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Lessons From Reading First: No One Cares About Local Control Anymore


Fresh off of his appearance in Hot For Education last week, former Reading First czar Chris Doherty is back in the news. EdWeek (E-Mails Reveal Federal Reach Over Reading) focuses on the extent of the intrusiveness in RF and the historic ban on federal meddling in local decisions. Lyon.jpgThe Title I Monitor details his close relationship with reading guru Reid Lyon, who is interviewed in the piece about his role and what happened ("Reading Czar" Served as Conduit Between ED, White House).

What jumps out at me when I try and figure out why these Reading First stories never make it to the national level -- I'm talking Good Morning America here -- is that the notion of protecting local control over education decisions is pretty much dead. Sure, as the EdWeek story points out, there's long been a federal ban on meddling with curriculum. And I'm not saying that RF and Doherty were right. But after Goals 2000 and NCLB and all the rest, local control is mostly a fig leaf in the minds of most non-educators at this point, isn't it?

If that's the case, as it may be, then the only thing I can think of that would make RF a national story is perhaps a love triangle between Doherty, Lyon, and former deputy Sandi Jacobs (now at NCTQ). Or maybe I'm wrong and it will keep bubbling up.


Nothing precludes the feds from requiring certain things for the states in order to receive federal funding due to the Spending Clause.

If states don't wish to receive Title 1 monies under NCLB, they can always opt out and see how they fare without federal financial assistance.

I don't think it is fair of you to paint reading requirements under NCLB Reading First as somehow being contrary to federal law. It is one thing to say an individual unfairly used discretion; it is another thing entirely to make something out to be something that it is not: a violation of the historic ban on federal meddling of local decisions.

This is like saying the feds mandate the education of children with disabilities, but the feds are meddling because the feds say the locals must educate the kids according to the federal criteria of what constitutes an appropriate education.

Sometimes, a federal definition is necessary, to prevent watering down by states. This was necessary with Brown vs. Board of Ed, and it is still necessary in education concerning WHAT states are doing with federal money in public education today.

When states seek Reading First money they trade in some local control in exchange for the funds. And RF requires the feds to make sure those funds are used properly by ensuring that all reading programs be consistent with SBRR. NCLB gives this authority to the Feds explicitly.

The NCLB law states that the federal government may not "mandate, direct, or control" the choice of curriculum, nor can it "endorse, approve, or sanction" any particular curriculum. The former phrase appears in law in two different places, the latter once (Sec.1905, Sec. 9527) and in Sec. 3403b of Education Organization Act. However, Sec. 3403b ends with this phrase: "except to the extent authorized by law."

That last phrase is the critical language.

It is useful to keep in mind that RF is a voluntary program. No state is subject to the guidance of the law with respect to SBRR unless it applies for RF funds.

judy ramirez posts:

Thanks for your article.

Now I understand why Sandi Jacobs failed to reply to my recent query: "Does NCTQ have an official position on NCLB and, specifically DIBELS? Have you read Kenneth Goodman's book and arguments against DIBELS?"

The NCTQ Study is prominently posted on my web site -- WordsAhead.org -- but never in a million years did I intend to promote DIBELS.

Judy Ramirez

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