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With Reading First Under Fire, Supporters Rush to Its Defense

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The future of NCLB's Reading First program is in jeopardy. It's been a target of Democrats since they won the majority of Congress in 2007. Last week's Department of Education report is the latest strike against it. The reading comprehension of children participating in Reading First isn't growing as fast as that of children in a control group, the study says. For more, see Kathleen Kennedy Manzo's reporting.

Rep. Dave Obey, D-Wis., who controls the federal purse strings in the House, wasted no time calling the program a failure. "Previous reports have shown that a political friend of the administration has a greater chance of raiding the Reading First cookie jar than the best program on the block that doesn’t have [a] special political connection," Obey said in a statement.

Flypaper's Mike Petrilli rushed to the program's defense by pointing to the study's flaws. Sherman Dorn wasn't buying it, calling Petrilli's defense "about as credible as Hillary Clinton's defense of her 2002 vote to authorize the Iraq war."

Now Petrilli links to a long interview with Reid Lyon, who explains why he thinks the report is flawed and inconclusive. Here's what Lyon tells ednews.org: "Reading First is the largest concerted reading intervention program in the history of the civilized world."

He concludes that the report's findings are:

not a cause for mourning and political opportunism, but a cause for deliberation and careful consideration of all the possible explanations—ineffective treatment, poor implementation, diffusion of funds, active treatment in the control condition, and many other factors.

It is also a time to be very careful in drawing conclusions from this study and to be very clear about its limitations in making inferences about the success of the policy and the success of the instructional model emphasized in the model. It has been the bane of education to implement policy with very little research foundation and very little effort at rigorous evaluation. Change is hard!

1 Comment

I have been surrounded by all the negative comments about Reading First, so I would like to respond with some positive aspects of Reading First. I work directly with some of the poorest counties in the state of Kentucky (Southeastern and Eastern). All of these schools that I work with are Reading First schools. Five years ago,these schools had students reading below grade level in their primary grades. Most of them only had only about 25% of their students on grade level. After implementing Reading First for the last five years, they have finished this year's assessments with from 89-95% of their students reading on grade level in their primary grades.

Now, how can someone or some politician say it's not working? Have these politicians visited some of these schools implementing Reading First and asked them how it's working? I find these negative comments hard to believe because my experiences with Reading First have been totally different all the negative comments and reports. It's working because I see it's results each and everyday when I walk into a Reading First school and see the students reading. I encourage those that are making all these negative comments and reports to come to my state and see the results of Reading First, they may just change their minds and thoughts about Reading First after their visit.

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