Cupp, who runs a tiny phonics-based reading program, Dr. Cupp Readers® & Journal Writers, filed the first complaint against DoE. I'm not going to go rehash how most of the allegations in this story were not substantiated by the OIG report. I've covered that ground already in detail (Look in the October archives). This time let's focus on Cupp's shaky allegations.
First the NYT sets up Cupp to be a white knight.
Dr. Cupp is a self-described speedboat who spent 19 years teaching children and adults to read. At her company, Cupp Publishers, she visits Georgia schools demonstrating her reading kits, while her sister, a retired guidance counselor, packs them for shipping and handles the bookkeeping.You'll soon see that Cupp is no white knight. Cupp is merely a grey knight, at best, with limited resources.
When the federal government enacted Reading First in 2002, Dr. Cupp thought her company would surely get a slice of the pie. After all, 90 percent of students in the schools that use her kits had learned to read by the end of first grade.
Lovely sense of entitlement we have here.
To get Reading First funding our little speedboat, Dr. Cupp would have had to have comply with the following requirements:
- conduct scientific research validating that her program worked;
- show that her program was consistent with the scientifically based reading research conducted on other programs;
- managed to convince one or more states to include her program on their Reading First application; and
- have that application approved by DoE's expert panels.
There is no evidence in the OiG report that DoE Cupp's program was rejected because it lacked SBRR or that states were forced to remove it from their Reading First applications. It could be that states did not include the program in their applications in the first place or voluntarily removed the program from their list after their application was rejected by DoE.
Here is what happened. DoE is not permitted to endorse or disparage any reading program so when a state included reading programs on their list that did not have SBRR, i.e., whole language programs, DoE could only reject applications and offer vague suggestions for the rejections. Many states did not take the hint, so after a few states got their applications approved, DoE started suggesting that to states having problems to take a look at the approved applications for guidance. Cupps program (and SfA) were not on these approved applications, ostensibly because those states chose not to include them in their applications. Frequently, states coming into the process later took the easy way out and just copied the approved programs fromapproved applications. This is how Cupp got screwed. There is no evidence in the OiG report that DoE ever specifically rejected Cupp's program.
The federal program emphasized phonics -- mastering the sounds of letters and letter blends -- as opposed to what officials considered the mushiness of whole-language teaching, which emphasizes grasping meaning through good children's literature. Dr. Cupp's materials also emphasized phonics -- in 60 stories centered on two caped turtles named Jack and Jilly.This is a nice example of biased and/or sloppy reporting on behalf of the NYT.
The federal program "emphasized" phonics because the Reading First statute mandated that DoE accept only programs consistent with the reading research. Only phonics programs meet this requirement. Whole language programs were considered "mush[y]" because they have no reading research supporting their use because "emphasiz[ing] grasping meaning through good children’s literature" has turned out to be an ineffective way to teach reading.
It is not sufficient that Cupp's program "emphasize phonics." Under the Reading First statute reading programs must not only contain the five essential components of reading instruction (phoneme awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension) but also teach these components in a systematic and explicit manner. Perhaps Cupp's program meets these requirements, but you have no way of knowing if you get your facts and analysis from the NYT.
Too bad none of this is supported in the OiG report. It could be the case that Cupp failed to meet the burden of showing that her program was consistent with the reading research. It's not like she had any of her own research to rely upon.
Still, schools that used her materials found themselves frozen out of federal money. Dr. Cupp sought an explanation from a friend at the Georgia Department of Education, where Dr. Cupp was director of reading from 1996 to 1999, and was told, she said, that any school listing her reading program “would not be funded.”
After the federal department repeatedly rejected their grant applications, Georgia officials concluded that “this money is available if you follow the rulebook,” said Dana Tofig, communications director for the Georgia Education Department. Dr. Cupp’s reading program “did not meet the benchmarks it had to meet,” he said, adding that the officials who could explain why no longer worked in the department.
Dr. Cupp points out that Georgia chose big textbook publishers, like Scott Foresman and Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, spurning what she called home-cooked turkey dinners like her reading program.
More sloppy reporting. While the Foresman program was approved for Reading First funds, other Macmillan/McGraw-Hill reading programs (by their Wright Group) were denied funds. So much for the kooky conspiracy theories.