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Reading First Interim Report Doesn’t Pass the “So What? Test”


My April 5, 2007 “Letter From” was titled “Department of Education Technology Study Says What Every Major Study of Broad Reform Initiatives Says: It Depends and We Don't Know.”

I could replace “Education Technology” with “Reading First” and write the same piece about the Reading First Impact Study: Interim Report conducted by Abt Associates, MDRC and Westat, and released by the Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences on May 1.

Here goes:

It is unlikely that the media will treat this report with much subtlety, but the study may tell us much more about the state of the evaluation art than the efficacy of (literacy programs purchased under Reading First).

Perhaps the first point is the idea of randomly assigning programs to teachers, even if they were volunteers. If we know anything from research on other large scale program interventions, we know that teacher "buy-in" and district support are essential to implementation, and we don't need a study to tell us that implementation is important to program results. In the real world, providers seek schools with teachers who have selected the program after reviewing their options. Random assignment is bound to result in random buy-in, and so random implementation, and random results. The meaningful test of program efficacy is as the program is intended to be offered on the market - comparing teachers who want to use the program with teachers who do not use it….

Second, "the study was designed to report results for groups of products rather than for individual products." (Note: The Reading First Study contains no such wording, neither does it distinguish among the various educational offerings purchased with Reading First funds.) To get a sense of how useful this is to consumers or policy makers, consider a study of automobile emissions, safety, or gas mileage based on the categories "compact," "SUV," and "luxury". In each category every make and model, or rather selected makes and models chosen by the reviewers, are treated as a homogenous group and assigned to drivers interested in participating in the study. What exactly is the utility of the findings about the impact of these classes of car on any of these measures? Does it help policymakers make decisions about the automobile industry? Does it help consumers decide on the purchase of their next cars? No and no.

(Reading First) programs may or may not add value to student performance, but this study doesn't tell us anything about that. Indeed rather than shed light, it is likely to obscure the issue. The study has value as a step in the development of appropriate methodologies for the evaluation of educational interventions promulgated on a mass scale, and the research community is better off for it. But is no guide to policy or purchasing.

On the whole, I’m satisfied with the substitution.

In a very real sense most of the educational programs purchased with Reading First funds and implemented by teachers in the classroom were randomly assigned. “The meaningful test of program efficacy is as the program is intended to be offered on the market - comparing teachers who want to use the program with teachers who do not use it”. Most teachers did not have a say, they implemented what the district decided - and I must add that the Administration constrained district choice to disadvantage programs like Success for All and others that do have a favorable record of evaluation.

Similarly, this study examines the gross results of a funding stream, rather than the specific effects of different educational programs on the market. It treats all offerings, at all price points, with all materials and support, etc as a monolithic "Reading First Program." The study helps no one trying to decide on the purchase of a literacy program eligible for Reading First funding. Indeed, it misleads consumers - and policymakers considering the potential value of Reading First Funding - by suggesting that nothing works, although it indicates absolutely nothing of the sort.

Edbizbuzz readers know that I support the version of Reading First written into No Child Left Behind, but object to how Margaret Spellings and other Administration officials oversaw implementation at the White House and Department – especially those provisions related to the meaning of Scientifically-Based Reading Research. It would be very easy for me to write that this provides evidence of the Administration’s folly. I can safely say that the study provides no support for Reading First as a federal funding program, but it doesn’t tell us anything about the efficacy of any one of the privately-developed educational programs purchased by schools with Reading First funds.

If we expect research to guide policy, we can’t simply seize on findings and decide if they back our hopes or preferences. We can’t receive favorable findings as the Ten Commandments brought down from the mountain by Moses, or hire someone to do a detailed critique or counter study if the studies are politically unhelpful. I am modestly disappointed that this Reading First study suffers from the same basic flaw as the Educational Technology study released last year, but for all I know the two study designs were locked in at the same time.

The Reading First Interim Report doesn’t pass the “so what? test.” If it tells us anything, it’s that federal evaluation policy for K-12 curriculum and instructional offerings needs an overhaul.

Marc Dean Millot is the editor of School Improvement Industry Week and K-12 Leads and Youth Service Markets Report. His firm provides independent information and advisory services to business, government and research organizations in public education.

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and I must add that the Administration constrained district choice to disadvantage programs like Success for All and others that do have a favorable record of evaluation.

