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Publishers seek recourse after audit slams federal reading program

Ohanian Comment:I wonder if publishers can sue the Department of Education for lost monies. The Inspector General's report make it very clear that the Reading First cabal blocked Wisconsin's use of Reading Recovery.

Anyone involved in a Reading First school, through teaching or parenting, should put pressure on the local board of education to demand redress.

By Greg Toppo

Publishers of two popular reading programs that were largely excluded from President Bush's $1-billion-a-year reading initiative say they will ask Education Secretary Margaret Spellings this week to tell school districts nationwide their programs are eligible for federal funding.

Their requests come in the wake of an Education Department internal review that found federal officials mismanaged the Reading First program, forcing schools to buy materials the administration favored, including a few to which federal advisers had financial ties.

The highly critical report, issued Friday by the department's inspector general, found that in 2002 and 2003, several top officials, including the program's then director, Chris Doherty, stacked advisory panels, improperly dictated which programs states approved and ignored possible conflicts of interest on expert review panels.

Doherty resigned effective this Friday, and the Education Department would not make him available for comment. The report suggests his strong hand shut out several eligible reading programs.

Two such programs, sponsored by the Ohio-based Reading Recovery Council of North America and Maryland-based Success for All Foundation, say they will ask Spellings to write to all 50 states to tell them that their programs are eligible for Reading First funds.

According to the report, a few days before the department announced its advisory review panelists, one nominee e-mailed Doherty to share his “strong bias against Reading Recovery” and his strategy for scuttling any state's plans to include it. The panelist later chaired the subpanel that reviewed Wisconsin's application. After the state said it planned to use Reading Recovery, he included an 11-page negative review of the program in his comments on the application.

“We need some immediate reparations from the department for having experienced this level of bias and discrimination,” said Jady Johnson, Reading Recovery's executive director. The program's board of directors will meet this week to discuss “our legal options.” Robert Slavin, who directs Success for All, says the report “corroborates concerns we and many others have been expressing.”

The inspector general plans to issue five more reports on Reading First by the end of 2006. Counsel Mary Mitchelson couldn't say Friday whether the inspector general would refer the issue to the Justice Department for possible criminal charges.

— Greg Toppo
USA Today


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