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NCLB Outrages

No time to close book: Though threatened, reading program is working

Letter to Editor by Gerald Bracey:
In his opinion article, Edward Moscovitch states that Reading First technical assistance directors were receiving royalties "for books published before they worked for Reading First or for books not connected to Reading First." This is not true. Senator Kennedy's investigation into the matter shows that three such directors received huge sums for consulting or for "non-employee compensation." Between 2003 and 2006, Reading First technical assistance director, Edward Kame'enui received $752,068, Douglas Carnine received $796,545, and Sharon Vaughn raked in $836,420. None of this money was for royalties of any kind. Only Kame'enui received royalties and these were relatively paltry sums for college-level textbooks.

Kame'enui's contract with Scott Foresman during this period stated that he "will provide a minimum of six (6) workshops or presentations per year" and that "during the calendar years 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005, Author [Kame'enui] will make a minimum of six (6) personal presentation per year in support of Scott Foresman Early Reading Intervention...."

Moscovitch should be ashamed of spreading such disinformation as contained in his article. The U. S. Department of Education's own study found no impact of Reading First on reading comprehension. Given the largesse of the program to people who had huge conflicts of interest and the lack of improvement, it is little wonder that both the House and Senate appropriations committees voted to defund Reading First.

From Edward Moscovitch's bio: As a consultant to the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, Ed was the principal author of the initial drafts of the finance portions of the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Law. He has served as the chief budget director for thte state of Massachusetts, as Vice President for Regional Economics for Data Resources, Inc.

DRI was bought by McGraw-Hill in 1980, and merged with WEFA (formerly Wharton Econometric Forecasting Associates) in 2001 to form Global Insight.

By Edward Moscovitch

Reading First, a major part of the No Child Left Behind law, encourages schools in low-income districts to use frequent assessments and research-based instruction to improve student reading. Report after report shows student gains.

And yet today the program is headed for the congressional chopping block - a victim of misunderstood studies and even more specious charges of insider dealings. If that happens, the nation’s children will be the real losers.

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings reported last month that the vast majority of states show increases in the percent of students proficient in reading comprehension, and that these gains occur at all grade levels and include students with disabilities and English language learners.

Despite these gains, the House and Senate appropriations committees have voted to end Reading First by zeroing out its funding.

Program opponents cite three other reports - all technically accurate but deeply misleading.

A major Education Department study recently reported that Reading First schools were making no more progress than other schools in Reading First districts. The study failed to point out that districts receiving those funds are required to promote Reading First teaching methods in all their schools!

The Reading First evaluator for Alaska, Arizona, Montana, Washington and Wyoming reported gains in all five states in the percent of students meeting third grade benchmarks. She also reports that 65 percent to 95 percent of non-Reading First schools in districts receiving Reading First funds use the same assessments, purchase the same reading materials, provide similar assistance to struggling students and hire similar reading coaches.

Alabama (where I’m the Reading First evaluator) has a stunning 89 percent of students meeting literacy benchmarks at the end of kindergarten, with almost no racial gap.

Sen. Ted Kennedy had concerns that directors of Reading First technical assistance centers were receiving royalties from publishers while working for the program. But in most cases, these royalties were for books published before they worked for Reading First, or for books not connected to Reading First.

In any case, the technical assistance centers do not recommend specific textbooks.

Kennedy now believes Spellings has addressed his concerns and wants Reading First to continue. Massachusetts educators tell him they support the program because it’s improving students’ reading.

Until Reading First, school districts had flexibility to spend federal education funds pretty much as they pleased. Reading First broke new ground with its requirement that schools use scientifically based reading research and, specifically, limit their selection of texts to those based on this research.

Sadly, despite all the evidence that children whose parents lack strong literacy skills need systematic instruction in basic language skills, some educators still resist such instruction and, therefore, chafe under Reading First restrictions.

Some school book publishers oppose Reading First because they believe it has hurt their business.

Reading First has encouraged thousands of educators across the country to adopt teaching methods based on scientific research on how children learn. Joe Morton, Alabama’s education superintendent, calls it “the most effective federal program in history.”

Its requirement that funds be used only for scientifically based instruction is not a conflict of interest; it’s the very essence of the program, (wisely) written into the law.

Reading First deserves better than to be killed in shadowy backroom maneuvers.

— Edward Moscovitch
Boston Herald


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