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Nevada's Reading First Program: Money First, Reading Later?

This blogger makes excellent points and does so with an elegance and wit rarely seen in bloggers.

by Desert Beacon Blog

While Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was taking flak from the GOP's Manufactured Outrage Machine over his suggestion that if the Bush Administration stays its course on Iraq the situation is lost; and, while the nation watched to see if Attorney General Alberto Gonazales could get his stories straight about whether he could remember anything about the decisions he made to fire U.S Attorneys -- which, even if he couldn't remember, were absolutely right, another Congressional hearing went under the radar. The hearing on the Bush Administration's $1 billion a year Reading First program conducted by Rep. George Miller produced some interesting testimony. [USAT]

Testimony about conflicts of interest on the part of education advisers, some of whom were the authors of materials states were supposed to purchase, and inordinate pressure on states to buy into the program even if they had already invested in other programs should have made a larger splash. However, it was a busy news week, and education never manages tsunamic waves unless the news item involves some untoward sex.

After the tales of Halliburton/KBR's contracting bonanza in the occupation of Iraq the woes of the Kentucky Department of Education sound small indeed, but the Department's application for funding was repeatedly rejected until it agreed to spend $725,000 for hand held computers/software developed by a top Bush Adminstration education official -- who earned between $100,000 and a cool million in royalties from the reading materials he developed. [USAT]

Three members of the Bush education team, Roland Good, Deborah Simmons, and Edward Kame'enui, benefited directly from the U.S. Education Department's promotion of Reading First. Good is the co-author of the DIBELS test and his company (Dynamic Measurement Group, Inc.) has received more than $1.3 million in royalty and other payments. [HCEL]

Little wonder members of the Bush Administration aren't fond of Inspectors General. U.S. Department of Education IG John P. Higgins began receiving allegations about the Reading First program in May, 2005, and his office initiated six reviews. The Inspector General's conclusions were all too reminiscent of other Bush Administration programs. "The Department of Education -- (1) appeared to inappropriately influence the use of certain programs and assessments; (2) failed to comply with statutory requirements and its own guidance; (3) obscured the requirements of the statute; and (4) created an environment that allowed real and perceived conflicts of interests." [HCEL test]

The Bush Department of Education and the National Institute for Literacy sponsored three Reading Leadership Academies to assist states in preparing Reading First applications. Six of the ten presentations focused on the Direct Instruction Program to the exclusion of others, and the handbook distributed promoted the DIBELS test. "Not surprisingly, 43 states indicated that they would use DIBELS as one of their assessments." [HCEL test] After the NIL decided not to publish a review of the assessments because 7 out of 24 were tied directly to people working on the review, the Department of Education directed the report's author to post it to the University of Oregon's website anyway.

Education Department officials intervened with states to adopt Direct Instruction and DIBELS, and not to adopt three other reading programs: Rigby, Reading Recovery, and Wright Group. The officials never documented their assertions that these programs weren't based on scientifically based reading research. [HCEL test]

The Department's version of oversight is, unfortunately, just about what we've come to expect from the Bush Administration. First, the Advisory and Oversight Panel was never implemented. None of the subpanels appointed included representation from those organizations specified in the Reading First statute, and the Reading First Director personally appointed three individuals to the subpanels who had professional connections to Direct Instruction. "In choosing individuals to serve on the subpanels, the Reading First Director showed a strong bias for those he knew supported Direct Instruction and a strong bias against those who favored Reading Recovery." [HCEL test] The Inspector General concluded that the Department of Education didn't screen review panelists for impartiality, nor did the RMC Research Corporation, a department contractor, adequately address conflict of interest issues.

Nevada was the 28th state to buy into the Reading First program. The March 18, 2003 press release said, "...The state's application passed a rigorous review panel that judged the plan against 25 main review criteria. Over six years, Nevada will receive approximately $26 million in support, subject to the state's successful implementation and congressional appropriations." [EGpr] Now we know that the "rigorous review panels" were packed, the criteria skewed, and the program unfettered by any research offering substantiation of actual comparative benefit.

The USDoE trotted out statistics indicating improvements in reading scores, and then was forced to admit that there were no controls -- no "comparable data on schools that did not use Reading First, saying that comparison is not expected until next year." [USAT] This, in Nevada, for "only" $26 million dollars.

In short, U.S. taxpayers have forked over a total of $6 billion since 2002 for a reading improvement program promoted by those who have vested interests in its adoption, and without any validation that it, in fact, is actually one bit better than the programs the states were already using.

That's why it comes as no shock that on Nevada's Reading First website under the "leadership" category the viewer sees: "In this space we need a general statement about the leadership structure for Nevada Reading First." [NRF]

— Desert Beacon blog


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