I think you meant to write that the "Administration [did not constrain] district choice to disadvantage programs like Success for All and others that do have a favorable record of evaluation."

The three programs with "favorable records of evaluation," DI, SfA, and OC, received only a tiny fraction of RF funding. Most of the funding went to large publishers whose programs did not have "favorable records of evaluation," but whose programs met the statutory requirements of RF with erspect to SBRR and the Essential Components of Reading Instruction.

This is consistent with Bob Slavin's arguments, though it is clear he does not understand that the RF statutory language permits these unevaluated programs to receive funding adn does not limit funding to progarms with favorable records of evaluation. This is also consist with the OIG's findings which did not actually find any real violations of the statute, but merely potential violations and appearances of impropriety and conflict.

Edbizbuzz replies to the above:

I probably should have referred readers to my several years of postings and podcasts on this topic.

Podcasts: http://www.siiwonline.libsyn.com/?search_string=reading+first&Submit=Search&search=1

Blog Posts: http://www.google.com/search?q=edbizbuzz+reading+first&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

It seems we hold essentially the same position on the Interim Study. Where we differ is on some important details.

The sentence does say what I meant. In its approval of the Reading First funding the Administration did constrain choice so as to disadvantage programs like SFA.

As for what the SBRR definition meant in NCLB, basic rules of statutory construction suggest Slavin's position is the legally "better argument."

The first rule is to interpret laws in ways that are internally consistent across the statute. The decision to create a category called "research based" for Supplementary Educational Services (SES) implied a lower standard than for "Scientifically Based Research"or Scientifically Based Reading Research - and was the result of SES providers lobbying for a lower standard when they realized that they could not meet a standard based on program evaluation. This also suggests that at the time NCLB was passed, SBR was understood to mean program evaluation. This is certainly the most logical interpretation of the provision's statement of specific requirements.

If Congress intended "scientifically based" to require only a developer's reference to a body of relevant research - essentially the criteria employed to favor certain programs under Reading First - what lesser requirement wads implied by the lower "research based" standard ? A second basic rule of statutory construction is to reject interpretations that yield absurd results. A standard lower than mere assertion of some relationship to a body of research cant be much more than absurd - but I"m ready to hear one. The least tortured reading of all three provisions taken together - RB, SBR and SBRR is that program evaluation applied to SBR/SBBR providers, and reference to a body of research to SES providers.

It is also worth pointing put that NCLB's definition of scientifically based reading research does not reference phonics as a basis for the eligibility of reading programs to receive Reading First funding - certainly not in the definition of SBBR. The Department - or its employee Mr. Dougherty - made an arbitrary decision to apply that criteria, rather than pursuing NCLB's intent to rely solely on the specific evaluations of specific programs.

I'm happy to battle this out in as much detail as readers would like, but only in response to arguments that have some basis in the legislative record, administrative law, or legal construction. Mere assertion won't cut it, and the argument of what the law allows is a legal - not a political - argument.

Given that the OIG referred the matter of Reading First improprieties to the Justice Department in April 2007, I would not be so quick to assume that the office was not sufficiently concerned about illegality - even though it was not it's job to make such a finding and so prosecute. Inspector Generals are inspectors. Other parts of the government decide on legality - especially criminal legality.

"Not illegal" may well be the second to last refuge of scoundrels. - and it's an incredibly low standard of government service. The Secretary's unambiguous disavowal of Dougherty may say many things, but it undoubtably indicates her agreement that his practices were poor management, inconsistent with the law and inappropriate, if not just plain wrong. The Justice Department may not have pursued Mr. Dougherty because what he did was not illegal, because while it was illegal they don't have the evidence to prove it in court, or because they have prosecutorial discretion and don't see the value of hauling haul him into court.

P.S.: There is one potentially killer legal argument for the Administration's approach to SBR/SBBR/RB - the waiver power in NCLB Section 9401. However, it would be a post hoc rationalization as it was not cited at the time. At the moment, this is one of those times where Executive has decided not to act in comity with the Legislative. Congress is not going to take this to court when there is a strong likelihood that Democrats will win the White House in November.

Dean, I agree with respect to the interim report, but I continue to disagree with your interpretation of the Reading First statutory language.

The first rule of statutory construction is to use the statutory definition for defined terms. SBRR is a defined term in section 1208(6). And the relevant statute for Reading first that calls this term is section 1202(c)(7)(A).

