A Big Win for Us RF Zealots

Eduflack has pulled no punches when it comes to Reading First.  I can’t say it any clearer — RF works.  The science is clear.  We know it works.  We know what it takes to get virtually every child reading at grade level.  We know what tools teachers need to engender reading success in the classroom.  The goal of RF was to take decades of proven-effective research, and put it to use in our classrooms.  No ifs, ands, or buts.  We apply the research completely and with full fidelity, and kids will read.

For much of the last year, though, RF critics have been piling on, sensing a soft-spot in the law.  We’ve dubbed the research and the program a failure because of poor execution on the implementation.  Yes, implementation has been poor.  But skepticism about moving research to practice has led many to pull the rug out from under the entire program.  Congress is looking to dramatically slash federal RF funding, and virtually everyone is parroting the phrase “RF doesn’t work.”

Over the years, we’ve expected groups like the Center for Education Policy to add to the funeral pyre of NCLB and RF.  So imagine Eduflack’s surprise when, this week, CEP comes out with a study detailing that RF is having a real, positive effect on student achievement.

Imagine that.  Despite all the implementation problems.  Despite the army of whole language researchers bashing the law from day one.  Despite the congressional inquiries and the growing chorus of doubting Thomases.  Despite all that, Reading First works.

What did CEP find?  In what was Reading First’s roughest PR year, the percentage of states deeming RF very successful rose from 33 percent last year to 40 percent this year.  Those who found it moderately effective rose from 27 to 38 percent effective.  This year, only 2 percent found the law minimally effective, and non found it not effective at all.

I challenge anyone to show me an education law that has posted such strong positive impressions across the board.  Nearly 80 percent believe the law to be very or moderately effective.  Nearly eight in 10.  That’s a presidential landslide we’ve never seen before.  That’s two and a half Hall of Fame hitters.  That’s a grade good enough to kill any classroom curve.

As an education community, we like to believe in urban legends and things that go bump in the night.  And perhaps that’s why we’ve heard mourning bells for RF for many months now. 

But there is also no shaking that we live in an ROI environment.  We all way to see return, particularly when it comes from our education dollars.  And if we are to get that sort of ROI, we need to be investing in the strategies and interventions that are proven effective.  We invest in the unproven, and our money is likely heading down a black hole.  If we pay for what works, we get results.  It really is a no-brainer.

We need to open our ears and listen to those who know best.  No, we don’t have to believe those in the U.S. Department of Education who ask for more RF moneys.  So let’s listen to CEP, and the more than 300 schools they surveyed who clearly stated RF works, and by extension needs proper funding.  Let’s listen to the International Reading Association — never a BFF of the Administration — who is similarly calling for increased funding for RF.  And let’s listen to the countless classroom educators who have raised their right hands and sworn that student achievement has increased because of scientifically based reading in the classroom.

Thanks, Jack Jennings and CEP for showing us, once again, that RF works.  Hopefully, this recent study gets us one step close to ending the debate on to use or not to use Reading First, and instead change the discussion to one of how to effectively implement RF.  We know it works.  Let’s put it to work for us.

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