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Scientifically based?

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Dear Deborah,

So much is happening and I am afraid that I jumped ahead and wrote a blog entry on the upheavals in NYC before I saw your post about teaching reading.

Here is the bottom line on the federal Reading First program.

No one in the federal government, not the Department of Education, not the Congress, tells teachers how to teach reading. Any teacher can use any program or method they prefer without federal dictates or interference. Nothing in the law says otherwise.

The Reading First program is a part of No Child Left Behind that got bipartisan support. It provides an extra billion dollars a year to districts that agree to use methods based on the research funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development over the past 15 years. That research was conducted during the eight years of the Clinton administration as well as the tail end of the first Bush administration (I was there, working in the US Department of Education and was not aware of the NICHD research, which was still new at the time).

You may not like the findings of this research, even though it was reflected in the report compiled by Catherine Snow's panel ("Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children," 1997) and the National Reading Panel (2000), but if not, then you or your school or your district should not apply for Reading First dollars. NYC got a big chunk of Reading First dollars ($107 million), even though only a tiny proportion of its schools intended to abide by the law's requirements.

The betting in DC is that the Democratic Congress will reauthorize Reading First. They don't see it as partisan.

Diane

1 Comment

Diane--You need to get out to the schools more. Reading First is all about using money and intimidation to force certain ways of teaching reading on teachers. Some have argued that money and intimidation were the only ways to cause change. I don't agree with the changes being promoted, so I'm not happy about it, but at least that argument is in touch with what's actually happening. Your comment that "No one in the federal government, not the Department of Education, not the Congress, tells teachers how to teach reading. Any teacher can use any program or method they prefer without federal dictates or interference" betrays a startling lack of understanding of how Reading First is being used at the state, district, and school levels.


Jake: I don't think you read my comments correctly. Reading First is a separate program; its purpose is to provide funding for those districts and schools that agree to use what is called "scientifically based reading research." No one is compelled to ask for Reading First money. If you don't like those methods, you don't ask for the RF money. Any district that applies for RF money agrees that it will be used for programs that meet the criteria in the law. Districts that prefer to use whole language or balanced literacy or some other approach can continue to do so and can continue to get their federal Title I money. If you ask for the RF money, you accept the requirements of the program. It's like any other categorical program: the money is supposed to be used for that purpose and not for some other. There are districts that get RF money only for some schools, not for others. NYC, for one, got $107 million for about 40 schools out of nearly 800. If you teach in those 40 schools, you use Harcourt Trophies; if you teach in the other 700 plus schools, you do balanced literacy. No one is compelled to adopt an RF text or methodology unless the district specifically asks for money for that purpose.
Diane

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