(The statutory language of section 1202(c)(7)(A) is clear and I analyzed it a year ago in this post.)

At one point the statute read in a manner consistent with your and Slavin's interpretation. Funding could only go to reading programs having program-specific SBRR. But that wording did not survive the legislative process becasue it meant that funding would only go to the only three reading programs having program-specific SBRR -- DI, SfA, and OC, and might violate DoE's prohibition against mandating specific curricula. The statutory language was lossened to read as it curently does "an eligible local educational agency ... shall use the funds provided under the subgrant to Select[] and implement[] a learning system or program of reading instruction based on scientifically based reading research that ... includes the essential components of reading instruction" (Emphasis mine) (ECRI is defined in section 1208(3))

The "based on" language is the operative language which allows RF funding to go to reading programs without their own SBRR research base, but could rely on the research base of other reading programs as long as they contaioned the statutorily required five ECRI found by the National Reading Panel and adopted in section 1208(3).

Reid Lyon and Bob Sweet, the drafters of the language, have stated as such:

"On the basis of the data summarized in these reports, Bob Sweet and I recommended that federal funding be contingent on program-specific evidence of effectiveness derived from studies employing appropriate research designs and methods.This criterion of demonstrated program-specific effectiveness was revised through congressional member and staff review and the negotiation process, resulting in less-specific language in the current law – to wit, that funding was contingent on states and districts showing that the programs, strategies, and methods they wanted funded through Reading First had to be based on SBRR.

"The intent of the law, however, remained the same. Federal funds could not be provided if states and local districts did not ensure that the programs they bought using Federal dollars covered all the reading elements established by the National Reading Panel and that the instruction delivered was systematic, direct, and explicit.

If your interpretation of the statute is correct, than about 95% of the RF funding clearly went to prohibited programs and would have been a clear violation of the law. Yet, there is no such finding in any OiG report, which is especially odd considering that this was a specific complain by Slavin.

Moreover, under this interpretation most of the OiG's findings are baseless since they relate to DoE's ties to DI which was one of the three programs that the RF funding should have gone to since it has program-specific SBRR. AS you most likely know, DI only received about 1% of Rf funding like SfA.

It is also worth pointing put that NCLB's definition of scientifically based reading research does not reference phonics as a basis for the eligibility of reading programs

I disagree. As I've pointed out above, section 1202(c)(7)(A) requires that any program receiving RF funding must contain the five essential components of reading instruction, another defined term -- section 1208(6) which reads:

The term ‘essential components of reading instruction’ means explicit and systematic instruction in—
(A) phonemic awareness;
(B) phonics;
(C) vocabulary development;
(D) reading fluency, including oral reading skills; and
(E) reading comprehension strategies.
(emphasis mine.)

That's where phonics comes into play and DoE was proper in insisting that any program funded under Rf have systematic and explict instruction in phonics. This is why whole-language programs like Reading Recovery which have program specific SBRR (according to WWC at least) were properly excluded from RF funding.

Given that the OIG referred the matter of Reading First improprieties to the Justice Department, I would not be so quick to assume that the office was not sufficiently concerned about illegality

Given that the DOJ has failed to act on OIG's referral, I woud not be so quick to assume that DoE did anything illegal. The OiG reports clearly stated that no actual financial wrongdoing was found by OiG. See here and here.

Edbizbuzz says: “good debate.”

Let’s let the readers decide for themselves now that they’ve heard the arguments.

Below, I’ve copied the relevant provisions governing the use of Reading First funds.

Section 1202(c)(7)(A)
with paragraph (2), a State educational agency that receives
a grant under this section shall make competitive subgrants
to eligible local educational agencies….

