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Will Reading First Survive?

Looks like a House appropriations subcommittee isn't interested in revising or strengthening Reading First, as many advocates and experts have advised. As my colleague Alyson Klein reports here, the panel, led by David Obey, one of the harshest critics of was a $1 billion-a-year program, would zero out funding in fiscal 2009.

After the 61 percent cut to RF in the fiscal '08 budget, the strength of the program is certainly compromised. Many districts will be forced to eliminate positions, particularly the reading coaches that became a standard resource in participating schools.

But many observers believe the RF principles—the use of sound, proven instructional strategies, teaching essential skills in an organized way, and regularly gauging what students can and can't do—are likely to endure, especially in those places where principals and veteran teachers internalized them. Certainly the number of teachers who think they can just wing it or rely on instinct to teach kids to read is dwindling. Many RF schools, however, have high turnover of both staff and students, requiring repeated and ongoing training (of teachers) and intervention (of struggling readers), both costly endeavors.

Ed. Sec. Margaret Spellings and Ed. Dept. staffers have been explaining the options for tapping other sources of federal funding for RF programs. Some states and districts are formulating plans for sustaining RF, such as Colorado, described here, and a Louisiana district that has promised to commit some $1.6 million in local funding to continue RF, according to this story in the Shreveport Times.

What other efforts are under way, on the state or local levels, to keep the program going?

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