promotion of DI at the expense of other programs, from the most phonics based to the most whole language, is an understatement.

All you are doing in disputing this is giving people reasons to question the pedagogical argument you are making, since your political argument is so transparently disingenuous.

Lee, we continue to disagree.

You need to go read the transcript of Slavin's speech which I cited where he elaborates on the WaPo article.

Clearly, when he says "bent the law to favor certain programs" he is referring to basal phonics programs and when he says "and discourage others, without regard to evidence" he means SfA and arguably DI becasue those are the ones with the evidence base.

And, as I pointed out, this hinges on the interpretation of the phrase "based on SBRR" which curiously the OIG failed to do.

In the law there is a name for what you are trying to do in your argument: you are relying on "facts" that are not yet in evidence.

Ultimately, your argument makes no sense because the money trail leads to the wrong place. For your argument to makes sense, the money trail would lead to DI. It doesn't. The money trail, in fact, leads to another place-- the basal phonics programs. And, for this to be a violation of RF, you'd need to prove that these reading programs aren't "based on SBRR." And, you haven't. Nor has the OiG or the NYT or WaPO for that matter.

I'm sure you'll correct me if I'm wrong, but the last time I checked the goal of the cronies in "crony capitalism" is to direct money to themselves. In this case, the so-called cronies failed to divert money to themselves and in at least one case actually diverted money away from themselves. You're the smart one, Leo, maybe you can explain this for me.

To paraphrase Jery McGuire, follow the money, Leo, follow the money.

I am impressed that Peter Campbell (3/14) asks: "Show me long-term data on gains via Reading First. Produce data that prove that systematic phonics instruction produces long-term gains beyond the 5th grade." Someone is asking the right question.

But the arithmetic is that most states were not able to make the majority of grants to Reading First schools until after August 2003. As a result, most schools used 2003-04 for training of staff and acquiring approved materials, and started their Reading First instruction in the Fall of 2004.

The scores reported for Reading First schools in the most recent 3rd grade state tests, in spring 2006, were therefore for students who at best started Reading First in second grade, after two years of reading instruction promoting habits that needed to be un-taught.

Richmond Virginia is the one large urban district that started a program prior to 2003 that included all 5 elements of reading instruction: including explicit fluency and vocabulary instruction in addition to phonics. For black students in 5th grade in 2006, urban, high-poverty Richmond had at or near the highest average test scores in the state in reading, math, science, and social studies. Wealthy Fairfax County, with leaders that openly continue to support whole language, and refused to apply for Reading First funds, had the LOWEST black 5th grade test scores in the state among the large districts on the same 4 state tests.

Phonics alone gave great initial gains in Los Angeles and Sacramento, but without followup in fluency and vocabulary for children in poverty, those students regressed. Programs consistent with SBRR in more than just phonics are seeing the gains that we all want for children.

Science-based instruction worked in Richmond. It will work in any district that does what Richmond did. Refusing to do what Richmond did abuses minority children. Those are the numeric facts.

To Peter Campbell and Rick Nelson,

Re your request for data, if you don't mind emailing me at [email protected] with your email addresses, I will send you data reports from five of the better performing states in Reading First: AL, AZ, OR, WA and WVA.

Ken - when you have some free time, there's a really interesting report that you should read. It's called the Report of the Subgroups from something called The National Reading Panel. Have you ever heard of this? Based on the glowing praise you give to the long-term effects of explicit phonics instruction, you obviously have not heard of it, much less read it. I suggest you skim over Chapter 2, Part 2. Here are a couple quotes that contradict your claims RE: the research basis for evidence that systematic phonics instruction produces long-term gains.

"Findings indicate that phonics instruction helps poor readers in 2nd through 6th grades improve their word reading skills. However, phonics instruction appears to contribute only weakly, if at all, in helping poor readers apply these skills to read text and to spell words. There were insufficient data to draw any conclusions about the effects of phonics instruction with normally developing readers above 1st grade." (p. 116)

"Very likely, phonics programs that emphasize decoding exclusively and ignore the other processes involved in learning to read will not succeed in making every child a skilled reader." (p. 117)

Peter, I think you have a reading comprehension problem.

Neither of those statements refutes the main finding that systematic phonics instruction has an effect size of +0.5 over non-phonics based reading programs.

Those are what we call qualifying statements. Phonics needs to be part of a balanced reading program.

And why are you ignoring the research sudies I provided at your request? Denial?

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