‘‘(A) REQUIRED USES.—Subject to paragraph (8), an
eligible local educational agency that receives a subgrant
under this subsection shall use the funds provided under
the subgrant to carry out the following activities:
‘‘(i) Selecting and administering screening, diagnostic,
and classroom-based instructional reading
‘‘(ii) Selecting and implementing a learning system
or program of reading instruction based on scientifically
based reading research that—
‘‘(I) includes the essential components of
reading instruction…

‘‘(iii) Procuring and implementing instructional
materials, including education technology such as software
and other digital curricula, that are based on
scientifically based reading research

Section 1208(c)(6)

‘scientifically based reading research’ means research that—
‘‘(A) applies rigorous, systematic, and objective procedures
to obtain valid knowledge relevant to reading
development, reading instruction, and reading difficulties;
‘‘(B) includes research that—
‘‘(i) employs systematic, empirical methods that
draw on observation or experiment;
‘‘(ii) involves rigorous data analyses that are adequate
to test the stated hypotheses and justify the
general conclusions drawn;
‘‘(iii) relies on measurements or observational
methods that provide valid data across evaluators and
observers and across multiple measurements and
observations; and
‘‘(iv) has been accepted by a peer-reviewed journal
or approved by a panel of independent experts through
a comparably rigorous, objective, and scientific review.

Section 1208(3)

The term ‘essential components of reading instruction’ means
explicit and systematic instruction in—
‘‘(A) phonemic awareness;
‘‘(B) phonics;
‘‘(C) vocabulary development;
‘‘(D) reading fluency, including oral reading skills; and
‘‘(E) reading comprehension strategies.

Section 1202(c)(7)(A) says that the funds must be used to purchase programs based on “scientifically based reading research” that incorporate the “essential components of reading instruction.” Those components include “explicit… instruction in phonics.” Scientifically-based reading research “applies rigorous, systematic, and objective procedures” etc etc.

I clearly stand corrected on my assertion that Dougherty made an arbitrary decision to employ the “phonics” criteria. He may have arbitrarily decided not to use other criteria, and he may have worked in arbitrary ways to disadvantage research-proven programs that included phonics instruction, but the law backed him on phonics.

The more important question is whether the best reading of “based on scientifically based reading research” is whether it 1) allowed providers to refer to such research or 2) required them to have it for their specific programs. On May 27, 2007 in edbizbuzz I wrote that the former was the interpretation selected by Department and/or Dougherty and that it is a possible interpretation. (http://archive.edbizbuzz.com/blog/_archives/2007/4/27/2909673.html) My position is that it is not the best legal interpretation, and so not the legally correct interpretation.

A plain reading has to start with recognition that “scientifically-based reading research” is a term of art, a label for a definition. What is contained in Section 1208(c)(6)(A) might just have easily been called “scientific evaluation” or, for that matter, “label”. In the former case, Section 1202(c)(7)(A) would have read “based on scientific evaluation”. Treating “scientifically based reading research” as it is intended in the law - a label - gets us past the apparent confusion of seeing “based” twice in the same sentence.

Ken De Rosa of D-ed Reckoning (and, like me, GW Law class of 1994) has proposed the former interpretation, recognizing that it is not a readily apparent reading of the statute.

Because rules of statutory construction argue for choosing the obvious or simple interpretation over more tortured options, and for sticking with what can be gained from the text rather than - or before, referring to information outside of the legislation in question, he bears a heavy burden of evidence. What he’s produced amounts to statements by Reid Lyon and Bob Sweet about the legislative history.

This evidence is relevant, but its import must be weighed after accounting for at least four caveats.

First, the phrase “based on scientifically based reading research” or “based on scientifically based research” occurs well over 20 times throughout the Act, suggesting that its use in Section 1202(c)(7)(A) was typical, rather than special.

Second, words are changed in legislation all the time. Typically, when this occurs in order to create a specific meaning that the drafters want to see preserved in subsequent interpretations, there’s something in the written record to memorialize that intent - for the obvious reason that post-hoc rationalizations are a bit too convenient.

Third, Lyon was himself the subject of investigation and so his recollection is tainted by self-interest.

Fourth, Bob Sweet is also a partisan in the process, both as a Republican staff member and, like Lyon, a long time advocate of phonics.

De Rosa’s evidence would be a lot more persuasive if the intent of the wording was memorialized somewhere in the written legislative record, and if the story were backed by Democrats or other parties who had been engaged in the process. Since neither have been produced, I assume they don't exist.

It is, of course, entirely possible that the change was made during the legislative process in such a way as to escape the attention of others so it might serve as the basis for an interpretation later, but that’s probably not an argument for the interpretation of a statute that most lawyers, courts or law professors would find terribly persuasive.

