Playing Politics with Reading First

For years, Eduflack worked for members of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees.  Having seen the annual appropriations process unfold year after year, I had come to the belief that, for the most part, politics had to sit outside the Appropriations Committee’s door.

That is, until this afternoon.  David Hoff has a good synopsis on educationweek.org (http://www.educationweek.org/ew/articles/2007/06/08/41budget.h26.html).  The root of Eduflack’s ire.  The U.S. House of Representatives is calling for a 60% cut in Reading First funding for FY2008.

We won’t get into the politics of all this, other than to say that one should be careful with the political symbolism they seek to use, as it may actually become reality.  But the spending games raise an important communication issue — the need to be proactive and define the game.

You’ve heard it here before.  For years now, critics have defined Reading First.  At first, they attacked the personalities behind the law and preached fear about introducing proven instructional approaches to our classrooms.  Over the last year, they have attacked (and rightfully so) the problems with RF implementation, implying that such issues demonstrate that the law doesn’t work.

To the contrary, we have begun seeing significant evidence that Reading First and scientifically based reading research work, and works well.  You can see it in the data released by Spellings before her visit to Capitol Hill.  you can see it in this week’s CEP report.  And you can see it in countless school districts across the nation that have implemented the program with fidelity and have reaped the benefit in terms of student performance.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the message getting out there.  And that’s a cryin’ shame.  To all but the die-hard true believers, RF is a program of conflicts of interest, decrees from on high, and IG reports.  Those exceptions to good work have now become the rule.

Don’t believe it?  Just look at how House Appropriations Chairman David Obey couches the massive cut to a program that works — “This [Reading First] cut will not be restored until we have a full appreciation of the shenanigans that have been going on.”

Doesn’t matter if the program works.  Doesn’t matter if we see student achievement gains, improved teaching, enthusiastic learners, and kids who are reading.  RF is now defined by “shenanigans,” and that’s about as far off message as one can get.

So what can Spellings and her crew do about it?  I refer you back to a previous posting.  Let’s make it positive.  Let’s make it results-based.  Let’s make it personal.  http://blog.eduflack.com/2007/04/11/talking-research.aspx

As an aside, the one positive result, though, of today’s Hill hearing may be its ability to bring parties who have previously been at war with each other together for a common good.  We’ve long talked about the need to build a team of advocates, names that will resonate with key audiences and expand support and enthusiasm for the message and the desired action.  And the larger the tent of advocates, the more effective the communication and the reform.

Those advocates speaking out against the proposed RF cuts demonstrate the program (and scientifically based education in general) has to be working.  In just a few short hours, we have seen individuals who ordinarily wouldn’t share an elevator sharing a common desire to protect RF.  Margaret Spellings (through a spokesperson).  The International Reading Association.  Bob Slavin.  They may have different goals, different views, and different intentions, but they share the view that you don’t cancel the game because you’ve had problems with the turnstiles.  “Shenanigans” around the fringes simply isn’t a reason to deny millions of American students the resources and funding they need to learn to read and to succeed. 

While SFA and IRA and ED and everyone in between may be coming from different perspectives, they all seem to share in the goal that research-proven reading is necessary if our students and schools are to succeed.

I may have just seen a razorback fly by my window, but if RF is able to be bring those disparate, yet passionate, education advocates together, it must be doing something right.

One thought on “Playing Politics with Reading First

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