Monday, September 05, 2005

More on the Reading First Special Reports

There are several other thngs that I could have written about but because both of these (See below) reports are rather long I feel the need to touch on some highlights. But first I must tell you all that Joe over at SUAT has posted a new advocate. Check it out!

Now, about Reading First, the Bush administration's reading grants that are tied to NCLB. Reading First is based on the flawed work of the National Reading Panel report. Which has been documented in many other places, but from this report,

The 14-member team spent two years reviewing existing research on reading and concluded that the most effective reading instruction involved phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency and comprehension.
Lingering Doubts

The goal of the panel, according to member Timothy Shanahan, a reading researcher at the University of Illinois-Chicago, was “to end a war.” In broad policy terms, it did just that. With the advent of Reading First – passed as the centerpiece of George W. Bush’s signature education reform package in 2001— national reading policy would rest firmly on the shoulders of the NRP. But the report also sparked lingering doubts on the role commercial publishers played in framing the debate.

Panel member Joanne Yatvin, then a school principal in Oregon, wrote a minority opinion that accompanied the NRP report. In an interview, she said that Reading First should not have been based on the panel’s findings. “The National Reading Panel did a partial job,” she said. “There were too many topics of concern and interest and traditional involvement in the teaching of literacy that were never examined.”

She also noted that the NRP report expressly cautioned against commercial programs because of their rigidity.

Others noted discrepancies between the 449-page final report and a 32-page summary that most non-specialists read. For example, Elaine Garan, a literature-based theorist and professor at California State University-Fresno, noted in her 2004 book In Defense of Our Children: When Politics, Profit, and Education Collide that the NRP summary said, “Across all grade levels, systematic phonics instruction improved the ability of good readers to spell.” The full report, on the other hand, said: “The effect size for spelling [for children in 2nd through 6th grade] was not statistically different from zero ... [Phonics was] not more effective than other forms of instruction in producing growth in spelling.” Skeptics also noted that the summary was written in part, and promoted by, Widmeyer-Baker of Washington, D.C., the same public relations firm that represents curriculum publisher McGraw-Hill. Widmeyer-Baker also produced a video about the panel that showed students using McGraw-Hill’s Open Court Reading program.

Concerns about commercialization heightened in early 2002, when ED introduced Reading First to states in a series of Reading Academies. Presenters flashed a series of slides that gave examples of programs that would meet Reading First’s requirements for core, intervention and supplemental programs. The programs highlighted included Harcourt’s Trophies, Houghton Mifflin Reading, and Open Court Reading — now among the most widely-used texts in Reading First schools.

Regardless of whether anyone had a financial interest in the programs cited, the academies left the impression on many in attendance that ED had endorsed such programs. In its second of its four applications for Reading First funds, Louisiana, for example, gingerly referred to some programs as being “on the USDOE list.” The concerns were so widespread, in fact, that then-ED Secretary Rod Paige wrote a letter seeking to assure states and districts that there was no such list.

The Outsourcing of Technical Assistance

Despite its size—roughly $1 billion a year, $6 billion total by 2007—and ambitions, Reading First had a remarkably small staff at the department. In addition to an assistant, the program essentially consisted of two people: Director Chris Doherty and Sandi Jacobs, a senior reading specialist. Susan Neuman, a well-respected professor known for her groundbreaking research on reading difficulties among inner city students and ED’s new assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education, was another visible presence in the early days of the program.

ED had designed Reading First so that the bulk of heavy lifting fell to outside corporations. In fact, Reading First may be one of the most-heavily outsourced programs in the history of the department:

*A contract for $4 million went to the American Institutes for Research of Washington, D.C., to monitor states for compliance with the program.

*Two contracts worth $14 million and $3.4 million were awarded to the RMC Research Corporation of Portsmouth, N.H., to provide technical assistance to states on Reading First. After first overseeing consultants directly, RMC ceded primary responsibility to three ED-funded regional centers located at universities in Florida, Oregon and Texas.

*An additional contract went to RMC to oversee the creation of an eight-member assessment team at the University of Oregon that reviewed 29 tests for use under Reading First...


Critics of Reading First’s implementation say the roots of the problem lay with the program’s structure. Within a year of meeting with Scott Foresman and Voyager to discuss ways to make their products adhere to SBRR, the department designated the designers of those companies’ products as leaders of the SBRR advocacy effort for states and districts involved in Reading First. Kame’enui and Simmons were named co-directors of the Western Regional National Reading First Technical Assistance Center at the University of Oregon. Vaughn became the director of the Central Regional National Reading First Technical Assistance Center at the University of Texas.

In addition to their work on the upcoming basal, Kame’enui and Simmons had worked on an earlier intervention program for Scott Foresman. The pair, in addition to Vaughn and Roland Good, another University of Oregon professor, helped design one of Voyager’s most successful products, Voyager Expanded Learning.

ED officials declined to let reporters interview Kame’enui, who is serving through 2007 as the commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research, about possible conflicts of interest surrounding his role in Reading First. But financial disclosure statements he was required to file upon joining the department indicate that his association with Scott Foresman was quite lucrative. He earned between $100,000 and $250,000 in royalties last year, according to the documents, although it was unclear whether the funds stemmed from the upcoming basal or the earlier intervention work. Simmons and Vaughn both indicated that they receive no royalties from Voyager, but were paid fees as research advisers.

Spokespeople for Scott Foresman and Voyager declined several requests to answer questions for this article.

In addition to his work for Scott Foresman and Voyager, Kame’enui chaired Reading First’s assessment review team and, with Simmons, co-authored a widely used “Consumer’s Guide” to help states and school districts select programs under Reading First. In her book, Garan describes a presentation she gave in which she used color transparencies to explain the “vested financial interests of the ‘scientific researchers’ and their connections to government policy.”

“When I came to Edward Kame’enui,” she wrote, “I ran out of colors. He has financial links at so many levels.”

What is happening here is similar to what has happened in Iraq with Haliburton. Reading first has been out sourced, out sourced to some of the same people that were on the NRP. Some of these same people serve on the commitees that accept or reject the states reading first grants and the grants do not get accepted until you unclude the right programs, theirs, into your reading first grant. The reading porgrams of schools all over the country are being highjacked by a few well placed individuals who themselves stand to mke a lot of money from the programs.

That pretty much sets the stage for the next report which explains why DIBBLES is the number one tool in the country for accessing reading skills and strategies. Once again we see similar stratgies describe above this time pointing specifcally to the University of Oregon and many people connected to DIBBLES. Please try to read these reports. These are important.

No comments: