Monday, October 02, 2006

More on Anne's Corrupt Reading First Program from David Hawpe

Opinion; Reading First, Northup's pet education project, mired in controversy
Courier-Journal, The (Louisville, KY)
September 11, 2005
Estimated printed pages: 4

David Hawpe

Anne Northup's biggest contribution to President Bush's signature domestic program is facing charges of favoritism, conflict of interest, and federal intimidation and badgering.

The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Education is (take your pick) investigating or auditing.

Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana has expressed "considerable concern" to Education Secretary Margaret Spellings about the way Reading First, a major part of the Bush No Child Left Behind legislation, is being administered. He said that "at best, it seems there has been a lack of clarity." He warned, "At worst, one or more officials contracted to work for the Department of Education may be working to further their own interests."

All of which is a long way from ensuring that science-based, research-tested methods and materials are used to teach kids how to read, which was supposed to be the Northup-backed program's purpose.

The congresswoman points to good results achieved by Reading First in many places. She says, "The intent of Reading First is to help states and local school districts establish high- quality, comprehensive early reading programs that actually teach kids how to read. For too many years, kids were passed along, no matter if they could read at grade level or not. I continue to have complete confidence that the Reading First program will effectively teach kids this most basic skill. Because so much is at stake, any individuals who might be inappropriately profiting from this program will and should be held accountable."

There are always those who resist change, including some who complain because they can't profit from it. But let's look at where Reading First came from, and what's being said about it around the country.

Northup introduced the legislation to create a National Reading Panel, out of whose work came Reading First. A Northup re-election Web site credited her with championing a program that, "for the first time, funds reading programs based on proven, scientific research."

In testimony, she disdained "all the federal dollars" spent on liberal favorites such as Title I, Head Start and specific literacy programs for early grade children. She lavished praise on her friend Bush for understanding what liberals don't: "We can no longer throw enormous amounts of money at reading programs that just don't work.…

"There is a serious disconnect between reading research and classroom practice," she testified. "I've seen this disconnect first hand."

But Robert Slavin, co-director at Johns Hopkins University of the Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk and chairman of the Success for All Foundation, says schools have been discouraged from using reading materials his group developed, despite evidence from 50 studies that they are effective. He told USA Today that Reading First relies on the work of "consultants with major conflicts of interest."

The newspaper reported that "several well-known experts have both advised states on federal grant applications and worked for major publishers," and that critics say Reading First "all but forced schools to buy textbooks and related materials from a handful of large publishers, several of which have retained top federal advisers as authors, editors or consultants." The Scott Foresman firm touts two former Reading First officials on its Web site.

An Education Department spokesman says such allegations "have absolutely no merit."

In The Christian Science Monitor, Kenneth Goodman from the University of Arizona College of Education described the work of Northup's National Reading Panel as "raising quantifiable data to the equivalent of truth and saying nothing else is true." One panel member, Joanne Yatvin, wrote a dissent, predicting its report might be misunderstood and misused, by the government and phonics promoters, to dictate reading instruction. "And that is in fact what happened," she told the Monitor.

The Sept. 7 issue of Education Week described "mounting evidence that federal employees may have directed or even pressured states to choose specific assessments, consultants and the criteria for evaluating core reading programs as conditions for getting funding" from Reading First. The story, which cited Kentucky as a case in point, is published in today's Forum.

So much for the Bush claim, in his 2002 campaign speech for Northup, that "We believe strongly in local control of schools."

That speech made clear Reading First was Anne Northup's baby. Bush told a Seelbach crowd, "Anne's biggest contribution - and I mean a significant contribution - was to fight for and get funding for a Reading First initiative.… Anne, working with some of the best experts in the country, calling together the best minds, put in this (No Child Left Behind) bill a significant reading program, one that's not only funded for a billion dollars, but one that recognizes [sic] is a science, not an art."

The disconnect seems to be between what Northup and Bush promised and what they delivered. "We know what works," Bush told cheering Northup supporters. But works for whom?

David Hawpe's columns appear Sundays and Wednesdays on the editorial page. You can read them on line at

David Hawpe

President Bush embraced U.S. Rep. Anne Northup at a campaign rally in 2002, as Sen. Jim Bunning and her husband, Woody, looked on. At that event, Bush declared his devotion to 'local control of schools.'
Edition: METRO
Section: FORUM
Page: 02H

Index Terms: OP OPINION; U.S. CONGRESS; Reading First; Anne Northup; BUSH GEORGE W
Copyright (c) The Courier-Journal. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.
Record Number: lou2005091214012782

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