De Rosa has an argument, and maybe even the true story in so far as the intent of Lyon, Sweet and others are concerned. Nevertheless, statutory interpretation is not about what’s plausible or what some people involved in the legislative process wanted – it’s about the intent of Congress as a body. This is why statutory construction favors the most straightforward, least complicated interpretation, sticking as close to the words within the document - unless the evidence for a different, more complex reading is overwhelming.

Readers have to decide if De Rosa’s met his burden, because this matter is not likely to go to court.


It's probably worth pointing out that the interpretation of Reading First requiring providers to demonstrate the efficacy of their specific programs is not only that of Bob Slavin's and other providers disadvantaged by the Administrations implementation - or mine. It is also the view of two of NCLB's Democratic negotiators - Representative Miller (http://archive.edbizbuzz.com/blog/_archives/2007/4/23/2900800.html) and Senator Kennedy (http://archive.edbizbuzz.com/blog/_archives/2007/3/30/2847151.html) (and appears to be supported by Senators Lugar and Binghaman who have a long interest in serious evaluation of K-12 programs).

I note as well that Senators Gregg and Enzi and Representatives McKeon and Boehner have remained silent on this matter. They have not stepped up to back Sweat, Lyon, Dougherty or the Administration. It certainly would not cost them votes, so one can ask why.

I raise this primarily as a fifth caveat to Sweat and Lyon. If the Senate and House Education Committee now chairs/then ranking members don't trump the testimony of staff and members of the Executive branch as to the intent of legislators, it certainly cancels it out.

But that's not what Miller or Kennedy ever stated in any prepared remarks or during the hearings. In fact, ifa nything, Miller was clearly of the opinion that DoE was preventing even more programs from receiving funding, implying an even more inclusive program. He trotted out a woman from the Kentucky DoE who agitated for funding for a non-phonics, non-SBRR whole language program. This was Miller's poster child and that does not jibe with Slavin's interpretation of the statute at all.

McKeon did make an attempt at defending what DoE had done at the hearing if you look at the questions he asked.

Edbizbuzz's Final Answer:

At this point, we're getting into the arcana of a debate that only you and I care about very much.

Here are the quotes to which I refer:

Rep. Miller (April 20, 2007)

"Rather than provide an even playing field on which high-quality programs could compete based just on the merits for business with the states, these officials and contractors created an uneven playing field that favored certain products," said U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the committee. "Indeed, we know of examples where states were essentially bullied to use these products in order to receive Reading First money."


Sen Kennedy (March 23, 2007)

"Today's GAO report confirms that the Department failed to take appropriate steps to give States clear guidance and impartial assistance in implementing Reading First," said Kennedy. "The report seriously questions the Department's compliance with prohibitions in the law regarding directing local curriculum or programs of instruction. It also questions the basis upon which the Department is defining programs supported by scientifically-based research."


My point is not whether what they said in the places I cite was true or even whether they contradicted themselves later. It's simply to underline my that a lot of people might say a lot of things, but we need something far more compelling than post hoc competing quotes to inform the meaning of a statute - that's all.

I'd really like to hear your views on Reading First as national k-12 education policy, because at this point I'm not sure what they are, and I'm sure many edbizbuzz readers assume you are with the major publishers.

Just wondering what your thoughts are on Reid Lyon's recent description of the actual vs. intended Reading First evaluation.

