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New Leadership for National Literacy Institute

After some five years at the helm of the National Institute for Literacy, Sandra Baxter's appointment was not renewed this month and a national search was launched for her replacement. It took a bit of effort to find the announcement, but here it is. No word on where Baxter has landed, but Dan Miller of OVAE is now the acting director.

Like Baxter, the next executive director will have the unenviable task of answering to officials from the Education Department, the NICHD, and the other federal agencies that are part of the Interagency Group that oversees the institute. There's no word either on what will happen to those programs that Baxter championed during her tenure. But I wouldn't be surprised to see at least one of them wither on its long and untended vine.

The Commission on Reading Research that was supposed to follow up and expand on the research syntheses of the National Reading Panel, which completed its work more than eight years ago, has been in a kind of bureaucratic purgatory for some five years now. (Background here and here.) The determined Baxter may be just what kept the plans for the panel alive.

Bowing to its relatively new policy of full disclosure of the potential conflicts of interest for federal consultants and commission members, the Ed Dept. has been vetting the panel members for more than nine months. This after NIFL conducted an initial screening of the panelists.

Back in February, Troy Justesen, the assistant secretary for vocational and adult education, told me: “It’s gonna happen.We’re working very, very hard to get it done.”

Justesen's office oversees the National Institute for Literacy, a federal agency that began planning for the commission more than five years ago.

What's really amazing is that the prospective panel members have all held on for so long to participate in what is likely to be a time-consuming and difficult task, perhaps even more so than that of the National Reading Panel. (But the task is a critical one, many observers say, at a time when educators are hungry for more guidance on teaching reading.) The members are supposed to review and evaluate a broad array of reading studies—old and new, quantitative and qualitative—and figure out what lessons they hold for improving reading instruction and achievement.

I've sent several requests to the Education Department about the status of the commission. They are checking, I'm told. So stay tuned.

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