Sorry, Margaret

May 5, 2008 by

Reading First, included in the No Child Left Behind legislation, does not increase reading comprehension. When I first saw the story this morning, Margaret Spellings, Secretary of Education, still had made no public statement about the study:

“Reading First did not improve students’ reading comprehension,” concluded the report, which was mandated by Congress and carried out by the Department of Education’s research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences. “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.”

The study, “Reading First Impact Study: Interim Report,” analyzes the performance of students in 12 states who were in grades one to three during the 2004-5 and 2005-6 school years. It is to be followed early in 2009 with a final report that will analyze additional follow-up data, the institute’s director, Grover J. Whitehurst said.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and President Bush have consistently extolled Reading First as a highly effective program. But last year, Congressional Democrats reduced financing for the program for this year by about 60 percent, to about $400 million from the $1 billion it had received in several previous years.

On Thursday, Ms. Spellings had no comment on the study. Amanda Farris, a deputy assistant secretary of education, said in a statement that Ms. Spellings planned to look at the study “to inform our efforts,” and would “look forward to reviewing the final report.”

Ms. Farris said 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 and their disappointment with Congress” for cutting its financing.

There can be all kinds of anecdotal “evidence” that Q or F-3 works but we owe all children, not just suburban ones and not only low-performing ones, best practices that are based on actual results and research rather than political loyalties:

In 2006, John Higgins, the department’s inspector general, reported that federal officials and private contractors with ties to publishers had advised educators in several states to buy reading materials for the Reading First program from those publishers.

The Reading First director, Chris Doherty, resigned in 2006, days before the release of Mr. Higgins’s report, which disclosed a number of e-mail messages in which Mr. Doherty referred to contractors or educators who favored alternative curriculums seen as competitors to the Reading First approach as “dirtbags” who he said were “trying to crash our party.”

On NPR, I heard a new teacher say that a parent at her school, a school that had been mostly minority and failing for many years, appreciated the state tests that her daughter was still flunking because she felt it showed that, finally, those in power cared about her child’s education. And one point the teacher made in her segment was that all children deserve well-rounded educations that promote critical thinking, creativity, problems-solving skills and more than test-taking tricks and methods and rote drill. And I have to disagree with the parent–the powers that be still don’t care about your child’s education because your child is being taught to and held accountable for a test that doesn’t necessarily benefit her as much as it gives those powers that be, those adults, cover for not caring about her or most other children’s education. The idea is to raise the test scores of failing schools enough to make it look like something is being done, not to really reform them, not to bring the best practices of the suburbs and magnet schools to every school, and certainly not to fulfill the promise of Brown and desegregate public schools.

With Bush set to leave office, NCLB is being looked at. We’ll see what comes out of it all.

G Bitch (yeah, still)


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