Wow, what a great discussion on Reading First. Actually, this is one of the few times I have actually read a blog interchange that is factually based and addresses the issues in a serious way. Some other blogs that have done an outstanding job of discussing the details and the issues are those sponsored by Mike Petrilli (Flypaper), Jay Greene (Jay Greene), and Pat Riccards (eduflack). Likewise, the discussion on the Interim Report on the RFIS is very informative and compelling. You guys are really studying these issues. I may have a different take on some of the points raised and some of the interpretations of the law that have been made, so I will lay them out for discussion sake.
The first point I want to clarify is that Reading First was not designed to pit phonics programs against whole language programs. In fact one major intent that we had in drafting the law was to move the ball beyond that very unproductive debate.
Some history. In 1996 then Bill Goodling, Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, requested that I brief him and his staff on the converging evidence relevant to reading development, reading difficulties and reading instruction. Mr. Goodling was, as he said, “tired of this reading wars nonsense” as he felt that the real issues were not being addressed – to wit, how the heck you help poor kids learn to read. The discussion during those briefing led to the conceptualization of the Reading Excellence Act (REA), the first piece of legislation that invoked the term Scientifically Based Reading Research (SBRR) and required federal funds to be spent on only those programs, materials, etc., that met the an SBRR criterion. When Bob Sweet and I worked on the development of Reading First, we were able to bring forward much of the language used in the REA.
During the period from 1996, Chairman Goodling and Chairman Jeffords of the Senate HELP Committee felt a need to apprise committee members of what constituted SBRR and requested that I provide testimony on this topic several times. Concurrently, the NRC convened a panel funded by DoED and NICHD to examine what was known about preventing reading difficulties. Given that their published findings in 1998 did not address what types of instructional programs, strategies and approaches were most beneficial for well defined kids, Senator Thad Cochran and Representative Ann Northup sponsored the National Reading Panel and assigned it to NICHD to convene the panel in partnership with DoED.
Most in the reading world are well familiar with the NRP but it appears that few understand what it actually found and reported. In a nutshell, it reported that phonics is absolutely essential but insufficient in teaching kids to read. This finding was reported probably a dozen times in the report. As much attention was given to phonemic awareness as a necessary but not sufficient component, fluency as a necessary but not sufficient component, and vocabulary and comprehension strategies as necessary but not sufficient component. The NRP was anything but a “phonics” report as has been interpreted by many. The finding that ticks a lot of folks off – particularly those who are invested in literature based approaches – is that evidence showed that explicit and systematic instruction was more effective than less intentional and systematic instructional strategies, approaches, and methods. This raised the hackles of some to such a degree, a number of replications by Camilli et al., Swanson and Hammill, and Steubing et al, have looked particularly at the finding of the need for systematic instruction in teaching phonics. Most recently, Dick Allington edited an invited series of papers in the Elementary School Journal which claimed that the NRP got it wrong – Systematic instruction in phonics was no more effective than non-systematic instruction. But a replication of those findings by the Steubing group published in a highly rigorous peer reviewed journal (Journal of Educational Psychology) supported the NRP findings. If you guys are into these kinds of details I strongly suggest you take a look at this series of studies – this is how science is supposed to work – replication rather than getting medieval on each other.
Sorry for the digression but it was important because we based Reading First on the findings of both the NRC Panel Report and the NRP findings. And in writing the legislation we DID NOT place any greater emphasis on phonics than on any other reading component. To obtain federal funding, a program had to be COMPREHENSIVE, covering all five reading components) and delivered explicitly and systematically. It is really that straightforward. We did not want there to be any misunderstanding about the absolute need for comprehensiveness and systematic and explicitly instruction – why – because that is what the converging evidence indicated were essential for improving reading capabilities in kids at risk for reading failure or kids who were already struggling.
As has been reported many times, our initial language required that federal funds could only be spent on programs with proven effectiveness. It is the case that this would have limited the number of programs eligible for funding, and the discussions within the congressional staffs revolved around the practicality of implementing such a small number of eligible products. But I am pretty sure that the decision was equally political. If one checks the lobbying schedule with the congressional policy makers working on Reading First, you will find a flood of visits from every commercial text book publisher and vendor known to man. In the research I am doing for an upcoming book I found that out something I did not know. A very large sticking point was that Congressional folks felt that the prescriptive program effectiveness criterion would exclude what they called “home grown” programs. This was a very big deal. The end result was a feeding frenzy by publishers and small program vendors all ravished and wanting a piece of the pie. It certainly was not hard for many to change marketing language to meet, at least on paper, the broader funding criteria. While some programs that were used were legitimate vis-à-vis meeting the criteria, others were not. The Oregon group provided a service to that state by designing a review protocol to evaluate programs. It was a systematic and objective protocol at least in my view, and other states picked it up. But no state ever had to use any published program (remember the “home grown” issue) or any checklist. To be sure however, given that many states and districts had no idea what constituted SBRR, they were grasping at anything that funded states used. Implementation was not well thought out at the Federal level.
