Gauging The Impact of The Reading First Scandal: Tim Shanahan

Tim Shanahan, who designed and implemented the Chicago Reading Intiative, is currently director the literacy center at UIC and is a former member of the National Reading Panel whose report was used in large part as the framework for Reading First, writes in to describe some of the implications and effects of the Reading First scandal (see "Federal Reading Program FUBAR?").

Click below to read some highlights, and his full statement.

Some of the highlights of what Shanahan says include the reality that RF
provides $1 billion a year that would otherwise probably not be
available through Title I or other sources:  "Chicago Public Schools
have
been able to draw tens of millions of dollars to support local reading
efforts." 

He also points out the significance of the creation of the RF
program:  "It is the first major effort by the federal government to
try
to improve the quality of reading instruction in particular ways,
rather than just funding local efforts to do that."

According to Shanahan, the effects of the scandal are hard to determine:  "It is
possible that Congress will ignore the positive effects some Reading
First programs have had so far and will choose not to reauthorize this
portion of NCLB...It could also mean that the Reading First programs in
Illinois would be allowed to adjust their current efforts if these were
the result of the federal finagling."

He also points out that the scandal could undermine the fragile truce that has marked recent years when it comes to reading strategies:  "The Reading First scandal could
energize those who have argued against this law, plunging schools back
into the so-called Reading Wars, the endless debates over how best to
teach reading."

The full Shanahan post:

"On September 22, the U.S. Department of Education issued a report
revealing corruption in its administration of Reading First, a part of
the No Child Left Behind law (NCLB). This report detailed results of an
investigation carried out by the departments own Inspector General and
provides specific and damning evidence of mismanagement and misuse of
educational funding.

"Reading First is important because it provides
approximately $1 billion per year to U.S. schools for reading
improvement in schools that lag behind. Chicago Public Schools have
been able to draw tens of millions of dollars to support local reading
efforts. It is the first major effort by the federal government to try
to improve the quality of reading instruction in particular ways,
rather than just funding local efforts to do that.

"Schools that
accepted these funds were required to purchase commercial programs
designed in accord with research findings, to provide professional
development to teachers, to monitor childrens learning, and to offer
specific help to those who lagged behind. The Inspector Generals
report details how some private companies and consultants were
advantaged by government officials who stacked expert panels and pushed
the purchase of certain materials. U.S. law prohibits the Department of
Education from taking such actions.

"The corruption detailed in the
report is substantial and some groups such as the International Reading
Association have called on the Attorney General to issue indictments.
Chris Doherty, the director of Reading First, has resigned, and
Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has indicated that steps will
be taken to bring the program into legal compliance.

"However, the wake
of this scandal is likely to have some widespread effects. It is
possible that Congress will ignore the positive effects some Reading
First programs have had so far and will choose not to reauthorize this
portion of NCLB. This would mean that there would be less federal
funding available to help Chicago and other districts to improve
reading scores.

"It could also mean that the Reading First programs in
Illinois would be allowed to adjust their current efforts if these were
the result of the federal finagling. For instance, Illinois was
required to adopt DIBELS as the measure used to monitor learning, and
the state or local districts might be able to replace this with
something more to their liking. The Reading First scandal could
energize those who have argued against this law, plunging schools back
into the so-called Reading Wars, the endless debates over how best to
teach reading."

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