Yes, Virginia, Reading First is a Success

Reading First works.  I don’t know how many times I can say it, or how many different ways to say it.  You’ve heard it from Eduflack over and over again.  When implemented effectively and with fidelity, scientifically based reading boosts reading skills in virtually every student.  It prepares them to succeed throughout their academic careers.  And it empowers students for the rest of their lives.

For the past year, virtually all talk about Reading First has veered away from that basic, but critical, fact.  Flaws in RF implementation, coupled with the growing jockeying for the RF dollar, created a hornet’s nest in public education.  As a result, Congress is talking about slashing the funding for Reading First.  Forget the evidence.  Forget the proofs.  Forget the real-life impact it has had on classrooms and kids across the country.  The program is controversial, so some are looking to dump it — despite the very real fact that RF works.  At a time when we so desperately need to improve reading skills and student performance in our schools, should we really be abandoning a program that has no equal when it comes to effectiveness and impact?

We often lose sight of what works because of the rhetorical and political clouds that swirl.  And RF is the perfect example of this.  Kudos, then to the Weekly Standard for Charlotte Allen’s piece on the impact of SBRR in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Yes, Eduflack is unapologetic in his support for, belief in, and defense of SBRR.  And sometimes that passion gets in the way of effective communication.  For the life of me, I just can’t understand why anyone would oppose a program that ensures that only effective, proven instruction be used in our classrooms.  If we expect all students to succeed, we need to provide all students with proven-effective programs.  We need to give all students instruction that works.  Plain and simple.

Allen’s piece is a great example of successful communication, and shows how to talk about SBRR in a way that would touch virtually any audience.  First, she is able to personalize the issue.  Reading research is a tough subject to wrap one’s hands around.  Allen is able to take this complex story, and break it down to the simplest of terms — how SBRR has impacted a real school and real students that many had already written off.  Second, she confronted the opposition.  By including some of RF’s strongest critics, and refuting their criticism, she demonstrates that RF can stand up to both scrutiny and attack.

In doing so, Allen has provided the U.S. Department of Education with a terrific example of how RF needs to be sold to gain reauthorization.  Examples like Ginter Park Elementary School can be found in the districts of virtually every congressman and in the states of every senator.  Tell, those stories, and let our elected officials explain why they won’t continue to support those schools, those teachers, and those kids.

Hopefully Spellings and her crew will see that Allen gave NCLB and RF the bumper sticker it has been looking for.  Reading First: The Most Successful Federal Education Program in History. 

Or for you Simpsons fans, “RF: Best Education Program Ever.”

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