[Susan notes: As Stephen Krashen observes, "This is an amazing letter, concisely presenting and explaining the problems with Reading First. I intend to share this with several thousand people, and I hope others will also circulate it widely."]
Submitted to Education Week but not published
Thanks to Kathleen Kennedy Manzo for her attempt to make sense of the research on Reading First
It took seven years, billions of dollars, and a few million victims as
young as five for the press and the politicians to realize that far
from being the fool-press scientific answer to the nation's literacy
crisis,Reading First is an absurd unworkable program,. Ironically, when
the Bush administration finally sponsored a study to see if Reading
First improved reading comprehension, as Congress had required, the
study showed no benefit. Yes, it was a flawed study. But it was designed
to prove Reading First successful and it failed to do so.
One basic flaw in the study is that it compared the comprehension of
reading first students to a control group that didn't have Reading
First. But there was no attempt to examine what they did have. That has
led many of us to play the "What if" game.
Congress mandated, in the Reading First law, a single methodology and
put the power to intepret and impliment that methodology through control
of the funding process in the hands of a small group of reading
ideologues, centered at the University of Oregon, who trusted no one but
themselves and who forced their own tests and texts on states and districts.
What if instead of that the law had permitted states and districts to
choose from a variety of clear alternative reading methodologies with a
history of support by educational researchers and professionals,
including the much maligned whole language. What we know now is that
the Reading Firsst methodology with its extreme focus on drill on
phonics didn't produce comprehension. If there had been a variety of
methods supported we could have compared them to each other regularly
throughout the years of Reading First implimentation. Instead we had
claims, made on the basis of DIBELS scores which include no measure of
the quality of comprehension, that reading first was successful. Yes it
was successful at teaching kids to respond to nonsense items in three
seconds and to rush through incoherent texts calling the names of words.
But it wasn't successful in helping learners make sense of print.
Throughout the implimentaion of reading first there has been an
atmosphere of coercion and intimidation. Teachers have been punished for
raising questions during their "training" to use the mandated tests,
texts and methodology. What if teachers had the option to teach in a
school that used a methodology they believed in as professionals? What
if the tests and texts mandated by Reading First had gone through the
usual review process that each state and district had been using prior
to Reading First? Could any of the poorly constructed and absurd
matrials forced into the schools under Reading First have passed such
What if even half f this enormous sum of money misused by the Reading
First profiteers had been used to fund a full range of programs
evaluated by unbiased third parties?
To me the answer to these "what ifs" is clear. We would know much more
about effective reading instruction. We would have much happier
students, teachers and parents. We would not be losing dedicated,
professional teachers who can't stay in teaching if they are forced to
teach in ways they believe hurt kids. We would not have urban districts
forced to close schools because they failed to meet unachievable goals.
And we would have far fewer kids labeled as failures in their first week
Language, Reading and Culture
University of Arizona