Friday, May 02, 2008

"Reading First" a failure

I think everyone here knows that the “Reading First” program is just another Bush patronage scam, using NCLB rules to funnel money to campaign supporters and loyalists. Now the Institute of Education Sciences – the unit that says all policy must be based on rigorous scientific evidence – concludes that Reading First is a lousy program. Okay, now there’s scientific evidence: so what’s the response?

Background: http://www.elladvocates.org/nclb/reading.html
The Bush Administration has been using the Reading First program to reward political cronies and ideological allies, ignoring a legal mandate to make funding decisions that reflect "scientifically based research," according to federal investigators. These and other findings are detailed in a report by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Education, released on 22 September 2006. . . .

The latest: http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2008-05-01-reading-first_N.htm
A $1 billion-a-year reading program that has been a pillar of the Bush administration's education plan doesn't have much impact on the reading skills of the young students it's supposed to help, a long-awaited federal study shows. . . .

While critics will likely say the data portray Reading First as an expensive failure, [IES head Grover] Whitehurst speculates that the study may simply suggest that schools need to spend even more time on phonics and the like.

But he also notes that states that got Reading First money earlier in the program's history actually got worse results than those that more recently got their federal funding. The difference may be unrelated to years spent in the program, Whitehurst says . . .

Education analyst Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington think tank that supports Reading First, says the study was poorly designed and "certainly not the last word on Reading First's effectiveness." . . .

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings had no immediate comment, but in a statement, Amanda Farris, the deputy assistant secretary who oversees Reading First, said Spellings consistently hears from educators and administrators "about the effectiveness of the Reading First program in their schools” . . .

[NB: So, there you have it. The Bush Education Dept condemns policies based on anecdotal evidence – except when their favored program is challenged.]


Kevin Drum comments: http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2008_05/013646.php
Now, who knows? Maybe RF was poorly implemented. Maybe it just happened to be a bad idea. But it's astonishing how many efforts to improve K-12 instruction turn out not to work. Even the ones that do seem to work usually turn out to fail if you just wait a few years or try to scale them up beyond pilot size.

This is one of the reasons I don't blog much about education policy even though it's an interesting subject. For all the sturm and drang, in the end nothing really seems to matter. After a hundred years of more-or-less rigorous pedagogical research, we still don't know how to teach kids any better than we used to. Early childhood interventions, if they're really early and really long lasting, seem to have some effect, but beyond that the only thing that works consistently is getting poor kids out of schools that are 90% poor. Unfortunately, the former is really expensive and the latter is well nigh impossible in most places.

It must be a discouraging field to work in.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

From the USA Today article:
While critics will likely say the data portray Reading First as an expensive failure, Whitehurst speculates that the study may simply suggest that schools need to spend even more time on phonics and the like.

Un- bleeping- believable.

CT said...

LOL. This is why ECE is the ONLY field to work in. Teaching theory to grad students was fun for a while, but there's no real hope in actually accomplishing much. In ECE you're doomed to failure, but there's a chance of success... if you avoid just about everything that the last century's been researching on.

Nancy Flanagan said...

Think Ed Policy is a discouraging field to work in? You should try K-12 teaching.

Great post. It certainly has been amusing to watch the DIBELizers backpedaling and bringing out the statistical smoke and mirrors. The fact that the (generally desperate) schools who sought RF monies early have produced worse results aligns with the idea that early explicit phonics instruction may improve emergent-reader decoding skills, but doesn't ultimately result in genuine literacy for older kids.

Coleman was right (and Rothstein is right): some problems are bigger than programs. David Cohen spent a career knocking down the Next Big Thing in education, with deadly accuracy and good data. Still, I think it's worth remembering that there are still classrooms in some pretty unlikely settings where world-class learning is happening--not as a result of a commercial program or even a school initiative, but because there's a good, sharp teacher in front of the room, who cares about the kids and knows how to teach.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading some of your posts. Thanks.

From one writer to another..
Admissions and Test Prep Blog

EDin08 said...

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You and your readers can vote at http://edin08.com/bloggersummit/bloggerpoll.aspx

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Good Luck!


ED in '08 Blogger Summit Team

Jim Horn said...

For anyone who has looked at the video clips of direct phonics instruction with young black and brown children (the kind of teaching for the poor that neurologist crackpot, Reid Lyon, advocates, and the same kind that the Oregon Gang has gotten rich on), the abusive nature of these practices is unmistakable. See here:
http://schoolsmatter.blogspot.com/search?q=movie+clips+direct+instruction

While Lyon talks about re-directing neural circuits, Kozol calls this kind "instruction" just what it is: cognitve decapitation." It is an affront to ethical and humane teaching, and it represents nothing less than the present day manifestation of applied eugenics. And it was intended for universal application in Title I schools by the NCLB engineers.

NB said:

"Early childhood interventions, if they're really early and really long lasting, seem to have some effect, but beyond that the only thing that works consistently is getting poor kids out of schools that are 90% poor. Unfortunately, the former is really expensive and the latter is well nigh impossible in most places."

I would add that it is "well nigh impossible," given the current absence of political will to re-engage the civil rights initiatives that were set aside thirty years ago when Reagan came to Washington. The economic integration experiments in North Carolina have shown great promise, as reported by the Century Foundation: http://www.equaleducation.org/publications.asp?pubid=420

If Obama can show himself capable of considering something other than the neoliberal agenda of national tests and charter schools, there might be hope of addressing poverty, in school and out of school, which, as we know, is the primary source of all gaps.

Mike said...

good post

Anonymous said...

^^Thanks!!

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