The bottom line is that the softening of the language placed a significant burden on Chris Doherty and his very small team to ensure that funding was provided for only those programs that were comprehensive and delivered instruction systematically and explicitly. He never, nor was he allowed to, recommend any particular program. He was required by the law to withhold or withdraw funding if it was to be used on programs not meeting the comprehensive and instructional criteria. Thus, he did not allow funding for the Wright program or the Rigby program, both of which did not meet the dual criteria at that time. And he definitely did not dissuade any state, district, or school from adopting SFA. The OIG found no evidence that SFA was discouraged at either the federal level or the Technical Assistance Center level. The OIG has in its possession substantial emails from the Florida TAC to the SFA staff providing a great deal of assistance. The Florida TAC did balk when Slavin asked for them to write a written endorsement of the program and to send to all states. That would have given an unfair advantage to SFA as neither the TAC nor the feds could do that for anyone.
All that said, there were serious implementation and perceived conflict of interest problems, and some real goofball mistakes. A state RF person in Georgia told vendors that there was a list of approved programs. There wasn’t. Another mistake was the pushing of DIBELS by a DIBELS trainer who somehow was working on a TAC staff. Both of these problems were taken care of immediately and the OIG has that documentation. I am still working through the issues with the assessment committee work and have not figured out the perceived conflict of interest issues in that area. What Congress, and many commentators do not understand, is that Doherty was under a strict obligation to not provide funding for programs that did not meet the comprehensive and instructional criteria. If one examines the programs that were not funded, you will see immediately why those programs were not funded. I cannot find a program that was purchased through RF funds that addressed only phonics, but I certainly stand to be corrected.
There are some issues brought up in this discussion that I strongly disagree with. A point was made that I was the subject of investigation. I was not. I was asked by the OIG and the Congressional committees to provide relevant information, and if necessary to appear as an informational witness. I willingly proactively provided all information about my professional and financial interactions with everybody I knew in education. If asked any questions about any topic I accompanied my answers with objective evidence. And it is beyond me that my self-interest flowing from being a subject of investigation (which I wasn’t) would lead me or anyone to re-invent how we wrote the language
Second, that tired conclusion that I was a long time advocate of phonics only reflects a limited if not sloppy examination of the written record and probably a reliance on some media outlet that believes its readers are morons who can’t get their hands around comprehensiveness. All one has to do is examine my testimonies before congress beginning in 1997, the research criteria that we required at NIH to ensure that single approach programs were too narrow for funding (see 1992 RFA on studies to determine effectiveness of reading interventions, methods, programs, and approaches). , and at least 10 peer reviewed publications in the 1990s that reflect my concern, if not disdain, for the simple phonics-whole language dichotomy. In fact, look at my 1997 testimony where I described the serious negative consequences of trivializing reading into two dumb dichotomies.
Third, I believe that the changes in the legislative language are available in different forms. Bob Sweet, while a Republican and a supporter of “phonics” is a very honest man (for the record, I am a Democrat). His integrity has never been questioned by any congressional members or staff on both sides of the aisle. He has a tremendous amount of experience negotiating language in conference and with committee staffs. A simple phone call to Bob would provide you with a detailed analysis of the process that transpired and could tell you who supported and did not support our initial language. Both of us discussed this issue in depth with the OIG as they were trying to get their hands around the intent of the law. An interesting tidbit is that Sweet and I were, I believe, the last two individuals interviewed by the OIG even though we were the closest to the conceptualizing and drafting of the Reading First program. Weird. I would also ask Gene Hickok and Susan Neuman who were told in clear terms that the criteria could not be too prescriptive such as to “penalize” “home grown” and other publishers and vendors. It might also be helpful to review the early speeches and discussions provided by President Bush on Reading First. Note, his focus on supporting only that “which works”. Even his intent was not immune to negotiation. As an aside, when writing the criteria for the RF evaluation study, Sweet argued strongly in writing for the evaluation to be conducted by an independent source clearly distanced from the Department of Education. No dice. The Minority staff negotiated that requirement out of the language.
A point was also made about different congressional members supporting or no supporting different interpretations of the law. One problem is than most did not understand its intent. The major issues raised about the law being in conflict with the requirement that the feds cannot dictate, influence, etc curricula at the local level was never even questioned by any members who signed off on Reading First. Their staffs must have know that the law required the DoED to not fund or to withdraw funding from states and/or districts that were implementing programs that did not meet RF criteria. Bad habits are hard to break. Congressional members are used to formula funded entitlement programs, not formula funded programs with criteria for funding.
I am not sure if this response to the healthy discussion is helpful in clarifying or whether it further muddies the waters. I am sure you will let me know. I also want to contribute to the good discussion/debate on the RFIS interim report. I will get to this as soon as possible.


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