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U.S. Audit Faults Grants for Reading in New York

Ohanian Comment: I really wonder what the under-story is here.

By Diana Jean Schemo

WASHINGTON, Nov. 6 — New York State education officials improperly awarded more than $118 million in federal grants for early reading programs in New York City and elsewhere, and should return the money to Washington, according to an audit by the federal Education Department’s inspector general.

The audit asserted that New York gave the money to nine districts, including New York City, despite applications that fell short of the federal program’s standards.

In addition, the report said school officials in New York could not provide records to detail how they evaluated different school districts competing for federal dollars, and so could not justify the spending.

The audit is the latest to uncover problems with the federal Reading First program, a $1 billion-a-year effort by President Bush that awards large grants to states to buy reading textbooks and curriculums for public schools nationwide.

A report in September found that federal officials had steered states toward a handful of reading programs, in violation of the law, and cited apparent conflicts of interest on expert panels that advised states on their applications for Reading First grants.

Under federal regulations, to get Reading First money, school districts must make strong cases that every aspect of their early reading programs is grounded in scientifically based research, from the training of teachers to assessing students’ skills to the choice of curriculums. Falling short in any area scuttles a district’s application.

In the audit, the inspector general found that New York State inflated the scores of poorer districts, in an effort to give them money.

State school officials disputed the inspector general’s findings, pledging to appeal to the federal Education Department over the next month.

“We believe they are absolutely wrong,” said Tom Dunn, a spokesman for the State Education Department.

State officials blamed a contractor working for the federal Education Department for saying that they could destroy documents showing how reviewers scored applications from local school districts.

Lindsey Harr, a spokeswoman for the city schools, did not address the audit’s findings specifically, but praised the Reading First program.

In an e-mail message, Chad Colby, a spokesman for the federal Education Department, said the department was taking the inspector general’s report “very seriously,” and intended to “closely review the recommendations.”

He added that Education Secretary Margaret Spellings would “take appropriate action both within the law and in the best interest of the students served by Reading First” within 60 days of the report’s release.

Robert E. Slavin, a Johns Hopkins University professor who contends that his reading program, Success for All, was unjustly shut out of Reading First grants, said the inspector general’s report seemed unusually harsh in demanding the return of $118 million for the infractions cited.

“That would indicate gross mismanagement, particularly considering that the money was spent to teach reading,” he said.

— Diana Jean Schemo
New York Times


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