September 24, 2006

Reading First Scandal Update

Update: See my point-by-point updated analysis of the OIG's "findings" here. But read this post first if you are not up to speed on the state of the reading wars.

I finished reading the OIG audit and with the exception of some salicious quotes pulled from e-mails it was oddly free of sufficient facts for anyone to make an informed judgment as to the alleged wrongdoing on the part of DoE. In addition, I couldn't find one instance of "balanced literacy" or her ugly step sister "whole language." And, in case anyone has been living under a rock for the past decade, there is a "reading war" raging in this country between the advocates of "whole language" reading instruction and the advocates of "phonics" based reading instruction. It's difficult to understand what's going on in the Reading First program unless you know what's going on in the Reading War.

Certainly the MSM reporting, the AP article and the New York Times article, on this OIG report has been superficial. Their intent, so far, is to report on the potential Bush administration scandal and play it up. Their investigative reporting has consisted of accepting the bad findings in the OIG report at face value and parroting them back to their readers.

My take is that the OIG report is a strong offensive waged by proxy by the advocates of whole language. It is uncertain whether OIG is an unwitting dupe, carrying water for the whole language cultists, or merely taking advantage of a political opportunity (sloppy DoE administration) to take a swipe at the administration. So let's place the scandal in its proper context so we can get a clearer picture of what is actually going on here, and what is not being reported by the OIG and MSM.

Whole language remains the predominate mode of reading instruction in use today. It's not called whole language anymore; it's called "Balanced Literacy" because they added a veneer of phonics on top of a system that continues to teach children how to read by "focusing on meaning" rather than by decoding words using phonics. Phonics is an after thought in Balanced Literacy. The most important aspect of Balanced Literacy is that it continues to fail to teach many children to read and still lacks a research base. Nonetheless, it is used in nearly every classroom in this country and its proponents remain ensconced in the departments of education in many states.

Reading First is the initiative designed to combat the mass reading failure caused by the continued use of Balanced Literacy reading programs. RF was designed to encourage states to adopt reading programs based on Scientifically Based Reading Research (SBRR). When RF began , three reading programs had sufficient SBRR to be funded under RF: Open Court (OC), Success for All (SfA), and Direct Instruction (DI) -- some being more successful than others. It is important to note that these three programs were not only SBRR programs they were also scientifically validated reading programs; each program has a significant research base validating its effectiveness. However, RF only requires SBRR, and, as a result, additional phonics-based reading programs were later found to be qualify.

In order to get RF funding it's up to the states to submit their application for funding. This is where the fun begins.

All the states had to do to claim RF funds was to submit a proposal indicating that they would use one or more SBRR programs, such as OC, SfA, or DI. This did not go over well with many states whose DoE's were infected with whole language cultists and reading curriculum publishers (such as Reading Recovery) whose programs were excluded because they were not SBRR programs. Moreover, this didn't prevent many states from submitting RF applications which included only reading programs that were SBRR free. Reading Recovery, a failed remedial reading program, was a popular choice and the publishers of Reading Recovery mounted an intense campaign to be included in the RF program.

In addition, at this point some states began communicating among themselves in an effort to find a loophole in the imprecisely worded RF statute to get their favored Balanced Literacy programs included in RF. These states used the application process and their ability to amend their applications as often as needed to subvert the RF prohibitions against the Balanced Literacy programs they wanted so dearly to continue to use and get funded.

Here's how the game typically gets played. All a state needs to do is get one Balanced Literacy program approved, it could then include any number of additional SBRR programs in its application knowing full well that most school districts would never use anything but the sole approved Balanced Literacy program. Such is the preferred way to subvert a statute aiming to any reform of education.

Bob slavin appears to not understand how this game gets played and is seemingly upset that SfA has not been selected by more states even though it is eligible for RF funding. The New York Times used Slavin as their "useful idiot" and to run cover for the politically powerful and largely Democrat supporting whole-language-loving educators. (Word of advice to Slavin: states aren't selecting DI for use either; being named as eligible under RF is not the same thing as actually being used.)

