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More Evidence that Reading First Doesn't Work

Susan Notes:

Stephen Krashen packs a lot into this, showing that Reading First hasn't worked and what could be done with that money to benefit children.

by Stephen Krashen

The US Department of Education's latest report on Reading First (Reading First Implementation Evaluation Final Report, released October 10, 2008; http://www.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/other/readingfirst-final/index.html contains data on the time schools spend on Reading First (henceforth RF), test scores, and how much money is spent on RF. The schools included in the report had been doing RF for at least two years (starting in 2004-2005; data was collected in 2006-2007).

Time Spent on RF.

Teachers in grades 1 to 3 in RF schools reported spending about 20 minutes more per day on reading instruction than teachers in comparison schools (RF schools spent about 100 minutes per day on reading instructions, the comparison schools about 80 minutes; see exhibit 3.2). This amounts to an extra 12 weeks of instruction in reading for RF children each year, or three months.

Test scores

Test results were analyzed from about 10,000 RF and non-RF schools, and are based on local (state) assessments. Comparisons were made possible by the use of effect sizes. The measure used was the percentage of children reaching the proficient level or above. This percentage has gone up for all schools, so the study looked to see whether RF scores improved more than non-RF schools. The report examined grade 3 and grade 4 scores over several years.

Grade 3: RF children showed significantly more improvement than non-RF children in 12 of the 24 states included in the analysis. Overall, the RF advantage was between 2.4 and 3 percent.

Grade 4: There was no significant difference in improvement between RF and non-RF children in 11 states of the 17 included in the analysis. RF children were significantly better on all methods of analysis used in four states, and in two others they were better on some measures. Overall, the RF advantage was 2 to 2.9 percent.

If a school has RF for three years, the children get an extra 36 weeks of reading instruction, the equivalent of an extra year. If RF were even modestly effective, we should see a clear superiority for RF.
The document devoted a lot of discussion as to why RF didn't look better in their analysis, e.g. the use of RF-type methods in comparison schools, the way scores were reported, but there was no discussion of one obvious possibility: RF doesn't work. There was no discussion of the implications of the extra instructional time RF students receive.

An analysis in terms of gains made per time unit of instruction would probably show that RF was worse than non-RF instruction.


The median grant given to RF schools in 2004-2005 was $138,000 (see exhibit 2.6). The average amount per pupil was about $500.

RF schools are high poverty, which means that RF children have few sources of books. The $500 per student, invested at 5%, would yield $25 per year, enough to buy one new book per student per year for the school or classroom library for many years, with some money left over for other library-related expenses. This one time investment would eventually convert each RF school into a reading paradise. It is well-established that actual reading leads to better reading, better writing, more vocabulary, better grammar, and more knowledge.

— Stephen Krashen
ELL Advocates blog


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