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NCLB Outrages

Report Says Education Officials Violated Rules

Ohanian Comment: I would point out that one of the first items I posted on this site--in June 2002--was an evaluation of the conflicts of interest of the Reading First panel members.

Gerald Bracey Comment:You will want to avail yourself of the Final Inspection Report on Reading First from the Office of the Inspector General. In places it reads like some B-Movie about corporate corruption:

"Beat the shit out of them in a way that will stand up to any level of legal and whole language apologist scrutiny. Hit them over and over with definitive evidence that they are not SBRR, never have been and never will be. They are trying to crash our party and we need to beat the shit out of them in front of all the other would-be party crashers who are standing on the front lawn waiting to see how we welcome these dirtbags." [I reinstalled the expletive deleted in the report].
This was an email from Chris Dougherty, the soon to be ex-director of Reading First to a Department of Education staffer who was reviewing some beginning reading programs that Doherty didn't like (he liked ones that put money in friends of the Bushes pockets). Before getting the RF plum, Doherty had spent 5 years failing to improve reading instruction in Baltimore. His schools would not have made AYP had it existed.

Doherty sent the above email along to then-reading czar, Reid Lyon with a note: "Confidential FYI. Pardon in-house language I use with fellow team members and friends. Do you know--on the QT--if anyone has done any good review of the Wright Group to date? We have beaten Maine on Rigby and this is cut from the same cloth. We are proceeding, of course, but if you knew of a good piece of work dissecting the Wright Group's stuff, it could further strengthen our hand." By "beaten Maine" Doherty meant that they had gotten Maine to change its Reading First program AFTER the award had been made. Lyon replied, "I like your style."

Later Doherty wrote to Lyon
"As you may remember, RF got Maine to UNDO its already-made decision to have Rigby be one of their two approved core programs (Ha, ha--Rigby as a CORE program? When pigs fly!) We also as you may recall got NJ to stop its districts from using Rigby (and the Wright Group, btw) and are doing the same in Mississippi. This is for your FYI as I think this program-bashing is best done off or under the major radar screens."
As the IG report notes, "The actions taken by the Reading First Director again call into question whether his intervention in these circumstances violated provisions of the DEOA and NCLB that PROHIBIT THE DEPARTMENT FROM EXERCISING CONTROL OVER THE CURRICULUM OR PROGRAM OF INSTRUCTION OF ANY SCHOOL SYSTEM" (emphasis added; DEOA = Department of Education Organization Act).

Most of the rest of the 34 page report is not quite this colorful--but some is--but is scathing nonetheless. In general, the IG Report finds:

The Department did not select the expert review panel in compliance with the requirements of NCLB.

While not required to screen for conflicts of interest, the screening process the department created was not effective.

The Department did not follow its own guidance for the peer review process.

The Department awared grands to states without documentation that the subpanels approved all criteria.

The Department included requirements in the criteria used by the expert review panels that were not specifically addressed in NCLB.

Implementing the Reading First Program, Department officials obscured the statutory requirements of the ESEA, acted in contravention of the GAO Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government; and took actions that call into question whether they violated the prohibitions included in .the DEOA.

Representative George Miller has called for everyone involved to be fired. Good summary article by Sam Dillon in the NYTimes. The Washington Post, which currently has lousy national coverage, runs Ben Feller's AP story--also good.

The timing of the release, of course, is exquisite and the Department has done it before. In fact, it's a common Washington strategy--if you don't want anyone to notice, put it out on a Friday afternoon.

The Inspector General's report is well worth reading. (pdf file)

By Sam Dillon

Department of Education officials violated conflict of interest rules when awarding grants to states under President Bush’s billion-dollar reading initiative, and steered contracts to favored textbook publishers, the department’s inspector general said yesterday.

In a searing report that concludes the first in a series of investigations into complaints of political favoritism in the reading initiative, known as Reading First, the report said officials improperly selected the members of review panels that awarded large grants to states, often failing to detect conflicts of interest. The money was used to buy reading textbooks and curriculum for public schools nationwide.

States have received more than $4.8 billion in Reading First grants during the Bush administration, and a recent survey by an independent group, the Center on Education Policy, reported that many state officials consider the initiative to be highly effective in raising reading achievement. But the report describes a tangled process in which some states had to apply for grants as many as six times before receiving approval, with department officials scheming to stack panels with experts tied to favored publishers.

In one e-mail message cited in the report, from which the inspector general deleted some vulgarities, the director of Reading First, Chris Doherty, urged staff members to make clear to one company that it was not favored at the department.

“They are trying to crash our party and we need to beat the [expletive deleted] out of them in front of all the other would-be party crashers who are standing on the front lawn waiting to see how we welcome these dirtbags,” Mr. Doherty wrote.

Mr. Doherty recently resigned from the department to “return to the private sector,” Katherine McLane, a department spokeswoman said.

Officials relayed reporters’ requests for comment to Mr. Doherty, and he declined to be interviewed, an official said.

The abuses described in the report occurred during 2002 and 2003, when Rod Paige was education secretary. John Grimaldi, spokesman for the Chartwell Education Group where Mr. Paige is chairman, said he had not read the report but would seek Mr. Paige’s reaction to it.

“Some of the actions taken by department officials and described in the inspector general’s report reflect individual mistakes,” Secretary Margaret Spellings said in a statement. “Although these events occurred before I became secretary of education, I am concerned about these actions and committed to addressing and resolving them.”

Officials will review by the end of the year all Reading First applications that the department approved, to determine that they met all applicable requirements, Ms. McLane said.

The report recounts how during the formation of a review panel in 2002 a journalist asked the department whether federal officials were trying to stack the panel so that some reading programs would not be treated fairly.

The report cited the Reading First director’s response to the department employee who relayed the journalist’s question: “Stack the panel? ... I have never heard of such a thing ....” the director replied.

“The response,” the report concluded, “suggests that he may indeed have intended to ‘stack’ the expert review panel.”

The report mentions Reid Lyon, the former chief of a branch of the National Institutes of Health, who was a research adviser to President Bush and an architect of Reading First. He exerted immense influence at the department when Mr. Paige was there.

In 2002, Dr. Lyon told the Reading First director and other department officials that a woman whom the department had already selected to be on a review panel had been “actively working to undermine” a reading initiative he favored, the report said.

“Chances are that other reviewers can trump any bias on her part,” Dr. Lyon told the officials.

“We can’t uninvite her,” a senior adviser to Mr. Paige wrote in response, the report said. “Just make sure she is on a panel with one of our barracuda types.”

The incident demonstrated “the intention of the former senior adviser to the secretary to control another panelist,” the report said.

In an interview yesterday, Dr. Lyon said that in the 2002 incident he sought to neutralize bias.

“If we detected bias, we had to make sure that the review panel was put together so that that bias would be neutralized,” he said.

Dr. Lyon left the national institutes in August 2005 and is now an executive vice president for Higher Ed Holdings, a company based in Dallas that is working to found a college of education.

“Oh man, I’m mortified,” Dr. Lyon said of the report. “To see the facts that were presented today was very disappointing, because it’s an outstanding program.”

The investigation was opened last year after the inspector general received accusations of mismanagement and other abuses at the department from publishers of several reading programs, including Robert E. Slavin, a director of a research center at the Johns Hopkins University who is chairman of Success for All, a nonprofit foundation that produces reading materials.

“The department has said at least 10,000 times that they had no favored reading programs, and this report provides clear evidence that they were very aggressively pressing districts to use certain programs and not use others,” Dr. Slavin said.

— Sam Dillon with comment by Gerald Bracey
New York Times


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