This is the context that the harsh DoE emails in the OIG report are best understood. Professor Marin Kozloff, a Reading First Panelist, had this to say about the states' shenanigans in a discussion forum on Saturday night:
[T]he assertive comments found in several of Mr. Dohertys emails are not an example of rejecting certain programs and favoring others. They were emotional responses to the continual harassment and pressure put on Reading First by companies (and by proponents) whose programs were (in my estimation) very badly designed but who wanted their programs accepted, anyway. It must be remembered that Reading First did not occur in a neutral context. It was not merely that certain materials were NOW considered badly designed, untested, and ineffective; it was the case that a whole approach (unsystematic instruction; teaching students to predict what words say) was called to account. Proponents of that approach (whole language and Reading Recovery) were often the very persons writing state RF proposals, and (according to Chris and Sandi) communicated amongst themselves in emails, telling each other how to by-pass the Reading First regulations. That is the context in which Mr. Dohertys remarks must be understood.

Far from side-stepping the regulations, he was trying to prevent their being subverted, and was frustrated by the chicanery of some states.
Right or wrong, Mr. Doherty is certainly politically naive if he thought the diehard whole-language cultists were going to simply roll over and accept the beating RF was intended to inflict on them. That's why he's being made the fall guy in this scandal.

Professor Kozloff has "professional contacts" with DI along with at least five other RF panelists. The OIG made much of these contacts in its reports. This was all they had to go on, because even though DoE was under no obligation to conduct a conflict check it performed one anyway for financial conflicts. Nonetheless, OIG drummed up the "professional contacts" conflict conveniently ignoring that every panelist had a professional contact with some reading program, otherwise they wouldn't have been qualified to serve as a panelist. Kozloff explains:
As to the finding that six panelists had some kind of professional connections to DI programs, this does not reveal a bias towards DI. Everyone on the panel must have had a professional connection to SOME program (Open Court, Success for All, Orton Gillingham); that is, they must have used a program; trained teachers to use it; or owned it. Can you imagine an expert in math who has no professional connection to a math text---is not partial to and has never used any? At the time the panel was created there were only three sbrr programs---Open Court, Reading Mastery, and Success for All. If there were six persons with connections to DI in the whole panel, this would be well below chance.
It's hard to believe that the OIG failed to see that everybody in education has professional contacts with some pedagogy and/or program. The difference is that some of those pedagogies are backed by scientific research and are effective and others have no such backing and, to boot, are ineffective. Unfortunately, the ineffective programs are the ones in widespread use. Furthermore, OIG seems not to be able to grasp the concept that insisting that states only adopt reading programs with SBRR support is not the same as endorsing or pushing the reading programs having SBRR.

Not unsurprisingly, the MSM has so far failed to get to the bottom of the OIG report. They sense that the report can be played up as a Bush administration failure and are playing it for all it's worth. This is what politics is all about after all and it doesn't help that DoE appears to have been very sloppy with its discoverable communications and its practices.

But let's not lose track of the fact that if the Reading First initiative is permitted to be subverted by the States it will not bode well for the millions of kids who fail to learn to read in a timely basis every year or for NCLB which depends on our schools being able to get kids to read in a timely manner in order to get them to proficiency by 2014.

Update (1:06 pm): Corrected some typos and readability.

See my point-by-point updated analysis of the OIG's "findings" here.

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you swallowed a Heritage Foundation book. For that, I'm afraid, there is no cure.

KDeRosa said...

Then you should have no problem showing where I'm wrong for all the world to see. Show us your brilliance.

Anonymous said...

Do your homework. Reading Recovery is a PD collaboration between universities and school districts. It is an investment in teacher knowledge rather than worksheets, workbooks, and other "teacherproof" programs such as OC, DI, etc.... A lot of greedy people (e.g. Doherty, Reid Lyon, Simmons, NICHD, Oregon, Texas, Torgenson, Florida, etc....) will continue to profit from the ideology of idiots like yourself. All to the detriment of our children. Heaven help you all.

Dickey45 said...

How, exactly how are Doherty, et al profiting? Do they own stocks?

Does an anonymous person saying they are profiting make it so?

Anonymous said...

Are you watching the webcast????

It's fantastic!!!

Reckoning...INDEED!!!!!!!!!!1


IDIOT

Anonymous said...

Hey Dick----ey

To answer your last question.....

"Does an anonymous person saying they are profiting make it so?"

