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NCLB Outrages

In Nashville, Laura Bush rallies teachers to rescue Reading First

Ohanian Comment: Reminder: My little book documenting the abuses heaped on children and teachers by Reading First is available for $8.95: When Childhood Collides with NCLB. I would note that the media and teacher unions, and the leaders of most teacher professional organizations are singularly uninterested in this publication. A group of us sent copies to members of the House and Senate Education committees. Most did not acknowledge receipt. I offered 20 free copies to my local National Public Radio fund drive and was turned down.

Whine. Whine.

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Susan Ohanian
P. O. Box 26
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A note on Laura Bush's campaign: Saying something is "science based" isn't necessarily praise. Reading First is science-based? So is water boarding. I want the electrical wiring in my house to be "science-based," but not the way the children I care about are treated.

By Jennifer Brooks

Thousands of teachers rallied in Nashville with first lady Laura Bush on Monday, hoping to save a $1 billion-a-year federal reading program from the budget ax.

Congress is poised to kill the controversial Reading First program. The program, one of the cornerstones of the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind initiative, has been plagued with allegations of corruption and lackluster test results.

But the first lady argued that Reading First, a science-based teaching method that emphasizes basic skills like phonics, is the best possible use of federal Department of Education funds. Reading First targets poor children in at-risk elementary schools for intensive reading curriculums.

"Isn't it sensible to teach kids to read?" Bush asked, to cheers and wild applause from the 6,000 educators and administrators gathered at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center for the three-day annual national Reading First conference. "It's not unfair to expect a third-grade student to read at a third-grade level. In fact, it's our obligation."

The conference meets just weeks after a devastating national report that found no real difference in reading scores between schools that participate in Reading First and those that do not. Department of Education officials insist that this is because other schools have also adopted the Reading First teaching approach.

The 6-year-old program has been on shaky ground since late 2006, when an internal audit by the Department of Education revealed that the program seemed to be steering schools toward certain reading programs and tools, programs in which some Reading First administrators have a financial interest.
The investigation could lead to criminal charges.

Last year, Congress slashed the Reading First budget by 60 percent. This year, neither the House nor the Senate has budgeted any funds at all for Reading First.

Unless those funds are restored before Congress votes on the 2009 budget bills in the fall, this will be the last year for Reading First.

Despite the controversy, the program has been popular at the local level. In Tennessee, 74 schools in 22 districts receive Reading First funding, including 10 in Nashville and one in Maury County.

Mildred Nelson, principal at Cole Elementary School in Antioch, said Reading First has had a huge impact at her school.

"We should bring the children in front of Congress and let them see the difference this program has made," Nelson said.

The first lady ended her speech with marching orders for the audience.

"We must restore the full $1 billion appropriation to Reading First," she said. "Spread the word about Reading First."

— Jennifer Brooks
The Tennesseean


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