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Education department must avoid fraud

Ohanian Comment: There's a major flaw in the argument here. Mathis says: If run successfully, Reading First can make a difference in public schools in America and, ultimately, impact the future of our country: our schools will produce students equally prepared for college or the workforce and crime rates are sure to fall. Top-don't dictates of how to teach and what to teach will never work because children are different. Different children need different things, and the only ones who can make this determination are their teachers. What Mathis doesn't seem to realize is that all the malarkey about scientifically proven programs is part of the fraud.

by Greg Mathis

The President's Reading First program, instead of being celebrated for its role in helping America's children read to the best of their ability is being criticized for its fraudulent management. Not only has an audit of the program revealed that Reading First directors mishandled the way money was distributed to states to implement the program, but it also shows states were required to meet conditions that aren't necessary under the law. And, if a state didn't back a certain method of instruction, its funding was reduced. In a time where accountability in public education means everything, it is unthinkable that a government program charged with managing a key part of a major education initiative would engage in fraudulent, unethical behavior.

The largest and most comprehensive initiative of its kind, Reading First is designed to make sure all public school children in America read at grade level, in English, by the end of the third grade. Money is given to states so they can provide scientifically proven programs that improve reading instruction at selected Reading First schools. States must apply to the Department of Education for the money, and then the Department distributes funds based on the number of children living below the poverty line in that state. Statistics show that only 31% of all fourth graders read at or above what's considered a proficient level. Among poor students, only 15% are considered proficient readers. Further research shows that if a student falls behind in reading in the early grades, they are rarely able to make up the ground they've loss and, over time, school work becomes increasingly difficult. When a kid loses interest in school, unproductive and destructive behaviors begin to grab their attention.

Early success in reading can prevent this. As such, if run successfully, Reading First can make a difference in public schools in America and, ultimately, impact the future of our country: our schools will produce students equally prepared for college or the workforce and crime rates are sure to fall. But, with all of the fraudulent activity that has been uncovered, how can the American people be sure the Reading First program is actually working? If the executives in charge of running the program are unethical in their business dealings, how can we put our children's, and our country's, future in their hands?

The fraudulent behavior uncovered during the audit is varied: schools were forced to buy materials the program's administrators preferred; some of those manufacturers had financial ties to the program's advisors. Conflicts of interest were ignored and certain aspects of the law were 'downplayed' when administrators weren't particularly fond of them. No matter how big or small the infraction, it's appalling to think that the education of America's children rested in the hands of people whose sole focus seemed
to be on lining the pockets of their elite friends.

Reading First must be thoroughly reviewed; this Education Department audit was only a first step. If necessary, people must be fired and policies must be changed. Our children's futures are too precious to trust them to broken organizations.

Judge Greg Mathis is national vice president of Rainbow PUSH and a national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

— Greg Mathis
Chicago Defender


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