No......the Committee on Ed and Labor saying so makes it So

FINALLY, JUSTICE FOR THE CHILDREN....

KDeRosa said...

Are you watching the webcast????

I'm too busy watching you make an idiot of yourself in the comments.

Anonymous said...

Ooh, touchy. I guess it has been a tough day for you and your unethical counterparts. All of us who advocate for children, rather than use their misfortune to line our pockets, are so sorry.

Anonymous said...

Reading Recovery was recently recognized as an effective early reading intervention after a 3-year independent study by the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC), a branch of the United States Department of Education (USDE) and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). See http://www.whatworks.ed.gov.

Anonymous said...

Doherty and other Reading First Officials:
• Stacked grant-application review panels with experts who favored Direct Instruction.

• Screened panelists for conflict of interest, which was not required under the law, but then failed to identify those with professional connections to favored programs.

• Made states meet additional conditions in grant applications that were not required by law.

• Withheld and/or edited the full comments of review panels, giving states summarized responses to grant applications.

Anonymous said...

http://www.citizensforethics.org/node/19744

Anonymous said...

Then, this week, the Chronicle of Higher Education, considered the bible of higher ed insiders, fleshed out the report's findings, in a 5,000-word story headlined: "Reading for Profit: Whistle-blowers allege that U. of Oregon scholars steered bounty from the No Child Left Behind Act to themselves and their colleagues."

Anonymous said...

"It is becoming increasingly clear that the Bush administration has been sacrificing the education of children to financially benefit a select group of loyalists and donors."

Anonymous said...

At the "Reading First Academies" -- federally financed conferences that introduced the program to state officials in 2002 -- Success for All and Direct Instruction went essentially unmentioned.

That silence seemed especially peculiar to Mr. Slavin because several of the speakers at the Reading First Academies were past or present faculty members at Oregon who had begun their careers immersed in the culture of Direct Instruction. (Direct Instruction was developed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the mid-1960s, but its creators decamped for Eugene in 1970.) Why, he wondered, did they not tout the virtues of a nonprofit program they obviously knew well? Could it be because some of them had relationships as authors or consultants with for-profit publishers?

KDeRosa said...

Lots of comments, Anon, little factual support. Plus, I've already refuted each of the comments in posts, so I won't bother adressing them again. Let me know when you have something new to add to the discussion.

Anonymous said...

Right, read that. Very impressive. And which company is it you work for? SRA???? Ever actually taught a child to read? Didn't think so.

Anonymous said...

Something new....

http://www.house.gov/apps/list/speech/edlabor_dem/rel042007rf.html

An investigative hearing by the House Education and Labor Committee today showed that mismanagement and conflicts of interests were pervasive in the federal Reading First program, and demonstrated the need for Congress to enact safeguards against such conflicts.

Anonymous said...

"Rather than provide an even playing field on which high-quality programs could compete based just on the merits for business with the states, these officials and contractors created an uneven playing field that favored certain products," said U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the committee. "Indeed, we know of examples where states were essentially bullied to use these products in order to receive Reading First money."

Anonymous said...

All three of those former committee members - Roland Good, Ed Kame'enui, and Deborah Simmons - benefited financially either directly or indirectly from the sale of a specific assessment product called the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Learning Skills (DIBELS). Goode was a co-author of DIBELS; so far, a company in which he owns a 50 percent share has received more than $1.3 million in royalty and other payments from the sale of DIBELS.

Kame'enui and Simmons were co-authors of a reading intervention product used in Reading First, which was packaged and sold together with DIBELS. They both confirmed at today's hearing that they each have received approximately $150,000 in royalty payments in the last year for the sale of that intervention produc

Anonymous said...

"Too many times in the Bush administration we have seen examples of officials abusing the public trust and misusing tax dollars. And we have seen way too many examples of cronyism and conflicts of interest that have undermined government's effectiveness," said Miller. "Now it appears that we can add Reading First - on which we have spent roughly $6 billion since 2002 - to that long and growing list of instances of the administration operating outside the law, unaccountable to Congress and the American people."

Anonymous said...

http://edlabor.house.gov/statements/042007GMHearingStatement.pdf

Anonymous said...

