The media gleefully reported the news that a big interim Reading First study??from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute for Educational Sciences (IES) found the program to have no impact on reading comprehension.
And it's hard to blame the media, for three reasons. First, it loves to pile on the increasingly-unpopular Bush administration. (Contemplate this AP headline: "Bush administration's reading program hasn't helped.") Second, IES head Russ Whitehurst--who has earned a great deal of respect and credibility for moving the federal research and evaluation function toward a new level of rigor and professionalism--stands firmly behind the report. And third, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings's press office totally bungled the response, coming up with nothing better than the "popularity" of the program. (This is hardly the first time Spellings dropped the Reading First ball.) See this, from Amanda Farris,??deputy assistant secretary,??and printed in??the AP story:
Secretary Spellings has traveled to 20 states since January. One of the consistent messages she hears from educators, principals and state administrators is about the effectiveness of the Reading First program in their schools and their disappointment with Congress for slashing Reading First funds
Here's what Spellings's team should have said:
This study provides important insights into the Reading First program, but readers should be cautioned that it's not nationally representative. Because IES launched the study after the program was up and running, the evaluators had to settle for a very imperfect design. The schools selected for study might have...