by Margaret Spellings
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings deserves to be read the riot act when she appears this week before a congressional committee probing allegations of mismanagement and cronyism in the Reading First program.
On Spellings' watch, the $6 billion federal initiative to improve literacy rates in disadvantaged schools appears to have served instead as a profit center for textbook authors and education consultants with ties to the Bush administration. Department officials and their consultants favored certain literacy texts and assessments over others for reasons other than pedagogical. One textbook author on leave from the University of Oregon while overseeing the federal National Center for Special Education Research testified before Congress that he earned $150,000 in annual royalties from an early-reading program. His co-author made a similar amount.
Another raked in $500,000 from sales of a literacy test used by Reading First schools. The assessment could have been obtained for free from the Internet but states instead were steered toward purchasing packaged versions or hand-held computers that contained the test software.
Congress isn't the only body poring over a scathing audit of Reading First by the Department of Education's inspector general. Portions of six reports by the inspector general were referred to the Department of Justice for criminal review.
What is Spellings doing about all of this?
In a rebuke last fall of the pork-barrel politicking in her agency, this page noted Spellings' promise for swift moves toward transparency and fairness. The program's head resigned but more than a rolling head or two is needed.
Reading First is a signature piece of the No Child Left Behind federal law. Approximately $1 billion annually is spent to train teachers and buy materials. Taxpayers, and the two million children helped by Reading First to read by third grade, deserve clean government.
Calls in Congress for annual financial-disclosure statements and strict rules preventing federal officials from pressuring state and local Reading First programs are spot-on. Indeed, Spellings should get out in front on this.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES