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Reading First-gate

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The abuses revealed by federal investigations of the Reading First program show that elected officials' actions, though well-intentioned, led to the corruption and were "the predictable result" of an incomplete approach to legislation designed to improve school reform, writes Marc Dean Millot in this Education Week Commentary.

In place of purchasing new and innovative programs from the private sector, as the legislation aimed to do, officials left the making of a new market to a traditional syndicate, the "deeply entrenched purchasing relationship" of school districts, federal and state education agencies, large multinational publishing firms and consultants, posits Millot.

The result was "insider relationships and inside deals" resulting in corruption that has hurt "students, taxpayers, political leaders behind reform, and the emerging school improvement industry."

What do you think? How should lawmakers and others guard against abuses in the emerging school improvement industry?


8 Comments

Ensuring that programs are research based, and consulting with the teachers (those directly responsible for the implementation of programs) is a start.

While legislation does seek, with good intentions, to ensure that 'all' children receive a quality education, it leaves the lawmaking to individuals that have little insight into how those policies are to be carried out. The old "do as I say, not as I do adage." The best intentions are often circumvented because policy makers are not educators and usually fail to hear the voices of those who are.

Truth be told, the initiatives and laws look good in writing, but practical application is virtually impossible. If the goal is to improve education involve educators (the classroom teachers), but if the goal is to make laws-by all means continue.


Tiffany--truer words were never spoken. Include educators (REAL educators) in policy making and we might get somewhere. Plus, implement any changes in stages with intense teacher training and input at every stage. It is truly criminal that our children's educations are watered down to the most inocuous level possible to appease the "big markets". Legislators and big business have no legitimate place in our classrooms.

The quality of the programs is the real issue here. Hiding behind the "scientifically-based research" label, programs that promote "reading" as decoding at an appropriate pace ensure that the struggling students in the poorest schools - often minorities - do not have opportunities to comprehend good quality literature until it is too late. The skills that Reading First programs emphasize address do not add up to real reading. The higher level thinking component is missing from these programs, probably because it is difficult to measure and can best be taught with literature, not a program. That means less money for publishers.

I am very glad this issue is being discussed in the mainstream media, at least a little.

"Legislators and big business have no legitimate place in our classrooms." - Well said, Susan! All three of you are like fresh air.

The the political and propaganda efforts of investors to position themselves in the cash stream of public education may be the greatest threat faced by education (or even by democracy itself!). They'll say anything to promote their products, including calling teachers a special interest group.

It isn't so much a well-intentioned program gone awry, as another grab for public money cloaked in pious "children first" jargon.

The Reading First initiative was designed and implemented to reward the existing "legacy systems" that have old inventory to sell, insider relationships to leverage and money for campaign donations. If the objective was to focus on those students who have the greatest need to learn English they should have looked to the newer proven programs like www.headsprout.com. They cost less, have more consistent results and lay a good foundation. The history of reading instruction for those eligible for Title One isn’t something anyone can be proud of. Hopefully the lessons learned from the “Reading First” initiative will be applied to whatever the Federal Government does with the recommendations of the National Math Panel.

Legislators and big business have no legitimate place in our classrooms? Susan and Mary need to move into the twenty-first century. Teachers, adminstrators, and local school boards had control of our schools for a century and a half. The results were a public embarrassment! Finally big business got tired of the quality of our "graduates" and pressured state legislators for change. Thank God! The results of this paradigm shift led to standards based education reform across the country. The educational establishment, of course, fought ed reform kicking and screaming every step of the way. They wanted no one moving in on their territory, their monopoly.

I think what we need is to keep an open mind, agree that problems exist, and look for the best ways to correct the inadequacies in the system as it currently exists. Business and industry have just as much a vested interest in education as we educators have. We can't continue to teach in a vacuum and expect to reform as system that is in dire need of reform. I do not have the answers but I am certainly open to suggestion (that's why I'm reading here)

When we want legal advice, we ask a lawyer. Yet when we want sound advice on education issues and reform initiatives, we ask legislators and policy-makers. As Tiffany and Susan have so eloquently stated, educators should be consulted on mattters of education. They have a vested interest and sound prior knowledge on best practices in teaching and learning.

Business and industry have a vested interest in products and profit. As a veteran teacher, in a city that is overwhelmed by a Congress-imposed private school voucher program and the proliferation of charter schools, I am keenly aware of the impact that a multi-layered bureacracy can have on school reform. The new urban trend by elected leaders (i. e., mayors takeover of schools)to grab more power and add more layers to the school bureaucracy heap only results in less accountability and transparency and greater opportunities for corruption.

I agree that we should keep and open mind and acknowlwdge that problems exist. But we should also keep our eyes open while demanding transparency and accountability at every level of decision making. Since principals and teachers are on the front lines of the implementation of education reform agendas, they must be considered as the expert witnesses on matters related to school reform.

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