September 26, 2006

The political Theater of Congressman Miller

What has happened to the once proud Democratic party?

Seeking to take advantage of the OIG's "scathing" audit of the DoE's handling of the Reading First initiative, Democratic Congressman George Miller, the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, jumped out to on an early offensive:
Corrupt cronies at the Department of Education wasted taxpayer dollars on an inferior reading curriculum for kids that was developed by a company headed by a Bush friend and campaign contributor,” said Miller. “Instead of putting children first, they chose to put their cronies first. Enough is enough. President Bush and Secretary Spellings must take responsibility and do a wholesale housecleaning at the Education Department.
That "inferior reading curriculum for kids" is Direct Instruction (DI) which is published by McGraw-Hill whose chairman emeritus has made political contributions to President Bush and the Republicans.

Here's what happened. The DoE hired reading experts to serve as panelists to determine whether the reading curricula selected by each state applying for Reading First (RF) funds was backed by Scientifically Based Reading Research (SBRR) as required by the statute. Every panelist necessarily had professional contacts and associations (though supposedly not financial contacts) with one or more reading programs. They were reading experts after all. Some of the panelists, including the head of the RF program, had professional contacts with DI. As part of the review process, the panelists rejected the applications of many states that included reading programs that lacked SBRR. The DoE and the panelists were aggressive in excluding these unscientifically based reading programs as required by RF. This resulted in the hurt feelings of the owners of those SBRR free reading programs and the states that wanted to continue to use them. Naturally complaints ensued and an investigation by DoE's inhouse watchdog OiG ensued.

Since excluding the unscientifically based reading programs was a feature, not a bug, of RF, it is unlikely that the OiG final audit would have been very exciting. It's difficult to feel compassionate about the purveyors and users of a failed system for teaching children to read that's caused millions of non-readers and poor readers who've been weaned from the government teat.

There was, however, one white hat complainant among the black hats, Bob Slavin, the creator of Success for All (SfA), a legitimate highly successful reading program having twenty years worth of SBRR behind it. Slavin complained that the DoE had been too lenient and had allowed many popular commercial phonics-based basal programs that lacked SBRR to be selected by the states and receive RF funding. These basal reading programs were more palatable to the states than the more intense (and effective) than Slavin's SfA. The result was that many states elected not to put SfA on their RF approved list. This meant that any RF school in that state would not be able to use SfA. Problem was that some schools that were destined to become RF schools were already using SfA and would have to discontinue its use. Understandably, Slavin was upset.

Fast forward to last Friday when OiG issued its final report. OiG used the DI connection to reach the Bush Administration. Six panelists and the head of the RF program were involved in the RF selection process and connected to DI and DI's publisher, McGraw-Hill, benefitted from the selection process and McGraw-Hill's 's chairman emeritus has contributed political funds to President Bush and the Republicans.

It didn't take long for Congressman Miller to pounce:

"The inspector-general's report raises serious questions about whether Education Department officials violated criminal law, and those questions must be pursued by the Justice Department," said Representative George Miller of California, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee.

Miller, in his statement, called the audit part of pattern in which the Education Department under President George W. Bush "as repeatedly run afoul of ethical standards."

Miller's office also cited an independent analysis published last year by the Washington-based American Institutes for Research that found the program favored by Reading First directors, a product of the McGraw-Hill Companies Inc., was one of only two programs to receive AIR's highest rating.


The report issued last November by the American Institutes for Research gave only DI and the Baltimore-based Success for All program its top rating, ``moderately strong evidence of positive effects,'' out of 22 popular comprehensive elementary school reform models. Miller's office cited the report to highlight Success for All as a quality alternative.

Huh? Let me see if I get this right. Miller claims that DoE systematically excluded Slavin's SfA and relies on the independent AIR report to show that SfA is an SBRR reading program. According to Miller, DoE forced states to adopt DI -- "an inferior reading curriculum for kids that was developed by a company headed by a Bush friend and campaign contributor," instead. Yet, the very AIR report that gave SfA its top rating also gave DI its top rating; the only other reading program to receive AIR's top rating. What an idiot.

I suppose Miller thought no one was going to actually read the AIR report. Nor do I suppose Miller believes anyone would actually analyze the OiG report. None of the OIG findings suggest that DoE was trying to exclude SfA, rather they were fighting the good fight trying to keep out the non-SBRR whole language programs. Moreover, the OiG report failed to show any instances of DI actually being forced on states or favored by DoE. Even if DI were being pushed by DoE or the six DI panelists, by Congressman Miller's own admission, DI was more than qualified under RF. If anything, DI and SfA (and arguably another McGraw-Hill program -- Open Court) were the only two reading programs that were truly qualified to receive RF funds.

Not unsurprisingly, the MSM has jumped all over the scandal and Miller and the Democrats will undoubtedly score some political capital. One possible fall-out from all this is that some of those failed non-SBRR reading programs might now get approved for RF funds to the detriment of millions of more kids. But, I suppose it's worth it for Congressman Miller to score his political points, though it does make this statement a bit ironic:
"Everyone at the Department of Education who was involved in perpetrating this fraud on school districts should be fired – not suspended, not reassigned, not admonished, but fired. This was not an accident. This was a concerted effort to corrupt the process on behalf of partisan supporters, and taxpayers and schoolchildren are the ones who got harmed by it."
Yes, indeed, schoolchildren will be the ones getting harmed again.


Mr. McNamar said...

would it be possible for you to throw in a few more acronyms to this post; it makes for much better reading!

KDeRosa said...

I know, I know.

You want a glossary?

KDeRosa said...

And if you think this is bad you should read the 50 pages of acronym laden jargon in the OIG report.

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate the work you put into this, Ken.

The problem, too, with these programs and studies is all of their innocuous sounding names. It makes it difficult to follow the actual story. Hey, maybe that was the point.

I don't know if you were making a joke about the glossary, but I think that would be great since these stories are going to keep coming up. It would help immensely to figure out who is who.


MikeZ said...

Weren't we doing reasonably well when we used McGuffey's Readers? At least there was some substance along with the reading.

And there wasn't a heck of a lot of SBRR involved there.