To watch the archived webcast of the UO gang and Doherty being exposed for their crimes against our children, greed and gross lack of ethics...
http://edworkforce.house.gov/hearings/fc042007.shtml

Anonymous said...

When the report from the National Research Council, "Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children", argued that the research indicated strong evidence supporting a balanced approach to reading instruction those insiders went to work getting legislation establishing the NRP passed and the panelists named.

The NRP provided, sort of, what the insiders were looking for: evidence of a small but positive effect for systematic phonics instruction. However, that small effects was mislabeled a "moderate" sized effect in the NRP report and then exaggerated by phonics proponents and a gullible media.

Anyone who questioned the findings, evidence or methodolgy were labeled "whole language" proponents suffering from an ideological aversion to both evidence and truth.

Anonymous said...

The phonics insiders and entrepreneurs have no interest what the research says. They have ideological, political, and/or financial interests that have to be served.

So, did the federal RF office overreach? Yes, on two counts. First, even the NRP analysis provided no evidence that systematicm phonics provided any practical benefit in terms of improved reading achievement. Who says so? Two acclaimed special education scholars, Lee Swanson and Don Hammill, neither the model of a whole language guru.

Second, even had the evidence indicated that phonics produced some practical benefit, the NCLB Prohibitions" clause disallows the USDE from recommending any particluar approach, curriculum, or method of instruction, regardless of what phonics insider Bob Sweet may suggest.

Anonymous said...

I would like to bring to your attention that there are also issues currently being investigated on the Reading First Program in the US Department of Interior with the Bureau of Indian Affairs schools.

Anonymous said...

I guess I dozed off a little too early during Friday's Reading First hearings, since this Washington Post story suggests that things have heated up -- a lot.

http://www.thisweekineducation.com/

KDeRosa said...

Shouldn't you be trolling on a post that's not half a year old? Your ramblings might find a wider audience and I might be tempted to refute some of the talking points that you're cutting and pasting.

I liked during the hearing when Higgins admitted that he didn't look into the critical issue of sbrr which the entire "scandal" hinges on. Oops.

Anonymous said...

I think my favorite part is G. Reid Lyon admitting to the unethical behavior of his cohorts! Not to mention how he is distancing himself from the distinguished crew. Sounds like innocence to me!

And....K-der...Even though it's clear you're driven by narcissism rather than any concern for the welfare of children, teachers, or society, rest assured that ACTUAL educators (defined as pepole who REALLY TEACH children not simply publish textbooks or extol the virtues of those who abuse the system for profit) will continue to fight for what really benefits children. (NOT NECESSARILY THE MOST PROFITABLE THING....) AGAIN, K-......IS IT SRA OR VOYAGER THAT HAS YOU ON RETAINER?

KDeRosa said...

Of couse, if they were actually teaching, troll, you wouldn't be stuck with Readinf first. And, judging by the hearing, it's not going away any time soon. And like it or not, your beloved whole language still isn't based on SBRR and doesn't have the ECRI either. And, plus all the grants have been disbursed already, so all your trolling is for naught.

Nevermind the merits of the case which are shaky. Too bad Miller's grandstanding won't substitute for real legal analysis. Enoy it while it lasts, your ilk hasn't had much to cheer about for the last decade.

Anonymous said...

OOOh...simmer down now! Didn't mean to get you so flustered. Take your Zoloft, get some rest and have sweet, Narcissistic dreams filled with the sound of your own voice waxing philosophical about things you have never actually done. And like you said, somehow this administration always manages to smooth over their improprieties in record time anyway.

Ciao!

KDeRosa said...

I was hoping the arguments would have gained coherency as you progressed. I was wrong.

Anonymous said...

I'm really curious about what motivates you. Were you a teacher at some point? Do you work for a textbook company? Are you a researcher?

Parentalcation said...

Anon, isn't it obvious. He is a parent.

Reading First Scandal summed up.

Some reading programs are good, some are bad.

Good reading programs have experts, bad reading programs have quacks.

Reading First hires experts.

Experts recommend good reading programs.

Schools improve using good reading programs.

Quacks get pissed, accuse experts of profiting.

(Anonymous gets his/her feelings hurt because his pet pedagogy has proven a complete failure... lashes out. Anonymous needs a hug.)