Initial report indicates Reading First program doesn't work

The federal Department of Education has released its interim report of Reading First (see here), the centerpiece program of No Child Left Behind that is supposed to help the most economically disadvantaged and academically struggling elementary students learn to read. The report from the department's Institute for Education Sciences found that Reading First's impact on student reading comprehension was not statistically significant, but it also noted that the program resulted in teachers spending more class time on the five essential components of reading.

Reaction in Ohio to the fed's evaluation of Reading First has been critical. James Salzman, co-director of the Reading First Ohio Center, called the federal report "methodologically flawed, statistically glamorous, and ultimately meaningless in terms of its conclusions" (see here). Salzman said the 128-school study involving 5,200 students was far too small, involving about one-seventh the number of schools needed for a viable study of the massive federal program. He also believes most schools in the study came from large, urban districts, while smaller rural districts have shown the most improvement in reading in Ohio.

Fordham's new research director, Amber Winkler, also questioned the report's findings (see here) and recommended that policymakers wait until the final evaluation is released later this year to determine Reading First's fate. The program's purpose is to ensure that all students read at or above grade level by the end of the third grade. Over the past five years, Reading First has meant a $140 million federal investment in 31 Ohio school districts to help more than 52,000 children learn to read.

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