March 21, 2007
In last week's editorial ("How to end the reading wars?") Michael J. Petrilli argued that Reading First has been a "massive failure in terms of sustaining, much less widening, the reading-education consensus." Not true. This program has done more in four years to strengthen said consensus than all the reading scientists and state education agencies have done in the last forty. Advances include:
1) Adoption of Reading First's tenets by many state education departments and districts
2) Progress in several states to get teacher-training programs to make their reading courses more evidence-based
3) Increased demand for effective curricular products, and publishers' increased efforts to provide them
4) Unprecedented collaboration among state education departments on how to improve instruction for struggling readers
These gains notwithstanding, directors say the tipping point against backsliding in their states is still years away and that Reading First needs to stick to its prescription for at least another cycle. Backing off now would be like Lincoln calling for an armistice after Gettysburg. To the idea that the feds might be adamant about results and agnostic about methods, one wonders: Could a government timid enough to stay mum about 50 years of research possibly be bold enough to take money away from states thus liberated to misspend it? Is not the least grim political alternative to impose restrictions before making grants rather than after, when the money is already gone and new vested interests have been created to do the wrong thing?
The mandate for strong federal leadership remains strong; the program is popular among its 6,000 district grantees. More on Reading First's accomplishments here.
Freelance journalist and Reading First volunteer