Who's Going to Read Books in the Future?
It's a national scandal, or should be. After spending $6 billion on a program to help First, Second and Third Graders learn to read, the U.S. Department of Education has concluded that the program isn't effective.
As the Washington Post's Maria Glod reported last week, the so-called Reading First program has been one of the centerpieces of the Bush administration's entire No Child Left Behind effort, and it appears -- as far as I can tell -- to be a complete bust: Students in the program scored no better on reading comprehension tests than students outside the program. That's a bit like saying that patients who took an experimental drug fared no better than those who took a placebo.
You can read the Department of Education's report for yourself. It's pretty conclusive. The department tracked the reading progress of tens of thousands of students in Grades 1-3 at nearly 250 schools across the country -- a huge sample, one of the largest studies it's ever done.
True, the department tries to put a positive spin on its findings with this globbledy-gooky summary paragraph:
"The results indicate that Reading First produced statistically significant positive impacts on multiple reading practices promoted by the program, such as the amount of instructional time spent on the five essential components of reading instruction and professional development in scientifically based reading instruction. Reading First did not produce a statistically significant impact on student reading comprehension test scores in grades one, two or three. However, there was a positive and statistically significant impact on first grade students' decoding skills in spring 2007."
OK, right. Using our adult "decoding" skills, we can decipher what that's saying: The schools that shared in the $6 billion of Reading First funding devoted more teaching time to five skills deemed important in reading (awareness of individual sounds, phonics, vocabulary, reading fluency and comprehension). They also spent more money on training teachers. But what have they got to show for the increased instructional time and the increased training? Nada. "No statistically significant" change in reading comprehension in any of the three grade levels.
-- Alan Cooperman
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