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[Susan notes: Here's a great letter that nails the cronyism infecting federal reading policy.]

Published in Education Week

To the editor

Regarding your May 24, 2005, Web article "National Reading Czar to Leave Public Sector" (May 24, 2005.):

The vast majority of reading educators have watched in horror over the last several years as the federal government, under the leadership of the putative reading czar G. Reid Lyon, sacrificed meaningful reading instruction for mandated, commercial reading programs and for-profit reading tests bolstered by very narrowly prescribed reading research.

Under Mr. Lyon’s watch, government policies effectively have lined the pockets of giant education publishers such as the McGraw-Hill Cos., Voyager Learning, and Sopris West Educational Services. Many of these companies’

CEOs and authors have close ties to President Bush, Mr. Lyon, and others in the administration’s reading-advisory team.

It is no surprise that Mr. Lyon will be leaving his current position to start a joint venture with Randy Best, the founding head of Voyager, which publishes the commercial reading program adopted by New York City after Mr.

Lyon’s team rejected the city’s initial reading proposal as “unscientific.”

It is also no coincidence that after publicly denigrating colleges of education for noncompliance with “official” reading dogma, Mr. Lyon’s new company will be in the for-profit teacher-training business.

The public has been sold a bill of goods about a “literacy crisis” that must be remedied by federal mandates in reading curriculum and assessment. Most are unaware that the most popular “approved” one-size-fits-all reading programs are published by the same companies that produce the mandated reading tests. Thus, while insisting on accountability for teachers, there is virtually no accountability for these programs. While our tax dollars make these companies rich, our best teachers are being forced to teach from scripts, and our children have no time left for reading real books in school.

These mind-numbing programs and high-stakes reading tests may be good for the administration’s business buddies, but they are not good for our children.

The federal government needs to end this scandalous cronyism and get out of the reading business. Educators and parents, who have the best interests of kids rather than corporate profits at heart, must insist on putting integrity and real learning back into our schools.

Bess Altwerger

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