New conflicts disclosed in Reading First program
Let us now revel a bit in their misery, but then we must press ahead and defeat NCLB.
The danger here is that the money part will obscure the fact that the premise of Reading First is rotten, no matter whether leaders profited personally or not.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Officials who gave states advice on which teaching materials to buy under a federal reading program had deep financial ties to publishers, according to a congressional report Wednesday.
The report, compiled by Senate Education Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, details how officials contracted by the government to help run the program were at the same time drawing pay from publishers that benefited from the reading initiative.
Kennedy's report added new detail to a conflict-of-interest investigation by the Education Department's inspector general, John Higgens, who earlier had found that the Reading First Program favored some programs over others and that federal officials and contractors didn't guard against conflicts.
The new report focused on four contractors who headed centers that guided states in choosing reading programs aimed at kindergartners through third graders.
It found the contractors "had substantial financial ties to publishing companies while simultaneously being responsible for providing technical assistance to states and school districts." That damaged the program's integrity and illustrated the need for Congress to head off future conflicts, the report concluded.
The report zeroed in on four people who directed the program's regional Technical Assistance Centers:
Edward Kame'enui, who headed the western technical assistance center based at the University of Oregon. Between 2002 and 2004, while holding positions in which he was evaluating Reading First assessment programs and giving state education agencies technical assistance, Kame'enui entered into three different contracts with the publisher Pearson/Scott Foresman, the report said.
"Due largely to his contracts with Pearson/Scott Foresman, Dr. Kame'enui's income soared in the period following the implementation of the Reading First program," the report said, adding that the majority of his royalties were derived from products used by states and districts in conjunction with Reading First.
Kame'enui, who now works as a commissioner at the Education Department's research arm, earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties from Pearson/Scott Foresman between 2001 and 2006, the report said. He also received tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees from Voyager, another publisher of products used by states under Reading First from 2000 to 2003.
Scott Foresman also tapped Kame'enui to travel to education conferences and workshops on the company's behalf while he was the western center director, the report said. Kame'enui did not respond to requests for comment.
Douglas Carnine, who replaced Kame'enui as the western center's director in 2005, when Kame'enui left to take up his federal position. Previously Carnine had other roles related to Reading First.
Even as he headed the western center, Carnine worked with and continues to work with numerous publishers, the report said. He earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties from publishers that did well under Reading First, such as Houghton Mifflin Company from 2002 to 2006.
However, Carnine said in an interview Wednesday that his royalties from Houghton Mifflin and other publishers were for educational programs that had nothing to do with K-3 reading, the focus of Reading First.
Joseph Torgesen, who directed the eastern regional district at Florida State University from 2003 until the present. Torgesen is co-author of a McGraw Hill reading program that can be used under Reading First. The study found that from 2002 to 2006, Torgesen earned thousands of dollars in royalties and other payments from companies such as McGraw Hill and Pearson and Sopris West, which later was acquired by Cambium Learning.
In one internal e-mail, Torgesen questioned whether he should seek special permission from the department to review the new Scott Foresman curriculum for Maine. "I had a discussion with some folks in Washington yesterday who rightly pointed out that we might want to think about rewarding Pearson (/Scott Foresman) for significantly strengthening their program," Torgesen wrote.
Torgesen, in an interview Wednesday, said a review for the state of Florida had initially identified a Scott Foresman reading program as weak. However, Torgesen said Scott Foresman subsequently made significant improvements to the program, after which education officials in Maine asked Torgesen's center to review the program again.
"That prompted my e-mail to the folks in Washington, who suggested perhaps we might make an exception to re-reviewing Scott Foresman, since they had worked so diligently to improve their program," Torgesen said.
Sharon Vaughn headed the central technical assistance center at the University of Texas-Austin from 2003 to 2005. She received tens of thousands of dollars in royalties from Pearson Education Inc. and "other income" from Voyager Expanded learning, two programs used under Reading First.
Vaughn's lawyer, Gaines West, said it was noteworthy that the report did not say that Vaughn was improperly influenced by her relationship with publishers while she was the center's director.
The report concluded by recommending that Congress adopt new restrictions to safeguard against financial conflicts in federal education programs.
"Individuals serving on advisory committees or in the peer review process for the department should be prohibited from maintaining significant financial interests in related educational products or activities," the report said.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is scheduled to testify in Congress on Thursday on the Reading First program and problems in the student loan industry.
Spellings said in an Associated Press interview Wednesday that she had not yet thoroughly reviewed Kennedy's report but that any new findings of wrongdoing would be addressed by the department.
She said, however, that it would be impossible to run department programs without relying on some people with ties to the private sector. "We want and need expertise as we make policy and do this work," she said.
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