Friday, May 2, 2008

Reading First called "Ineffective"

I’ve been trying to post every Tuesday morning, but this was too good to wait four days. Today’s New York Times reports that “President Bush’s $1 billion a year [Reading First] initiative to teach reading to low-income children has not helped improve their reading comprehension, according to a Department of Education report released on Thursday.” The Times’ article goes on: “Reading First did not improve students’ reading comprehension . . . The program did not increase the percentages of students in grades one, two or three whose reading comprehension scores were at or above grade level.”

This isn’t the good part. The poor performance of low-income children is a crisis in American education. I welcome federal dollars to support reading in low-income schools. The problem with Reading First is that it is has been plagued by serious conflicts of interest and a very narrow, behavioral view of reading.

Here’s the good part. The Times also reported that Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings had “no comment” on the report. However, Amanda Farris, a deputy assistant secretary of education, defended Reading First saying “that one of the consistent messages Ms. Spellings has heard from educators, principals and state administrators “is about the effectiveness of the Reading First program in their schools.”

The No Child Left Behind Act mentions “scientifically-based reading instruction” over 100 times. Education officials in the Bush administration have repeatedly challenged teachers to embrace reading practices that have been scientifically proven. Schools of Education have been severely criticized for not teaching future teachers “the science of reading.” Reading First itself claims to focus on “putting [scientifically-proven] proven methods of early reading instruction in classrooms.” Yet, an administration official contradicts a large “scientific” study that concludes that Reading First is ineffective by citing all the people who have told Margaret Spellings that the program is working. This is delicious.

I think this episode makes it very clear that “scientifically-based research” is valued by education officials in the Bush administration only when it supports their preferred instructional practices. From the administration’s point of view, only research that supports an exclusive emphasis on phonics in early reading instruction has merit. I guess when you just know that it’s true you don’t really need research.